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Hording books and manuals.

by Marza (Vicar)
on Aug 07, 2002 at 00:11 UTC ( #188203=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Do you horde books? It just occurred to me that I do.

When does a book become outdated and no longer needed? Do you always hang on to it just in case?

Do you wait till you have a stack of books that puts fear into the worker safety people? Does your bookcase cry mercy?

I pondered these questions as I was looking for a particular reference and stumbled on my 2 perl resource kits. Should I get rid of them? Hey I might need them!

All around me are references of the past. A first edition Elements of Programming style, my BSD Vax-11 users guides, my 5 ATT Unix Programmers Manuals circa 1986, Other Unix references such as SunOS, RPC for windows Eek!, various Micro$oft stuff which includes 3.1 manuals, various networking books which have info for equipment no longer made, version 10 of Cisco OS, hey and there is even some Mac OS 6 stuff! But let us not forget the stacks of magazines that all contain articles that I might need!

Now that Perl 6 is on the horizon does that mean more books? What about my old ones? I could clean house and make room for more but I might need them! ;-)

So am I strange or do other people do this?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Hoarding books and manuals.
by footpad (Monsignor) on Aug 07, 2002 at 02:14 UTC

    I confess I also horde hoard1 books. Some of this comes from growing up in a house with a Civil War devotee who'd been raised by bibliophiles. I learned how to carefully remove dust jackets while I read the book inside, how to read hardcover and paperbacks without breaking the spine (or unduly soiling the pages with oily fingers), and to always use a thin paper bookmark instead of turning page corners or (worse) placing the title upside down (with its spine facing up).

    I learned all this before my age hit double digits, far before choosing a career, the development of the technical publishing industry, or a certain guy by the name of Tim Berners-Lee began wondering how nice it would be if colleagues could link their electronic documents together across a global network.

    When I found my trade (as opposed to my calling), I began to hoard written knowledge, whether source code, utilities, books, magazine articles, conference proceedings, or what-have-you. (Somewhere in my archives, I have a stack of punchcards, a roll of punchtape, several dozen cassettes, and scores of floppies of all sizes, including at least one 8-inch CP/M disk.)

    In short, I've always been an information junkie. Why? Because there are tidbits in that forgotten (and mostly unmountable) lore that are periodically needed. Sometimes we find ourselves struggling with an older piece of equipment or we need to tackle a new project in an area we've read about but never actually coded for. Sometimes, the older works can be more useful than many of the current crop of "churn-and-grind" manual rehashes we see today.

    However, I've recently had to move into far smaller digs. While doing so, I discovered I had boxes and boxes and boxes of the stuff lying around, some of which I hadn't opened in more than ten years.

    Since most of those boxes are now in a storage unit (an expensive one, I might add), I've come to the realization that, "No, I don't really need to keep all of those sources." So I've been going through and parting with things like old DOS manuals (and diskettes), four editions of Petzold, Castro's Perl book (and titles of similar quality), and so on.

    I've donated what made sense (and was less than five years old) and recycled the rest.

    I figure it it this way: Since there's a readily accessible body of knowledge going back more than twenty years, a way of searching for people (and their works) interested in (and using) the same things I work with, and a way of reading that which is no longer available, I really don't need to be paying to store stacks and stacks of mouldering paper.

    Mind you, I am keeping a few things (perhaps one in ten), but most of it is going to be reused by someone else at this point. (After all, do I really need to keep my Turbo 3.3 manuals? I don't think so. Not at this point.)

    Perhaps more succinctly: Information may be power, but only if it's useful and only if you use it. Some things are classics; keep those. Unburden yourself from those things that do not serve you. If you must, keep a few for sentimental reasons (I've had a hand in a few titles; I'm keeping those), but focus on what you're doing and using now.

    The truth is that much of the worthwhile information in older formats is being retained in newer ones. And, should you discover we were overly aggressive in clearing your shelves, well, you can almost always find older titles in various places.

    At the very least, you'll have plenty of room for the next crop of books you need. :-)

    In closing, I'd like to remind folks that there are other ways to put unwanted books to good use. Consider, for example the VDL or other possibilities.


    P.S. Mind you, this only refers to my technical library. My recreational library is also getting reviewed, but far less aggressively.

    1 - Update: Fixed the Freudian (Warcraftian?) slip. Good catch, ChemBoy. Thanks.

(jeffa) Re: Hording books and manuals.
by jeffa (Bishop) on Aug 07, 2002 at 02:24 UTC
    My name is jeffa, i am a book horder. :D Actually, i plan on unloading my bookshelf and donating a lot of old technical books that i have acquired over the years (most of the Java ;)) to my University's library.

    Hmmm, anyone else remember this node? Please help your local library. Christmas is just around the corner ...


    (the triplet paradiddle with high-hat)
      Not that I have any objection to helping your local library (hell I used to be a librarian at high school), but there is also this alternative. release your books into the wild and track their progress :-)

      ---If it doesn't fit use a bigger hammer
Re: Hording books and manuals.
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Aug 07, 2002 at 10:03 UTC
    I just had the "pleasure" of packing all my books, in preparation of my upcoming move. I brought three car loads (with the back seats removed) to my parents place (for temporary storage), and that was less than half of the books. Two bookcases floor to ceiling (one with shelves of 1.8 metres, the smaller with selves over 1 metre wide), and two 2 metre high, just less than one metre wide shelves bookcases were overflowing. The largest one had nothing but reference books (computer science, dictionaries, atlasses, history books), and the second largest was mostly reference as well.

    And then there are the recently acquired 6 boxes of SF and mystery novels from the '50s, '60s and '70s. And the six shelf rack overflowing with (boxed) magazines and (computer science) articles. And there's this tower of university notes filling up the gap between the closet and the ceiling.

    And only two more weeks left to pack.

    But doing some of it away? Are you _mad_? I'd rather give up my computer than my books.


Re: Hording books and manuals.
by FoxtrotUniform (Prior) on Aug 07, 2002 at 03:15 UTC

    Yeah, I hoard books, too.

    I occasionally realize how many books I have that I will never use again (fr'instance, once I bought K&R and Expert C Programming, I'll never touch that Schildt book...), and give them to the public library, after allowing my friends first dibs. I'm doing something slightly different with my second-edition Camel: offering it to any monastery denizen willing to pay shipping (which is probably less than a new copy, which might help someone).

    But yeah, giving away books that are still useful, but that you no longer need is a powerful good.

    F o x t r o t U n i f o r m
    Found a typo in this node? /msg me

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by ignatz (Vicar) on Aug 07, 2002 at 11:35 UTC
    At first it was SciFi books, then chess, followed by hymnals and finally computer books. It's like what they say about smoking marijuana: The kids start with Fahrenheit 451 and before you know it they're being seduced into harder stuff like Churchill's History of WWII, Knuth's Art of Computer Programming and all 84 volumes of Chess Informant.

    When a start up hired me, they were also renting a library of hundreds of the latest computer books that I had spent all my ill gotten cyber riches upon. When armed goons told us that we had 2 hours to evacuate the building, my task was the hardest as I scrambled to load my books into milk crates. I think that some of my books are still with former coworkers that offered to hold them for me.

    Now I'm mature enough to realize that what I've ever really wanted wasn't to be rich, or to control an empire, but to own my own book store. Right now it would be a small one, but full of very cool, hard to find things. I'll let you know when it opens.

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by greenFox (Vicar) on Aug 07, 2002 at 03:37 UTC

    I believe the correct term is "collecting" :-)

    I usually try to find homes for the old reference books, beyond a certain time they get out of date quickly and the information is usually available in some form on the 'net. Getting rid of some books is a good way of saying "I'm never doing that again" ie. dbIII,access,... :-)

    Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is. -Margaret Mitchell

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by rattusillegitimus (Friar) on Aug 07, 2002 at 14:30 UTC

    For me there are few greater simple pleasures than being utterly surrounded by books. Thus, when I was forced to move to a tiny house in the city, I had to make a great many painful decisions as to what to take down there and what to put into storage. In the old house, we had put bookcases on every wall of the large living room, including a monstrous pair eight feet tall that took up 15+ feet of one wall and had shelves exactly the right height for paperbacks. And all the shelves were full to overflowing.

    So I guess you could call me a 'hoarder.' ;) My wife calls me an insane packrat, and cannot understand why I can't even part with one of my two paperback copies of The Hunt for Red October (I have the original paperback cover and the newer one from after the movie came out). She doesn't understand why I would want to hang on to a paperback copy of a book if I also have the hardcover.

    Now I have very few books at my fingertips (though all my O'Reillys made the cut and look awfully pretty on the shelf over my monitor) and I don't get to just sit surrounded by millions of pages of printed words in my own home. I have started visiting the local library (where I found a copy of TheDamian's Object-Oriented Perl, yay!), but it's not the same. On the other hand, I did just drag in two of our smaller bookcases from storage and have them anchored to the wall and awating over-loading. And everyone who knows me knows I love new books...

    At any rate, we'll someday be able to move to a larger place, preferably one with a large windowless room (windows cut into the wallspace needed for shelves) and I'll be able to pull all those dozens of book boxes out of storage once again.

    -rattus, wandering somewhat far afield from the original topic

    He seemed like such a nice guy to his neighbors / Kept to himself and never bothered them with favors
    - Jefferson Airplane, "Assassin"

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by tbone1 (Monsignor) on Aug 07, 2002 at 13:42 UTC
    Hey, I can quit any time I want!!!! (TAPS TWO FINGERS ON INNER ARM REPEATEDLY)

    Okay, I admit it, I'm a book junkie. When I moved in January, I had more boxes filled with books than all other boxes combined ... including computer paraphernalia. My P.G. Wodehouse collection alone filled two banker's boxes. And I am redecorating the entire downstairs so I can turn it into a library. The bookshelves alone may cost more than the downpayment on the house, but I consider it money well spent. All I need to do is hire a butler/valet named Jeeves to rally round with scotch-and-sodas and life will be complete.

    The scary thing is that I can still foresee times when I'll need my Perl 4 books, and they'll have to pry my first edition of Kernighan and Ritchie's C out of my cold, dead hands. Should I seek help now, or is this normal?

    As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

      P.G. Wodehouse is worth keeping at any cost. In case you aren't aware of it the Overlook Press is reprinting all of the master's works in batchs of three or four volumes every few months. They started last year and now have eight volumes out. The books are printed on acid-free paper and are wonderful to hold, read, behold, etc. The nice folks at Overlook will put you on an e-mail list to be notified when new books come out. You have to call them about that though.

      Beyond Wodehouse my "must keep" books include the O'Reilly' books, anything by TheDamian, and a few other odds and ends about C++ and C. Of course, this doesn't include my collections of military history, railroad, and sci-fi books. That list gets a lot longer.

      Just my $.02,

        Yes, I have seen the master's works reprinted by Overlook, though I didn't know they were reprinting all of them. That is sheer bliss; I only hope the project goes to completion, or at least through Love among the Chickens; what can I say, I'm a Ukridge fan.

        Getting back to computing books, I am a member of the O'Reilly cult as well, particularly since I moved to OS X at home. I've even saved my old Fortran 77 book from college, which may be giving away my age more than I'd care to think about.

        And while I think ebooks are great, there is something viscerally pleasing about the smell and feel of an old book by Mencken or Saki that adds to the reading experience. Silly, but there it is.

        As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by ichimunki (Priest) on Aug 07, 2002 at 14:46 UTC
    If anyone needs to borrow my copy of the Dewey Decimal Classification abridged version (suitable for small libraries and home collections), let know. ;)

    Originally picked up as part of a project in which I planned to catalog web sites by DDC code, I may eventually find myself using it for the books about the house. Eventually I'd like to have fully classified, organized, and database-entry-ized every piece of media I own. (/me adds project to already lengthy "to do" list).

    As to the question of what to do with old books? Depends. My gut instinct is "keep them". In boxes if necessary. Too many times I've moved or simply desired to have less clutter and gotten rid of books, magazines, audio recordings, etc. Only to regret it. Many are simply not available at the present time or their replacement costs are now skyhigh). Unless space or other expense is at a critical level, pack old books in good plastic bins and stuff them in the rafters of the garage, the attic, a corner of the basement, is my opinion.

    Or, as the best possible alternative, bundle them into reasonable groups and sell them on eBay. If your books have any market value at all, someone there will probably pick them up. Don't try to guess what they're worth, start the bidding at $0.01 and then make sure to add a reasonable S/H fee. This way your books get to people who actually want them, and it's likely that if there is any latent demand for your books, that the price will get bid to an appropriate level.

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by coreolyn (Parson) on Aug 07, 2002 at 14:46 UTC

    Thank god I'm not alone. The wife claims there's not going to be any room for her soon.. I told her I can squeeze her in somewhere between the old gwbasic books and the Tandy 1000 reference manuals (circa 1981).

    Thankfully she didn't get it.

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by YuckFoo (Abbot) on Aug 07, 2002 at 14:58 UTC
    Each time I move I dump about 20% old computer refs. Last move I finally ridded myself of FoxPro and about most of my M$ Foundation Classes books, a subject I started to learn about 5 times. I haven't had the urge to start again for several years, but having so many MFC books I had to keep the 'best' one.

    My favorite book I have no use for is an RPG III manual. It's survived 3 moves in 15 years. I touched it 6 times, pack, unpack, pack, unpack, pack, unpack. It must have cost a fortune, I forget.

    I know that DOS 6.3 manual will be useful one day...


Re: Hording books and manuals.
by Rex(Wrecks) (Curate) on Aug 07, 2002 at 18:17 UTC
    Well I actually find having many of these older Edition books and redundant or older books on hand very useful. I have tones of books as well, in fact FoxtrotUniform and I were discussing this very thing in CB the other day. Tons o' books is a good thing to me :)

    ...but I digress, I actually use these books as "Safe To Borrow Out" books for newbies and co-workers I am mentoring. I don't like to borrow out current books, and I find that a 2nd Ed book is just as helpful to a FNG as the 3rd Ed, and it also gives them a "preview" to see if they want to go out and buy the latest edition themselves.

    "Nothing is sure but death and taxes" I say combine the two and its death to all taxes!
Re: Hording books and manuals.
by morleron (Novice) on Aug 07, 2002 at 22:30 UTC

    This is normal behaviour isn't it? I don't even want to think about the books, programming and otherwise, that I've got hoarded. I was going through a box that was in a cabinet in our library here at the house a few weeks ago and ran across a bunch of old MS QuickBASIC programming books. With them were old Peter Norton assembly language manuals, PC BIOS books, etc. It was a wrench, but I did force myself to throw those away as they are of absolutely no use anymore; all of them pre-dated Windows 3.

    I think that hanging on to books is a normal thing to do. As you mention, you might need them someday. In some ways I think that hackers (in the old meaning of the term) are much like farmers. We don't throw anything out because we never know when some little piece of information or hardware may come in useful. How many of us have used books to help level out an equipment cabinet or such-like? I have, several times.

    So no. Don't worry about being thought unusual, except by those of the great unwashed.

    Just my $.02,

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by Daruma (Curate) on Aug 09, 2002 at 05:20 UTC
    Greetings, Monks!

    In my ploffice, (read: playroom/office), I have my current collection of books. These are the only ones I've prevented my wife from trading, selling or discarding. One entire shelf is devoted to O'Reilly titles. Some spines are pink, some maroon, several orange, most are blue. Other shelves in the computer section of my home library include current and outdated programming and operating manuals. I even have managed to hold on to several motherboard manuals from formerly owned PC's. (Never know when they'll come in handy!)

    Other shelves contain numerous religious texts, foreign language texts, many tomes of untapped chess openings and strategies, and literature. I am loathe to give up my dog-eared school paperback edition of The Catcher in the Rye, or the oft loaned copy of Ender's Game.

    Emergency Reading Material
    One of my interesting book habits related to my hoarding tendency is the concept of Emergency Reading Material. My wife enjoys no end of teasing and amusement regarding this concept. In a nutshell, I will take at least one, often two or more books with me on even the shortest of trips. By short, I am including trips to the grocery store. I may have an opportunity to squeeze in a paragraph or a whole page at a moment's notice! In the unlikely event that a flat tire or other minor unfortunate event interrupts my planned excursion, I may have the opportunity to churn through an entire chapter. My Emergency Reading Material will typically be on the topic of the day/week for me. The Camel has happily accompanied me on numerous jaunts.

    As a business traveller, this concept intensifies when I plan for a week long trip. The Perl CD Bookshelf has greatly reduced my packing limit concerns. I must plan ahead for many types of emergencies. (Airports are wonderful places to exercise the concept of Emergency Reading Material!)

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by rah (Monk) on Aug 09, 2002 at 01:42 UTC
    Hi. My name is Rich, and I horde books. I used to horde more than I do now, but moving 3x in 5 years relieved me of some of my affliction. Alas Abigail, that is when my extensive SciFi and Fantasy collection went away. Sad thing was, I couldn't sell much at garage sales (for pennies on the dollar). I couldn't even give them to my local library (very sad).

    My current stash is largely computer books. I have 12 perl books and only like 3 of them! I can't bring myself to get rid of them yet (though I prune occasionally). It seems to me that there are few things more useless than "old" computer books. Unless of course your a history buff.

Re: Hording books and manuals.
by signal9 (Pilgrim) on Aug 13, 2002 at 23:39 UTC

    I recently found myself to be a docs ogre as well. A favorite pass-time was to go to library book sales, second hand book stores, and B&N bargain shelves for early editions of any sort of language/technique manual. During a recent move, I decided it was time I renounced my packrat ways. Numerous 3-ring binders full of printed manuals ranging from superceded RFCs to Mac System 7 manuals, to early writeups on XML and the Gnutella protocol all got chucked. I won't even begin to talk about the various obsolete hardware I finally parted with.

    A true test of my new, streamlined self came this past weekend when I was at yet another library book sale. There in all thier faded glory were O'Reilly's 'Essential System Administration' and 'Apache: The Definitive Guide' - both first editions. Like a smoker recently quit, I stood rationalizing with myself why these no-longer-particularly-relevant tomes should come home with me -- Just One More!

    I overcame that hurdle, but I know others follow. So I say 'Nay, brother Doc Ogre! You are not alone!'

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