Ask LH: How Can I Store My Old Books?

Ask LH: How Can I Store My Old Books?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m a book collector living in a small house and I’m trying to find the best (and cheapest) way to store all my books while leaving them still somewhat accessible. At the moment I have about seven bookcases worth in a retail storage unit down the road stored in plastic tubs with lids. My collection is a variety of different formats — graphic novels, paperbacks, hardcovers and textbooks. My biggest problem is these boxes keep piling up and I’m unlikely to access the ones at the back anymore. Any tips? Thanks, Book Addict

Bookshelves picture from Shutterstock

Dear Book Addict,

I very much empathise with your situation, but there’s only a few solutions to this particular dilemma — and they’re solutions that I suspect you’ll find difficult to come to terms with.

The eBook solution

There’s no doubting that a Kindle, Kobo or any of the myriad cheap e-readers allow you to store books in a more space-efficient way. In terms of your ongoing love affair with the written word, eBooks would definitely be the way to go, but you probably don’t want to re-buy the books you already own.

Technically, under Australian copyright law you’re entitled to digitise any printed book you own but the painful bit there is that this provision only works for books you’re prepared to scan and perform OCR correction on yourself. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands and you’re extremely pedantic, it is one solution.

Rationalise ‘until it hurts (which it will)

You’ve only got so much space, but at the same time you’ve only got a single set of eyes and 24 hours in the day to read them all. You mention that you’re not likely to access the books at the back of the box stack any more, which means it may just be time to sort through your books and identify the really important ones.

However this doesn’t mean that you have to then put the rest in a pile and light a match. Indeed, don’t do that. Forget I wrote that entirely. Donate the books away — depending on what you’ve got they could either be good research tools for somebody or a way for a worthy charity to earn some much needed cash — but check your local library’s resources before you do. If they have a copy of one or more of the books you currently own, there’s nothing stopping you borrowing it from them when you have the time or desire to read it. As an added bonus, they’ll even store it on their own shelves when you’re done.

Build a house made entirely out of bookshelves

I like this idea, and it would solve your storage problems for a while… but it’s likely to be a bit on the expensive or impractical side.


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  • I was caught in the same position with about 1 1/2 cubic metres of books. In the end it culled to 10 books that I must have in paper form then took the rest to used book store and got about $ 100 for them. I died inside a small bit but then got “ahem” “alternate” ebooks for the others. Now I can view from drop box all my old collection

  • There are also professional services to digitise paper collections, but they aren’t cheap, and they destroy the book in the process. Still, if you calculate the cost of storage over time against the one-off cost of professional digitisation, it may work out cheaper and more effective in the end.

    I just resigned myself to an ever-growing book collection and the resultant cost of off-site storage. It makes no monetary sense, but it’s one of the closest ways I’ve found to actually buy happiness.

  • Lifehacker really has got the right solution. I have roughly the same problem, I have a large book collection that while I can store at the moment, I will need to move in the next year or so. I really do not want to move all these books again!

    First I tackled fiction as I now see fiction (especially paperbacks) as just cellulose holding a story, no pictures or references. An ebook could do that fine for what I want. I would still like some paperbacks for when an ebook is impossible (reading in the bathtub). So if I had access to a good quality ebook file of that book it went in the donation pile. This was the majority of what I culled.

    Non-fiction was a little harder and not much was culled from there. You cannot often beat paper for go-to reference materials.

    I find that reading graphic novels on a tablet is great, so I culled my collection down to half a dozen essential series and the rest I have found as cbr files.

    I ended up reducing my collection down by roughly 20% (from over roughly 1000 books). They went to various friends and Lifeline. I know it is hard to give these up, I’m a bibliophile too, but you have to ask yourself if that book has any value being physical over digital. If it doesn’t get rid of it.

    You do get a liberating feeling from getting rid of physical objects and clutter. And if in a few years you regret getting rid of that one book for some reason, it’s just $20 away. No biggy.

  • I would have to go the house full of bookshelves. Dust would be an issue but wow, how cool would it look!

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