A Home Library

by R. Kellogg

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So you want to build a library without spending a fortune? Fresh off the press, books are expensive. The good news is that you don't have to pay list price for many of them, and if you are seeking to build up a library, you have many avenues to explore.

If you are going to build a library for less, it helps to start with a plan. You will come across many interesting titles while browsing and may be tempted to buy a lot of stuff that would be better suited for borrowing from the library. If you will read it only once, check it out rather than paying for it with your checkbook.

When planning which books you would like to add to your library, start by listing your guiding goals. Do you want educational books and picture books to read to your children or grandchildren? Are you building a professional library of reference volumes to have on hand for your career? How many books do you have space for? Are there specific titles or series you are looking for? Begin by making this list. Next, list any limiting factors that will guide your shopping. If you are buying for children, which age range will you target? If you are buying reference texts, which editions must you have? Once you have your list assembled, you are ready to begin shopping.

Here is a helpful run-down of places to shop for books:

  • Elementary school book fairs and book orders are an excellent place to look for inexpensive editions of beloved titles if you are looking for children's books. Some publishers will make special low-price editions of children's books that are available for distribution exclusively through the network of schools; if you have a school-aged child in your family, these venues are well worth looking over. Book orders typically come out monthly; book fairs are usually a once-a-year event. Call your school's librarian to ask for their schedule.

  • If your library has a "friends of the library sale," attend and go over the books carefully. Call first to find out how the sale is structured. Some libraries have an ongoing sale. Others sell books just a few times a year or have an extra-large sale once or twice a year. Often, the prices at these library sales cannot be beat; you will pay quarters or a few dollars for books that retail for many times that amount. You never know what you will find. Ask up front about the guidelines for donations. If the library accepts no donations of encyclopedias but you hope to pick up a set, you will be better off looking elsewhere.

  • Second-hand bookstores are another great place to look. Though the books sold there are not as inexpensive as library sales, they are typically still far less than list price. If you are looking for a particular title or two, the proprietor of a second-hand bookstore might be just the person to help you. An online network of used booksellers exists that will be a great resource for your growing library: abebooks.com.

  • The next places to look are Half.com and Amazon.com. Go to these two places for specific titles that you haven't found elsewhere. I've had better luck finding titles on half.com than on eBay, though books are also sold on that site. Amazon offers a discount on many titles and also offers a very useful feature called "the wishlist." You can make a list of the titles you are still in search of and invite family members and friends to view the list for helpful recommendations around birthday or holiday time.

  • The local dollar store once sold copies of a biography I had been wanting to pick up. Do not rely on non-traditional outlets like this one to consistently contribute to your library-building efforts, but do keep your eyes open. If books are available through an unusual venue, be prepared to browse.

  • Garage sales are hit-and-miss. You never know what you will find. Your odds of success will be greater if you go to a consignment sale that advertises books as part of its list of sale items.

Armed with this resource list, you are well on your way to stocking your bookshelf with good reads. Good luck!

Take the Next Step:

  • Begin by making a list of which books you would like to add to your library. Do you want educational books and picture books to read to your children or grandchildren? Are you building a professional library of reference volumes? How many books do you have space for? Are there specific titles or series you are looking for?
  • Check out our friends at WeCompareBooks.com to see who's offering the best price.

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