There are some professions that come with the side effect of amassing libraries worth of books. I hit three of them: pastor, theologian, and educator. As I get ready to move again, I've limited myself to eighteen boxes of books. This makes me sad but thankful.
Right off, I should note that I'm not talking about decluttering. I'm not looking to have less stuff to simplify my life—at least when it comes to my books. I'm culling my personal library because in the not too distant future I will be getting married (and combining two libraries), deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life, and (hopefully) moving again in the next year or so for employment based off of the previous decision. But don't get me wrong, decluttering and moving fewer boxes of books will be a welcome side effect. This also makes me cry.
Some of these books are tied to memories and letting them go is emotionally challenging. For example, the Bible that I was given as a youth as part of a national youth event. It saw a lot of use when I was at the event, and it reminded me of the Lego skull I built that got named Uncle Freddy on the trip—it was a strange time in my life, as the teenage years often are. I have not used it since, even though I've taken it with me to college, seminary, first call, second call, and here as I work on my doctorate. Letting go of such an emotionally charged object is always a challenge, but that's not the only type of separation going on.
Depending on Community
I'm actively deciding to divest myself of some books that would enable a kind of independence in favor of relying on the community where I find myself. These books span many topics: theology, language studies, literature, history, psychology, education, biblical commentary, scientific reports, reference works, etc. Knowledge I'm leaving behind (giving away, not throwing away).
Some of this makes sense because some of the books I'll be leaving behind only need to be read once—they should be passed on. Some of the books, however, contain my knowledge in that field. When I get stuck in higher level statistical analysis, I'll have to find a statistician. When I need to make sense of historical political machinations of Russian leaders, I'll have to talk to an historian. When I want to learn how to bend the notes on my harmonica, I'll have to find a musician... well at least a harmonica player.
There's a popular American idea that anyone can be entirely self-sufficient if they just try hard enough. This idea, however, is idolatry. Yes, a solid work ethic is a good thing, but if the goal is self-sufficiency, the dream is delusional. At the very least, each of us always relies on God, without whom the creation itself stops. Add to this that in America today we are all intimately intertwined in dependency on one another for the basic necessities of life—food, clothing, and shelter.
Choosing to leave behind books is choosing to depend on those people God places in my life. I neither need nor want to know everything. I would rather seek out others in my times of need or ignorance that in my weakness God might work and relationships might form.
Maybe eighteen boxes is too many....