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Monday Musings of a Bibliophile | Why should you build a personal library?

A personal library is the coolest after-effect of our reading habits. It reflects our reading passions and the history of our intellectual journey. If done right, it can become an inseparable part of our individuality.

But, like any noteworthy work of art, a personal library comes to fruition with time as it’s not a product of haste, but careful selection and discards.

If you ask me, the spiritual cousin of a home library is not a public library, but rather a bookshop. I said bookshop because like an adept bookseller, you also choose and ignore stuff while cultivating it.

Why create a personal library?

One clear advantage of having your own library is that you can shape it as per your own liking. You can infuse it with your own personality.

Your library can be your armory of knowledge with which to aim at higher things in life. It can be your rescue party when the chips are down. It can be the difference between mediocrity and greatness.

Your library can also position you at the vanguard of your industry.

For a quick example, let’s say, you want to master a particular subject. To grow your knowledge, you start stacking your library with book after book related to that niche.

As time passes, you revisit old books, draw new information, and start cross-referencing stuff. Gradually, your understanding of how one piece of information is connected to another grows. You start to build mental models.

Soon you develop deep expertise in that subject. Of course, this is an ideal scenario, but this how your personal library can transform you.

Do not be worried about the number of books you should have. If your bookcase bears a deserted look initially, that’s okay. We all start somewhere.

The truth of the matter is that your personal library remains a great work in progress as long as you are curious, as long as you are exploring. That means it can take years to cement your legacy.

And, who knows, by the time you retire, you may have a collection emulating that of the late Italian author Umberto Eco. Eco had a collection of nearly 50,000 books distributed across his two houses.

5 Advantages of having a personal library

I see five key advantages of having a personal library:

1. It becomes your own echo chamber of ideas and perspectives. The world may not have answers to all your questions, but your personal library – when curated over the years – can address a lot of them whenever you call on it.

2. It can be your quiet place to reflect especially when you want to slip away from the modern world distractions. It can also be your moral center in dark times.

3. Studies show that we don’t remember more than 2% of a book after a month or so. Even that recollection fades with time. But if you have that book in your personal library, you can go back to it and re-read it. The second time, you will extract more from it.

4. Most people who cultivate a personal library, collect books for the long run. This can be a great gift for posterity. Take, for example, Umberto Eco who bequeathed his massive personal library to his alma mater University of Bologna. He may not be around today, but his collection will benefit thousands of students.

5. Your library can help you build an empire. This sounds exaggerated but think about it. Each book in your library represents a keen intellectual effort by its author. And, if you got 100 books, you got 100 great ideas staring at you day and night.

Why should you build a personal library?
Award-winning critic and bibliophile, Alberto Manguel, donated 40,000 books from his private library to the Lisbon City Council (Source: plataformamedia.com)

What spurred me to build my personal library?

When I took up reading seriously, I did not know that you can turn your own collection of books into something to cherish. A coveted piece of art as good as any other.

The idea of turning my collection into a personal library occurred to me in the late noughties, somewhere around 2013. I had landed a job with a startup broadcast network.

Though the office space was far from swanky, a cherrywood bookcase tucked in a corner captured my imagination. It stirred in me the idea of possessing my own collection of books. At least, that’s how it germinated.

So, I bought a bookstand for Rs 10,000 ( roughly $135) for my burgeoning collection of 50 odd books. It’s hard to explain that feeling. I felt I was coming of age, becoming a learned man.

my personal library
One of the bookshelves in my house

That excitement did not last very long though. As work responsibilities increased, I was getting lesser and lesser time to read. Yet the number of books in my personal library has kept steadily increasing.

Final thoughts

Your personal library is a fountain of knowledge. The depth and the breadth of your intelligence grow as your personal library grows from floor to ceiling.

For every new book added to the repertoire, the quantum of knowledge compounds. To use a different analogy, it is akin to investing in a safe financial instrument; invest now and reap the benefits later.

For hardcore bibliophiles and book lovers, cultivating a personal library is like building a part of their own legacy. It takes time, but it is one of the most satisfying pursuits ever.


Why should you build a personal library

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