Two practical questions for academics

  1. Have any of you ever decreased the number of books you owned? (I know this is a seemingly paradoxical concept, so please give it time to sink in.) If so, how did you go about selecting them? Did you try selling them to used bookstores or via Amazon?
  2. How do you use your office, if you have one? With both my offices so far, I have never fully “moved in.” At Kalamazoo, it was because the position was temporary, and at Shimer, it’s because I share my office and in any case prefer to work from home on most things. Has anyone put a more personal touch on things? Stored significant numbers of books there? How did you decide?

Both questions occur to me as The Girlfriend packs for her move to Minneapolis, where we will have a smaller apartment — and whenever I come back to Chicago (most likely alone at first), I will have a smaller apartment as well. Hence downsizing on books and thinking more about how to use my office as an alternative space both occur to me as things I should be considering.

13 thoughts on “Two practical questions for academics

  1. 1. No.

    2. I use my office as a repository for books I tend not to use in ongoing research (old textbooks, books I needed for reference years back, etc.) but never actually do any research there. However, it has helped me to keep my apartment less book-heavy.

  2. Re 1: In the past, I’ve sold books I’ve eliminated to Powell’s in Hyde Park (which sells books at a pretty high price for a used bookstore and specialises in academic texts) and given what they deem unacceptable to charity.

  3. 1) Not substantially, though moving is the time to do what you can. The best I have managed is “bending the curve” by embracing eBooks to the maximum extent possible.

    2) My office has all my fiction and all my theory books in it, which has kept the crisis at bay. My house has poetry, comics, some current projects (which move between the two locations), science and “nonfiction,” and the gigantic to-be-read pile…

  4. 1. Eleven years ago, before moving from Seattle to Detroit, I sold loads of my books to a used bookstore. Got nearly $1K for them. Now, I almost only buy books electronically, so I have no space problems.

    2. I never feel comfortable in my office, so I try to be there as little as possible. But it is large, so it serves as a dumping ground for most of the hardcopy books I still do own.

  5. 1. Yes. Comics, fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry were all donated or mailed to interested parties as part of a whole-house purge. Dozens of scholarly books on things I always meant to write about were also donated or mailed. Still in possession: academic texts related to my current fields of interest and a well-worn copy of Moby Dick.

    2. I rarely get anything done in my office, so I made the space as comfortable and welcoming to faculty and students as I could. I have some nice chairs and interesting things on the walls. The only books in my office are related to the courses I’m teaching that semester.

  6. 1. Yes, but it was 15 years ago, and ecology of getting rid of books has changed. Mostly I dumped things without marginal notes, reference works I could get online (even then), and ironic books I’d never open
    2. I share an office and prefer to be at home. Office is good for journals, unattractive copies of what I teach from, and my old Christmas tree.

  7. I don’t know if I count as an “academic” but…

    1. Every time I move I purge. I sell some, give away some, and throw away some. I have held on to some books I don’t really use anymore: a collection on books on the devil, as I had planned to write on this a while ago (and am interested to see what you are writing about); a Georgia Harkness collection; and quite a few books on popular culture and the avant-garde. I have a ton of comic books I keep promising myself I will one day sift through. My local comic store says they will take comics people don’t want and give them to kids or to other local charities.

    2. I have a small office with shelves at my church, and that is where a lot of my work gets done. I can meet with people there but it’s a bit messy, and I have a lounge next door, my office opens up into it, I usually meet with folks in, since it is a more comfortable space and has a kitchenette.

    I used to have a home work space, but with the arrival of a fourth child I have moved that space into a study at the church, next door, which is a large room with stained glass windows and is an OK meeting space. I do some writing there as I have time, and it’s a place to hide when the church office is too busy or the phone keeps ringing.

    The two books I have in the queue–a new sermon book and a book on Freemasonry–have been nearly entirely assembled while at my oldest son’s sports practice. In the case of the latter project, nearly every aspect of the book was done in the presence of karate, including my note taking, etc. (I still use 3 x 5 note cards….).

    Penn State does not provide me with any office or file cabinet, etc.,but I am just fine with that.

  8. 1) In theory, yes. We have a free books space for students, so I normally just dump them there (I used to sell them on Amazon or eBay, but neither option is economically feasible any more). In practice, books somehow keep returning. I’ve been buying more books for Kindle lately, which cuts down somewhat on the space issue.

    2) I do most of my writing at home, so I reserve my office for books I don’t use all that often or primarily use for teaching.

  9. This is a real dilemma. I have three offices- a psychotherapy office where I practice and keep psychology, therapy related materials, self-help, the shared office at the college where I serve as adjunct and stores mainly textbooks from courses I have taught, and my home office where I have theology, philosophy, religion, commentaries, fiction. I have a bunch of old “how to grow a schwappy church” junk I wouldn’t wish on anyone and am about to go to the dumpster with (currently in storage). I have found it hard to even GIVE away old books, though I understand there is a market for old text books.
    The bottom line is that I find it hard to down-size my library.
    Whenever I have moved I have found there are about a dozen books I have to keep near until the dust settles, as a security blanket if nothing else.

  10. 1. Yes. Two years ago, faced with accompanying my wife on two successive one-year medical fellowships, one in Houston and the other in Chicago, I sold about a quarter of my books (mostly old textbooks and trade books outside of my academic fields) to a local used book store, put a bit more than half into storage (mostly my parents’ basement), and have now packed up and moved the rest twice. Most of what I’ve kept are research-related or specific to the sort of classes I usually teach, while a handful are otherwise meaningful (author-signed, books I often re-read). The cutdown wasn’t fun, but if all goes to plan, I will be reunited with my library this summer.

    2. When I’ve had one, I’ve used it. Home tends to be too distracting, particularly when it’s a one-bedroom apartment where my “home office” is a slice of the kitchen table. The best home office I had (thankfully, during my dissertation-writing semester) was a 3rd-floor bedroom that allowed me to “go to work” and avoid the rest of the house for six to eight hours every day.

  11. 1. Only when my place flooded and a few boxes of books got some pretty bad water damage. I cried all the way to the dumpster.

    2.Stuff. Everywhere.

    I’m not an academic though, so feel free to toss my response out of your highly scientific, randomly-selected survey. ;)

  12. I’m not an academic, but:

    1. Along with AthenaCarson, a basement got flooded and I lost almost all of the my collection up to that point. My wife also gives away volumes to her high school’s library.

    2. Almost never leave any books in the office. Since I don’t own it, I don’t want to run the risk of losing my books there.

  13. A great place to sell used books is Powells City of Books, in Portland, Oregon.

    Checkout their website for information on how you might sell books from a distant location.

    In any case, if don’t already know, you should know that Powells is one of the great independent stores that is left.

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