Monday, August 27, 2012

Planning a family library

I have always had one simple bookish goal in life - to build a library for the little community of people in my life. When it comes right down to it, I realise now, that this is my family, consisting now of myself, my husband, my daughter. If I extend that to include people who come over and sift through our "coffee table" books, and people who sometimes borrow (mainly my own sister and mother), then that's still a fairly small group. Either way, I still have this future vision of a library with a million books in it that no one person in their entire lifetime could ever dream of reading all of. Yes, I am a product of that scene in Beauty and the Beast.

But I'm being realistic now. I have a library nearly two blocks away, a family that loves to borrow me books and share their own passion with me. I don't need a million books. But I do still want a family library. One for all of us. One that clearly shows our own loves and passions, and that can we can grow into. I want a collection that is worthy of the investment and time put into it. I want something that will inspire all of us to explore together, learn, and be exited about.

I've been fairly selfish these last few years in this regard. I didn't bat an eye at getting those "must have" books that I wanted. Didn't bother to plan much exept in the categories that I've been loving to read. I've not been planning anything really because then I'd have to stick to the plan.

But I'm changing my tune. I haven't impulsively bought a book for myself in the last three months. And you know what, I realised? I haven't missed it. And I want a library for my family. Besides I have enough unread books of my own "for fun" that I can actually focus on creating a real collection now.

Searching the internet, I wasn't able to find a good plan for our family about what goes into a family library, so I'm starting to think up what we might like. Here are my thoughts.

What is a family library?

A family library isn't just for me. Nor is it just a library of books that look nice together, or that I think everyone else would expect me to have. It isn't just a bookshelf full of classics or a bookshelf full of my favourites. It's not just a place to put all my read books, but also a place to hold books I plan on reading in the future, and books I want my children (aka my daughter) to read. Everyone in the family will of course, use the library for different purposes so it will have a wide variety of topics and titles in it. For my daughter, it's about growing into books. For my husband it will be about his interests, and for me it's about both entertainment (I enjoy reading more than watching tv) and education (I have always liked to learn). It's also about faith (and books that will help us grow in faith). To me, a family library is meant to be used. It is also an investment, and getting the right kind of books, be it special edition or paperback, matters to me.

What should I put in it?

I've been struggling with this question for a long time, but I'm sure as time goes by and the library comes to fruition, it will become more clear. Here are the things I've figured out from what I've learned about home libraries so far.

A nice set of shelves, in a good location:

As I've said, this is an investment. So, I want to be able to keep these books in a place worthy of that investment. A nice set of shelves should hopefully entice us to use the library more often as well. At the moment I'm using second hand shelves that are useful but not so pretty. They are also in the back room that nobody ever sees. I think I'd like to move it to the basement rec-room if we can find room for it there. This is the gathering place for us whether we are only three or if we have company over. It just makes sense.


Having a special place for bookmarks right on the shelves should encourage us to take good care of them.

An e-reader:

For all those free books, audiobooks, and other interests that wont fit into our physical library.  They are also great for taking with us during long car trips and out to the park.

A plan:

There are certain books I want to own. Having a plan, a real list, will make that goal more achiveable. Making one I can take with us on trips to the bookstore will also make it easier to find the books we want to own.

Children's Picture Books

Of course there will be the books my daughter already has. Books I've passed on to her after reviewing them here, gifts from our family, and used discarded library books. She loves them all. But I also plan one more thing for her: a special collection.

I could only think of two picture book collections I want her to have: Little Golden Books and Dr. Seuss.

There is a world of Little Golden Books. It's something I can aquire over the next year at used books, online, and new for a fairly resonable cost (at $4-5 new each it's not hard to imagine being able to collect a wide variety of them. When she goes to school the following year they will be her special gift, something that's hers but also a world of memories we can create together.

Children's Classics and series

Of course I'll need to get books like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Anne of Green Gables. Once my daughter grows to the age where she is reading chapter books, she'll be able to choose for herself if there is a series she wants to read, modern or otherwise. It will be great to get her involved and excited about her own books and additions to the library.

Special edition collectors classics

 I can't resist the urge to read more great classics. I've really missed out over the years and in many ways, this is for me. At the same time I can imagine any one of our family members or friends wanting to pick them up. Special editions like leatherbound and clothbound books will also last longer and be around a long time. Perfect for something like a classic.

My favourites so far have been the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Collection, the Penguin English Collection, the Oxford World Library, Penguin's Modern Classics, and Puffin Classics.

Illustrated classics and complete works anthologies are also high on my list of priorities.

Non-fiction "coffee table" books

Anything that you can learn from that also has that visual aspect and appeal to it has always been fun for me and my husband to collect, although it has been primarily my husband who buys these and encourages me in his enthusiasm. Topics we enjoy are: art, biographies, geography, war and history, technology, and weird things (aka Guiness World Records and Ripley's Believe It or Not). We aren't big fans of non-fiction that isn't spotted with a slew of photographs and artwork. So, I can't imagine a library without them. When my daughter gets older I'm sure she'll have her favourite topics of interest as well.


I've imagined a library with a full collection of Newbery medal winners for a long time now. Every once in a while I splurge on another addition or I find them at the used book store or Value Village. I love to read them myself. There are some real gems. I've also invested a lot and this is my only real collection in my already growing stack of books so they are definitely going into my family library.

Young Adult

I already own a full collection of young adult books and don't need to add much to it except for finishing off series and aquiring the collections of my favourite authors. I will need to figure out if they are all worthy of being placed in a family library. Signed books and my favourite series, sure. But making some of them a priority over others in a central library will be a tough call.


Even though I cook most of the food, my husband actually loves cookbooks and is usually the one to find them in a bookstore and then I either approve or tell him no. We both use them now and he's been learning to cook. Every family library should have a good set of cookbooks. We have our favourites, usually bought used (family style cookbooks made decades ago are usually our favourite recipes) but classics like Company's Coming, The Joy of Cooking and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking  are great to have around as well.

Modern favourites and genre loves

Whatever we love it will be hard to part with. I'd love to include a healthy set of books inspired by the 1001 books to read before you die list. Movies and tv shows we've seen that have inspired us to read the stories will have a place. Books in our favourite genres like science fiction, fantasy, and mystery will also need to have a place. And of course, my indie books! They are often rare and special to me and really showcase the world of literature we have at our hands nowadays.

So that's it. All that I could come up with, but hopefully it will be a good start for a growing family. Anything I missed? What do you have in your family library?

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