Book Collections and Inheritance: The Quandary

book collections and inheritanceOne thing the ‘I love the smell of paper’ people seldom talk about is what happens to your paper book collection when you die. We’ve been facing this issue in my family this week, clearing out the home of my grandpa, who just passed away at 90 years of age, over sixty of which he spent in this one house.

Disposing of his books is not as straightforward an issue as it might appear. Grandpa was an autodidact of eclectic interests and some of his books are of a very peculiar nature. He was a master woodworker and most of his hundreds of books on that subject will go with the tools to wherever they wind up. But what of some of the curiosities like 100 Years of America’s Firefighting Apparatus or The Book of Barometers? What on earth are we supposed to do with those?

Fortunately, the bulk of his books do fall into neat little sub collections and can be disposed of en masse. A cousin is preparing a shipping container to inherit the entirety of his massive joke book collection. Another is assessing all of Grandma’s knitting stuff, books included. His rabbi friend will be taking the religious books, of which the Hebrew ones require special disposal. Another relative is taking all the fiction to a thrift shop where he works…

I suppose my descendants will have an easier task. Once they throw away my flash drive, it will all be done!

10 Comments on Book Collections and Inheritance: The Quandary

  1. Susan Lulgjuraj // January 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm //

    I used to work in a hospital a little while after graduating college, also while working part-time at a newspaper. When one of the reporter’s mother passed away, he gave boxes full of books that I brought to the hospital to donate them to the library there. There were dozens of books.

  2. I don’t think that any of the big ebook retailers are facing up to this issue yet.

    Amazon says that someone else can take over an account when the owner dies, but there’s no provision for splitting or merging accounts.

    It’s also going to affect other electronic media accounts – e.g. iTunes music.

  3. Librarians, facing gifts derived from major life events (moving, retirement, death etc.), sometimes point out that GIFT is a four letter word. That may be polite-speak for, “we’d really rather not deal with all of this.”
    The Japanese, who reduce print to PDF to save space, may be offering us an important example to follow. Have it all scanned so that all your heirs can have the opport or delete unity to read the stuff that you thought important – or delete it.

  4. Librarians, facing gifts derived from major life events (moving, retirement, death etc.), sometimes point out that GIFT is a four letter word. That may be polite-speak for, “we’d really rather not deal with all of this.”
    The Japanese, who reduce print to PDF to save space, may be offering us an important example to follow. Have it all scanned so that all your heirs can have the opportunity to read the stuff that you thought important – or delete it.

  5. I’m in the process of donating my mom’s library to the local Friends of the Library’s book sales. I thought that appropriate since she so loved to read the books I checked out for her.

    The Salvation Army and other charities that run stores are happy for books, as well. Women’s shelters, too. You can ship books to various soldier bases or overseas. The possibilities are endless. Just ask around.

  6. Sure Marilynn, with minimal effort we could unload 100 suitable books on your library friends. But then what would we do with the thousand other ones (I am not kidding, several rooms full) that are on the level of The Book of Barometers? It is such a huge volume of special snowflake titles that finding the perfect home for each of them is simply not realistic. I suspect that the ones which fall into neat little collections will go in groups—all the garden books to one home, all the knitting books to another—and all of the quirky little outliers will be binned. There just isn’t time in the day for it.

  7. The Friends of the Library is the support organization for the local library, lots of libraries have them so I assumed you knew what they are. The local Friends has book sales open to the public. Thousands of books are sold at a sale, and the profits are donated to the library.

    I can understand the problem with speciality books, though. A local bookstore specializes in books about Polynesia. North Carolina is nowhere near Polynesia, yet here it is. Before the Internet, they sold these speciality books through the mail.

    If you live near a large metropolitan area, you may want to ask around at the bookstores who handle rare books to see if there’s an auction that does lot sales of speciality books or somewhere you can donate specialized books. Garden books for a Master Gardener library, for example.

  8. A few years back a couple that I am friends with had a huge collection of books to clean out of a great uncles house. The uncle would build new book cases in front of the full ones and start over. After they disposed of all the books that had obvious homes they used the rest to heat their family room. He said it hurt to burn books but a lot of books have no value to anyone anymore and it was better than sending them to the dump.

  9. If you were in the United States, I’d suggest checking whether Better World Books had a dropoff in your city, but I don’t think crossing the border is worth the trouble!

  10. When my grandfather died in the 1990’s we had one rare book dealer who came through and paid us for the best stuff, then a lower level used book dealer came and gave us a pittance for the ok stuff, after that we donated the bulk to a local library sale, but the one thing that we could not get rid of were his large collections of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.

    They were not worth any money, nobody would take them as donations, they could not be recycled and even the local trash men refused to haul them away to the landfill. We ended up having to leave them in the house for the new owners.

    Since then I learned that a number of charities send RDCB’s to tropical English speaking countries like the Philippines where paperback books rot after 3-6 months. RDCB’s are so strongly bound they can stand years of hard use even in the tropics.

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