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Building a Personal Library

A personal library is a deeply intimate thing. Your personal library is as close as you can get to an external manifestation of your interior world. It is an expression of your values, your hopes, your fears, your fantasies, and your concerns.

That's why when we look at a person's bookshelf we think we know something about the kind of person they might be, or at the very least, the kind of person they want the world to think they are. All of us have required books, books we struggled through, books someone else told us we should think were important or deep, but maybe never connected with. If we are lucky, we also have chosen books, friend books, lifeline books, books that have become a kind of sacred text. Those are the books that, like true friends, remind us who we are and where we have been, even if we sometimes forget ourselves. They are the books that kept us company through long nights, breakups, bad jobs, and unstable homes. Books that showed us another world might be possible, if only because someone else had the audacity to dream it first.

As you think about your personal library, think about the books that you want to carry with you throughout your life. They don't need to meet anyone's standards of quality but your own. They just have to have connected so deeply with your heart at a crucial time in your life that they take on a quality beyond the confines of the physical object. They hold something of your past and your hopes for you future inside them, becoming a kind of doorway to all the selves you have ever been. And what could be more special than that?

So, if this is your first time thinking intentionally about your personal library, where should you start? Here are a few concepts to help you get started:

Mission Statement

Building a personal library starts with three important components: a mission statement, a vision statement and a document to catalogue your library. This blog with help simplify your library mission, streamline your vision and equip you with examples to get over the hurdle of “actually” starting.

But first, start with a mission statement.

While that may sound ambiguous and a lofty task, it’s simple. The mission statement will give you the basis of what you want your library to be. What are your values? What do you want your personal library to say about you? A few additional questions that you may consider answering.

  1. Do you want to commit to purchasing, reading, and collecting books written by diverse authors?

  2. Are you a postgraduate student that wants to continue your learning experience outside of an academic setting?

  3. Who and what are you “building” this library for?

  4. Do you have children in your life that you want to surround with books in childhood, to then leave to in adulthood?

Vision Statement

Once you have a clear and concise mission statement, let that sink in and then start to craft a vision statement, which should be a lofty ambitious goal that you are working towards. A vision statement is a road map to what you want your library to become, by setting a direction. Think about the genres that most interest you or that you want to explore. Research that genre and make a list of authors and books you want to read specific to that genre.


Example 1:

Mission Statement: My library exists to celebrate black people living and thriving in spite of systematic oppression.

Vision Statement: I want my library to feature Afro-futuristic books, and that includes, but is not limited to Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Fantasy.

Then identify who are the authors (here I will outline black women writers) in that genre. Who are the people researching and writing about this specific genre.

Books and Authors:


Example 2:

Mission Statement: My library exists to further my knowledge and praxis of Black Feminist Thought.

Vision Statement: I want my library to include books about black feminism, activism, and black women leaders.

Books and Authors:

Black Feminist Thought

Example 3:

Mission Statement: As a visual artist I want my library to be a space for growth and new ideas.

Vision Statement: I want my library to include books written by and about artists; this includes but is not limited to biographies, autobiographies, critical thought, and poetry.

Books and Authors:

Visual Art + Practice:

Record Keeping

Cataloguing your books for your records:

This is just a quick guide if you are into record keeping and archiving. Your catalogue can be created in Google Sheets and stored in your “Drive”

It should include the basics

ISBN: an ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. It legitimizes your book and keeps track of the title and edition of a book. If you are or want to become a collector the edition of a book is really important as first editions are the most important.

Title: the Title of the book will make it easily identifiable to you and anyone at first glance.



** It is also really important to make note if the book is a signed copy.


Building your personal library is a lifelong process. It is not something for you to rush into today and break the bank. The idea is not for you to go out and purchase books to put on a shelf, but to purchase books that you love that you can refer back to time and time again. Books that you want to share with your friends to drive conversations and discussions. Books that you want to carry with you throughout your life.

And be sure to purchase your books from your local independent bookstore and/or

TILA’s bookshelf created in partnership with Charis Books and More. The South’s oldest independent feminist bookstore.

By Dartricia Rollins and E.R. Anderson

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