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Loving Your Library (part 2)

How to manage your romance with books

This is part two of a two-part series. In part one, the author discussed the need to do triage in considering what books to buy and how to know when to dispose of books.


Once we have determined which books are worth retaining, there is still the question of how we are going to store them.

Shelving hasn't changed a great deal over the years. My dorm room, years ago, was a maze of planks and patio blocks. Today my shelves are more respectable, but their utility hasn't much improved. Remember that if you are going to bother putting your books on shelves in your office, it isn't for the purpose of display. It is so that they will be handy when you need them. I try to put the most useful books closest to my desk. If I have to get up out of my seat to retrieve them, they probably are not going to come to hand as often.

Increasingly, there are software solutions for the storage of books, particularly the classics in public domain. Years ago, I purchased a CD that contained original full-text versions of 700 pieces of "the world's greatest literature." The disk contained everything from Mark Twain to John Donne to the Greek storyteller Aesop and his famous fables. It is handy to be able to do keyword searches of these books without having to store them all on shelves. Logos and other companies offer hundreds of useful full-text books in electronic form, easily searchable as part of your Bible study software.

Google Book and Google Scholar are increasingly becoming useful sources for information. While not everything is available in complete, full-text form, there is a remarkable keyword search capacity making available a massive amount of useful information. This resource will only improve over time as the various legal issues find resolution and usage increases. Questia.com is another full-text book resource that allows for online reading or keyword searches.


Simply having the books on our shelves is one thing. Being able to effectively retrieve the information is another matter altogether. In my early days of library-building, I spent many hours meticulously building a 3x5 card filing system so that I could retrieve the information that I felt would be valuable. When computers became available, I was an early-adopter. I spent countless hours building databases that would not only catalogue my library, but make the essential contents of the books accessible.

What a colossal waste of time! While all of this work may have had some utility initially, the true usefulness of the material became apparent when I upgraded computers, rendering obsolete and inaccessible all my previous work. Redoubling my efforts, I set out to build a new and better system. A fatal computer crash a few years later destroyed all of that hard work. While I could be berated for lacking foresight and for not backing up my work effectively, the truth is, I hardly missed the materials I lost.

This is not to say that filing has no value. It is just that it can take years for a person to learn just what is worth saving and what is not. Things that seemed indispensable years ago are now more readily googled.

I love books—I even love to read them.

There are many software solutions available for cataloguing and organizing small libraries. A listing and description of these various resources can be found here. Here you will find affordable ways of managing your personal library database, including checkout capabilities just like a real library. Offering dozens of products, this site is sure to offer a product that will suit your particular needs.

For smaller items, bits of information, sermon illustrations, and other snippets and clippings, I have found it useful to use the "Notes" software that is part of the Microsoft Office suite. I have hundreds of such notes entered in Entourage that sync automatically with my Palm Treo so that I have them with me everywhere I go. This is a remarkably useful way of managing ideas, and it has the added benefit of automatic backup.

Finally, integrated desktop searching on your computer allows you to find that needle in the haystack so elusive in the past. I'm running OSX on my Powerbook. A program called Spotlight is built into the desktop allowing me to keyword search my entire hard drive in seconds. Similar products are available for Windows computers from Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft (MSN Search Toolbar, Windows Desktop Search). This function allows accessibility to all of the digital content that is stored on your computer.


This morning, one of my students told me that his hard-drive had crashed, rendering all of his digital material inaccessible. Imagine having to rebuild everything you have—from nothing. Of course, this pastor's tragic tale could have been avoided through regular backups of his hard drive. Electronic material can be wiped out, and so storage redundancy is important.

I am told that CDs are only guaranteed to last about three years before their performance becomes unreliable. The advent of High Definition DVDs should help both with the quantity of storage space and a longer period of reliability, but nothing lasts forever. Whatever system we use, we need to keep backup copies and keep everything fresh by replacing data on new hard drives and disks every few years. Data itself does not corrupt, but the storage media does.

Loving your Library

I've heard that the Italian writer and scholar Umberto Eco has a personal library of some 40,000 volumes. For Eco, books are something to accumulate whether or not one reads them. He loves to walk through his stacks simply to browse. Obviously, the expense of storage and cataloguing of this many books would require a budget and staff beyond the capacity of most of us. Still, something about this appeals to me. I love books—I even love to read them.

Kenton C. Anderson is dean and associate professor of applied theology at ACTS Seminaries (Northwest) in Langley, British Columbia. He is author of several books, including Choosing to Preach (Zondervan).

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Loving Your Library

How to manage your romance with books

When Books Are More Than Just Books

Warming your heart and mind in your library

When Books Are More Than Just Books (part 2)

Warming your heart and mind in your library