I’m thinking about ditching some of my books. It’s a surprisingly painful idea.
You see, I love books. I’ve always loved books. When I was growing up and things got crowded in our little house, I would take some snacks, a drink and a book and escape to the car where I would sit in blessed silence and read for hours. It is a fond memory for me.
My mother was a reader. She subscribed to the Reader’s Digest condensed book series and every month, a new book would arrive. (Let it be known now—I am not a fan of condensed books.) She also subscribed to a monthly classic books series for us kids. So I grew up on Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte. I also checked out lots of books from the school library and begged my mom to order from the Scholastic Book Club when we were give order forms. I remember the day when the box of books would arrive at school and the excited anticipation I felt at getting new books to take home—and the sadness I felt when we had not been afford to order books that time.
As a general rule, pastors are bibliophiles. We collect books like other people collect stamps or coins or antique cars. At every conference, assembly, or continuing education event where there are pastors present, there are book displays and we buy and buy and buy.
I actually have fewer books than many pastors. I’m told Pastor Fred’s library filled every shelf in my (his) office and sometimes they overflowed. The shelves in my office are only about half filled with books. As I was perusing the shelves for books on Lutheran heritage, I realized that many of these books were more than 20 years old and that it was unlikely I would ever read them again. Some of them I’ve had for years and have never even opened. Others are from continuing education activities that are long finished. Some are textbooks from seminary that I am quite unlikely to need. I cannot remember the last time I have used An Introduction of Grammar for New Testament Greek (Kaufman, 1982) which I bought used. Nowadays if I need to do some Greek work in preparation for a sermon, I simply use the many fine free Greek resources on the internet. Likewise the internet has become an excellent resource for professional commentaries on the scripture, Bible studies, and articles on any ministry topic you can imagine. Such resources are mostly free and easy to find. My physical books are increasingly irrelevant to the way I do ministry.
Plus, many books can be downloaded electronically either though the library or a bookseller. E-books are cheaper, do not require the use of trees, and stay on your “shelf” forever without gathering a speck of dust. I have recently purchased several e-books on ministry and find the reading to be little different from a paper copy. I also do almost all my recreational reading on my tablet.
I’ve heard the argument: “But I like the FEEL of a book.” I do too. But even as a lifelong bibliophile who has—until recently—only used “real” books, I must admit that e-books contain the same information, are more easily searchable, and one still “holds” the book. Plus I can change the font, make the print any size, and make the page as bright or as dim as I like. I have become a convert to e-books. I do still love to wander though a bookstore and look at the books. However, now I am more likely to take a photo of a book cover that interests me and then see if I can download it from the library than I am to purchase it.
Still, as I think about doing a purge on my library, I am feeling the emotional impact of giving or throwing away these lovely books. Pastors who retire have faced this for years and most church libraries are replete with books donated by their former pastors who simply could not bear to throw away a perfectly good book. Someone might need it someday, they think. Mostly that turns out not to be true. Church libraries are the least used resource that most churches have. But it made the pastors feel good to imagine someone using their treasures.
So I have decided that, if I am to downsize my library, I will have to view it as a spiritual exercise: a removing of that which is no longer useful and which is unlikely to be used again. I will try to see it as sending my books to that eternal bookshelf in the sky where there is no dust, no crowded shelves and where readers avidly consume the wisdom contained therein. I do believer that my books will be much happier there than sitting ignored on my shelves.