Friday, April 5, 2013

To Keep or Not To Keep

After the Library of Congress was destroyed by the British in 1814, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to the U.S. government for $23,950.  The collection, consisting of 6,487 books, included books in many content areas.  Today, the Library of Congress has over 32 million books and other types of media.

My Personal Library
While I do not have quite as many books as Jefferson, I have accumulated more books than I can display.  I love to read books, and still prefer printed books over ebooks.  In a previous post, I discussed how to download order reports from Amazon.

Like Jefferson, my book collection spans numerous topics including mental health (my academic background), story, presentations, mythology, writing, cooking, bookbinding, music, and religious texts.

Time to Downsize
In an effort to "declutter" our house, my wife and I decided to review the contents and stored items in each room to determine what could be eliminated.  So far, items can be separated into three groups:  things to keep, thing to discard (trash), and items to donate to Goodwill, my donation charity of choice.

I decided to review all of the books as well.  Because I like books, it is difficult for me to let any go.  I took a few minutes and mapped out a process to help me evaluate each book.

Book Retention Process
The process is centered around four questions.  If the answer to any question is "yes," the book is kept.  Alternatively, if the answer to all questions is "no," the book is donated to Goodwill.
  1. Will the book be used as a reference?  Books that I will need to refer back to or pull information from should be kept.  This includes my mental health books and other business/communications books.
  2. Is there a personal connection to the book?  I have several books that are the result of personal projects including genealogies, books written by students, and some autographed books.
  3. Will the book be reread?  If I am likely to read the book again, or loan it to a friend or co-worker, I will keep the book.
  4. Is the book a classic?  For my process, "classic" takes a broader definition than just a book such as War and Peace or a collection of literature.  I'm using "classic" in the context of a book that provides  definitive perspective on a topic.  For example, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, presents a unique perspective on marketing and presentations, even though it is a contemporary book.

Book flowchart

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a classic part of the quality improvement cycle.  Having developed the book retention flowchart (Plan), yesterday, I took my flowchart to work and reviewed my collection of books at work (Do).   After sorting through the books, I identified approximately 20% of books that do not meet any of the criteria I determined.  Now that I have Checked the results of the Do following the Plan, I am ready to proceed to the Act phase and implement the book retention process on my personal library. 

Create Your Own Flowchart
If you have a decision to make, I encourage you to write down some criteria for use in evaluating the various aspects and potential results of your available choices.  It will help you clarify your thought processes and provide a guideline to use, especially if the decision is a group decision. 

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