Musings of a Theological Bibliophile, Part 5: Developing a Strategy, Continued
Last time I wrote in this series, I began to list ten guidelines for buying theological books that I think young men ought to weigh as they consider how to spend their resources on books. First, I suggested that we ought to buy deliberately—that is we buy books on purpose with a goal in mind—in my opinion, a lifetime of ministry. Second, I suggested we ought to buy systematically—that is, we ought to be careful to buy good books across the categories so that we will have a balanced and useful library.
Today, I would like to discuss two more principles for theological library acquisition—buy regularly and buy selectively. It goes without saying that most of us will have to work at building a theological library. I had a friend in seminary who had the good blessing to have a family friend invest in his ministry by buying 2,500 volumes from a well-known pastor who had retired. It did the pastor a favor by giving him some money back for his sizeable investment and it did the young man a favor by giving him a start on his library . . . and a good start it was!
Most of us will not start our libraries this way. In this series, I am talking about the first 1000 volumes, and he started with 2500. If only a third of the books purchased interested him, he still had 800 good books! I have several other friends that inherited books from their fathers who were in ministry. My own son stands to benefit in the same way.
But most of us aren’t that blessed. In my case, I started with what I bought in Bible college and added to them over my years in ministry. Today I have only a modest collection compared to the libraries of some men I know who have more than 10,000 books. Most of us will never acquire that size of a collection, though the digital revolution may prove me wrong. At this point, the price of digital books will have to drop significantly for most young men to amass that large a digital collection of recent titles.
So my best advice here is to be buying regularly—buy all the time. You would be surprised how many books you can acquire if you are simply “book conscious.” Look for books always and everywhere. Flea markets, second hand stores, library book sales, yard sales, estate sales, retiring pastors, the internet—everything from retailers like Amazon.com to used sites and Ebay are all great sources for books. Put the word out to family that you are interested in books for Christmas or your birthday and any time in between. Make a list and see that it gets disseminated. We have small shepherding groups here at Central Seminary, and periodically I tell the wives of the men in my small group to buy their husbands books and to encourage their extended families to do the same. He can buy his own socks when he needs them, but he will need help buying books.
Fourth, buy selectively. Pass over most books that you think you want and wait . . . wait . . . wait. Most of the time, we buy on impulse. Carefully consider why you want a particular title. What will it do for your collection? Why do you feel that you need it now? Can it wait until next time? My standing comment is that I only buy the books I cannot live without. Now that I have access to a seminary library, the list of those kinds of books is growing. But periodically I find books that I must have. If the price is right, then I will buy it. Next time I will talk a bit more about the economy of library building, but let me hasten to say that because a book is available today doesn’t mean I will buy it, even if I want it. I seldom overspend for a book. I find that if I wait, I can usually find what I need at a better price. So as I make my selections, I think about my needs and the price and weigh these together.
In my next post, I will consider buying books theologically and buying them economically. Until then, happy hunting!