Several years ago, I used to have a private library holding slightly over 1,500 items, which I was very proud of and represented an amazing achievement for me, especially because it took many years to reach that size. Not only it pleased me due to the number of items per se, which I considered quite reasonable by that time but mainly because I had had the satisfaction of having read most of them. The collection was made up of a myriad of genres including, academic, historical, travel guides, poetry, photo books, sports, literature, biography, cinema, music, and so forth. Moreover, many of them had been purchased abroad.
Within this context, there is a curious story to tell regarding books purchased abroad. For the younger generations that have been brought up in the context of the current digital technologies, social media, e-commerce, etc., where virtually everything is within the reach of a click of a mouse, it might look a bit odd what I am about to say. However, in my youth, it was very difficult to purchase imported books and there were basically just two ways to get your copies. First, to order them through a few large bookshops but, usually, the downside was the high price due to import taxes, the shipping costs, and the very long delivery time of several weeks. The other alternative was to ask an international friend to send them to you by post or to purchase them yourself in case you were travelling abroad for some reason.
Having said that, and as you can imagine, amidst those numerous items in my library, there were also many books waiting for their chance to be read, and not to mention several others that had been bought out of impulse and probably would take even longer to have their chance to be read.
During some time, I fostered the expectation to enlarge the collection even further. However, for this to happen appropriately I would also need to make more room at home or maybe even moving to a larger house, and none of these two options would actually take place in the foreseeable future. Besides, I must also add that this expansionist aim was not motivated by a mundane desire to have more books simply for the sake of having them, but in fact due to my passion and interest for a big array of literary genres and everything they represent. In my point of view, books are important in our lives for many reasons such as expanding our horizons, unveiling new discoveries and learning possibilities, entertaining us, to make us grow as human beings, among many others. In alignment with that, I often appreciate quoting the great Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who once said that he had “always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”.
Now, although I did love my library with its +1,500 titles, as time went by, I eventually came to realise that it was not that big (or maybe, putting it another way, not as large as I had imagined it to be). My perspective changed when I befriended a successful career consultant who used to have a private library holding over 5,000 titles. I did not envy his library and neither had it become my target or benchmark, but it certainly has given me a completely new perspective concerning how large a private library could eventually become. First, because it has astonished me due to the number of titles and second because he is an ordinary person like me, rather than a wealthy collector who can easily afford a massive private library.
Nonetheless, what is more relevant is the fact that this experience has triggered an interesting reflection to me, regarding what, in fact, is the ideal library. As you can understand from the initial paragraphs, I once thought that the number of items in my library represented a valuable aspect. However, if this aspect alone was determinant, what would be the ultimate number of items? It is obviously very difficult to pick a number, and this reveals to me that quantity alone might not be an appropriate variable to help to answer the question.
Consequently, every time I think about this subject matter what comes to my mind is that discovering what the ideal library could be, demands us to analyse the topic with different lenses. Thus, one of the ways to perform this assessment is to consider what the books can effectively bring to us and how do we relate with each one of them, rather than quantity.
In other words, this line of reflection leads us to understand that, in reality, the ideal library can encompass mostly books that you really enjoy and preferably that you have had the opportunity to read them and can tell your impression about them individually and why they are part of your collection. Moreover, this means to say that you can tell anyone that gets in contact with your personal library what exactly makes each title special enough to be on your shelves, independently of how many books you have. What is the story behind them, what did they add to your life, why are they still being kept there rather than given away, are good examples of enquiries.
Chances are that, apparently, this approach may suggest that we are talking about a mere shift from quantity to quality, but I advise you not to jump straight to conclusions yet because, in reality, it is not only quality but rather towards meaning. And meaning in its turn contributes to making our ‘relationship’ with the books similar to the ones that an author builds among the characters in a fictional novel. Having said that, I do believe that the ideal library based on meaning can potentially bring even greater satisfaction to us than one based solely on any given figure. Therefore, as a consequence of that, each one’s ideal library would become the result of meaningful personal stories whose characters (i.e.: any given number of books) can eventually change upwards or downwards over time, but more importantly, is the fact that the individual stories keep evolving and being told.