Know When To Hold ’em…

A former classmate of mine posted this question on Facebook…

A question for my organized, book-loving friends: how on EARTH do you decide what books to keep and which ones should be donated or sold or (*gasp*) pitched? From picture books on up we have way more than we need — many of which have already been read. Homes need books, but how many? Which ones? (I’m truly seeking advice here.)

I have two versions of my answer that I’ll share for you folks here – one from the perspective of a home owner and the other as a graphic designer.

As a graphic designer there are some books that you just don’t need any more such as manuals or how-to books for software programs you just don’t have any more. Since I no longer have a machine running Windows98 it’s pretty obvious to other people (besides me) that I don’t need the Windows98 manuals.

Any software specific manuals (Classroom In A Book for Photoshop 5.5 from 1999/2000, Illustrator CS3, Ray Dream Studio 5.5, Bryce 4…) for programs none of use any more can be recycled with reckless abandon. Same can be said for books on older versions of HTML. Any book that was not written for HTML5 can safely be tossed since you’re going to be hard pressed to find clients who want you to write code in an obsolete format.

One caveat: There are a handful of software specific books that are not version specific. I have a book about creating photorealist backgrounds and textures in Photoshop/Illustrator that was published in the 1990’s. It’s just as useful today.

The books every graphic designer should hang on to are the ones that teach the basics of Graphic Design, Typography, lay-out, publication or any of the basic of our trade should be held onto with intense vigor. There are going to be times when you’ll be arguing with a client about contrast or using decorative type in the main body text (DON’T!) and you’ll need a reference book to back yourself when you don’t have adequate vocabulary.

There are also a handful of trade magazines that you should hold on to like issues of “How,” “Print” and “Computer Arts,” – you should hold on to every issue that you have for a couple of years. I have no rule of thumb, it’s whatever you and your living space can handle.

Then there are the art books or source books. I have a short pile of books about artists that inspire me that I use as inspiration once in a while. Sometimes just flipping through those books helps me tap into my creative energy or makes me look at my project in a different perspective. These are books that we should never think of getting rid of, period.

Finally, any old book that stands in the way of you and your work need to go elsewhere. They can either get out of your workspace or out of your home all together.

As for the home owner perspective:

I have a books that are in four categories; books I’ve read, books I want to read, books that I have no intention of reading, and books that I have no intention of reading but they make me look more intellectual to my guests.

There are some of the books that I’ve read that I can’t part with, these are usually SF classics that I read in my younger years that shaped my optimism/pragmatism that I still hang on to today. There’s no way any of my “DUNE” books are ever leaving this house, which includes both the originals written by Frank Herbert and the new books by his son and Kevin J. Anderson.

Same goes for most of the Isaac Asimov’s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, the John Steinbeck’s, and Ernest Hemmingway’s. These are books that I’ve read at least once and just seeing the spine of these books on my shelves brings back memories of the stories themselves and the times and places from my life when I read them. Often times the mere titles of these books serve as a family album of sorts in my mind, not easily replace.

There are those books that I bought on a whim and have actually tried to read but with no success. Those are the books that I can easily part with. There are also those books that I have no interest in reading but were given as gifts; I would rather pass those along to people whom I know will actually enjoy them.

All the books I want to keep are on display stacked nicely on the shelves, those that aren’t kept are either gone or on their way out as of today.

I’m a hypocrite when it comes to magazines; I say get rid of anything older than a month old (sans trade publications) but there are some issues that I hang on to that I use for future references. If you can’t put things like these in storage and you know they aren’t going to be collectibles someday it’s about time you either donate them to a local library or school or simply forget about them.

As with everything else, there’s such a thing as moderation. Having too much of a good thing becomes a serious problem when you’re either spending more time cleaning or dusting than you do enjoying the things you love. There are also unhealthy aspects when you become a hoarder and you simply can’t function in your own home or you’re creating a fire hazard; nothing screams danger like the lonely cat lady collects newspapers she’ll get to someday and likes to light candles when the power goes out.

As a home owner you have to do what’s not only good for you and your emotional health but what’s good for your family and pets. For the sake of everyone (especially yourself) you have to take a serious assessment of what you have laying around and make mature decisions about what to keep and throw away. Work-at-work graphic designers have to be extra serious about their workspace and any potential hoarding problem since your offices appearance might even affect you working relationships with clients who might come over to discuss a project or possible hire.

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