Thrifty Thursday – Building a Cheap Library

by on July 24, 2008

In an earlier post, I talked about why it was important for the seminarian to start building a good library (you can read the post here). In this post, I want to talk about how to build up a library when you don’t have much cash.

The first tip I can give you is to know your favorite scholars and writers. When you know that you like commentaries by writer A, and you see a commentary written by them, you can have a better idea that it will be worth the money. I can’t stress how important it is to keep a running list of books that you want. I keep mine in a section of my pocket moleskine I keep with me all the time. That way, when I go to a booksale or shop, I know what I am looking for.

So here are some tips to find cheaper books.

1. Get a job at a bookstore. If you can work at your schools bookshop or a local book-seller, you can get an employee’s discount and access to other programs. I once worked at a Christian Bookstore and got over 2000 dollars of credit from a major Christian publisher just by completing various incentive programs.

2. When you travel, look for any used book stores. Cities with larger seminaries often have one or more stores around the campus. Especially if you have a different theological viewpoint, you can get great deals. Since I have more a Wesleyan perspective theologically, I can find some books alot cheaper than I can around my school because there isn’t a market for them in other places.

3. Look for any bookshelves selling/swapping used books around campus. At Asbury we have a bookshelf that is full of books for sale, often for dirt cheap. One of our professors always has a small collection outside of his office that he sells for 25 cents. I have found some great stuff here.

4. Check out moving sales around campus. Many people get rid of books just because they don’t want to move them.

5. If you are in an academic path, go to conferences and society meetings. Often books are heavily discounted at these events.

6. Sign up for the Emerging Scholars Network. You get a serious discount on Eerdmans and IVP.

7. Learn how to find the “odd” books. I have a commentary series that I paid around 50 cents a volume for because it was from a different perspective and from the 70’s. The authors were up and coming phd students then and now are some of the top New Testament scholars.

More than anything, building an affordable library is about keeping your eyes open and knowing what you are looking for. Book sales go on all the time around my school, but since I know what I am looking for, I am able to take better advantage of them. Also, let people know if you have an interest that is specialized. I have had teachers give me books before that they have found and thought I would enjoy.



If you are ever in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, make sure you budget time (at least half a day) for a short drive to Stillwater, MN. There you will find Loome Theological Bookseller. Located in an old church in the middle of this rustic river town, it is the largest collection of used theological books in North America. As soon as you walk into the place you will realize that it was worth the trip. Here is a link to the website although they have only a small fraction of their inventory online. Great prices.

Also, if you are a member of ETS or SBL and go to their annual meeting you get awesome discounts on new books, many times being some of the first to have them. I try and hold off all new book buying until then. Of course, if you join for this reason only the expense might not be worth it.

It’s sweet, but a bit overwhelming – kind of like going into an IKEA if you’ve been to one. Check to find out which booksellers will offer an end of conference discount on the last day (they might not tell you) and potentially hold off until then for some books.

What’s ironic is that my campus bookstore couldn’t get a discount on one of my texts (written by one of our own profs. no less), but I was able to get it at 40% off direct from the publisher at SBL.

Thanks for recommending the Emerging Scholars Network! We also have good discounts on subscriptions to Books & Culture, Mars Hill Audio, and Christian Scholars Review.

In addition to academic conferences, InterVarsity conferences (like the upcoming Following Christ conference in Chicago) will usually have IVP books on sale for somewhere around 50% off. If you get to know the IV campus staff or staff from another campus ministry in your town, they can also often get you good deals through their connections.

I just graduated seminary from RTS and one thing I know is that I was dirt poor going through and had four jobs (two of those jobs on campus, 1 church internship (this includes preaching at various churches), 1 job working on saturdays cutting trees; all to help support my family). In the midst of all the dirt poorness, I realized one thing about having to buy books: Don’t ever ever buy commentaries (unless it is Calvin or something which is a set and you can find on for 100$ for general consideration). If you are living at or near the seminary and need a commentary go to the library. Plus, you ought just to wait until after seminary before you start to buy those wonderful commentaries anyway because you will have learned just that much more of what you need to be looking for in a good commentary. Any free money you get, buy theology books or books that will lead you to pursue holiness. There were more than a few semesters I had to refrain from buying books for class (just go to the library, you get more work done there anyway). Besides unless you really know the book, do you really want to pay money for a book that a professor assigns and then you never use it again. Spend wisely and get great books that you need for the rest of your life at seminary. All the other books you ‘need’ –> Go to the library.

A. Barness last blog post..Psalm 139


Thanks for your comments. I do use the library alot, I have learned the library of congress system so well that I can just start browsing as thought I was searching by subject on Amazon.

What I end up doing more often that not, is after I have checked a book out 2-3 times (which is more than most people think about) I just end up buying it. While your average student training to be a pastor may cycle through books that they will never use again, I am in an academic track so I end up using some of the same materials for multiple papers/classes.

I usually end up borrowing alot of books for class, the ones that I don’t think I will need, but I have found out that most of the books required for class end up being full of information that I want to keep at my finger-tips. I usually do my best work late at night after the library is closed.

Thanks for the comment, I understand how tough it is sometimes, and I am lucky that the wife and I live in one of the cheapest places in the country.

I work at Crossway in Sales and can tell you that if you are a member of ETS, even for those of you who couldn’t make it to ETS this year, we are still giving a 40-50% discount on anything when you call and tell us you’re a member!