The Power of Building a Personal Library

As the famous American writer Mark Twain is believed to have once stated: “The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.” Perhaps you are an avid reader, or like most you may only read books rarely if at all. There is a great benefit however in building a quality personal library and reading from it regularly. In fact, I am going to argue that this is critically vital if you wish to be successful in your career.  If you don’t start building your own personal library now, and adopt an aggressive pattern of daily reading, then you simply won’t be competitive with other prospective employees in the marketplace.

For example, I personally read 45 mins every morning, of a book that I believe will be beneficial to my career. I take Saturdays off, so that is 4.5 hours of reading a week, or 234 hours of reading per year. I average 2 books a month, or 24 books a year. Meaning that in four years, someone following this same regiment would have read 96 books in their field of study. That is a lot of self-study. And when you are interviewing for jobs, you will be up against interviewees like me who use their free time to get a leg-up on their future competition. As Amitesh Jasrotia says in a 2021 blog post for, “your library can be your armory of knowledge with which to aim at higher things in life.”

So allow me to share the many benefits of building your own personal library, how to find relevant books to buy, and what sort of books you may want to start with. 

A lack of reading is a critical problem in modern society. According to a 2021 article by Pew Research, titled “Who doesn’t read books in America?”, roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they haven’t read a book in the past year. Maybe this describes you. You may think to yourself that you can just google any information you need. Living in the modern digital age, it is easy to get into the mindset that any question can be answered with a few keystrokes, but this simply isn’t the case. For starters, there is a lot of information that can only be found in the pages of a book. Most books have never been digitized, and books tend to explore subjects at a much greater depth than an online article or YouTube video. Some books are rare and difficult to acquire, full of information difficult to find elsewhere. It may be that reading such a book gives you an advantage over people who don’t have access to that knowledge. That is one of the reasons that I like to search for and collect rare books that are relevant to my field of study. The extra effort it takes to hunt down and read a rare book might just pay dividends in the future, when you know things that people that you are in competition with don’t. As historian Matthew Muller stated in a 2020 blog post, “collecting actual books is a great way to gain access to knowledge and preserve it over time.”

There is also a psychological difference in absorbing information from a book rather than from a computer screen. The media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote an entire book, “The Guttenberg Galaxy”, on the power of the printed page. It’s a rare book, difficult to find. I am lucky enough to own a copy. McLuhan states in this book that when we read text off a page of a book, that our brain processes that information differently than when we absorb content through electronic mediums. In other words, the method that we take in information has a degree of influence over how we understand it. So we can’t equate googling an answer to finding answers from a book, as they are quite different things.

So why build a library and not simply check books out at your local library? There certainly is a financial benefit to using your local library, however it isn’t a great substitute for building your own library. For one, it isn’t very efficient. Every time you are ready to pick up a new book to read, or anytime you need a quick reference, you would have to jump into your car and drive to your nearest library. With the price of gas being what it is, this is quickly becoming less economical than it may have originally seemed. You are also at the mercy of what the library has in stock, which means the books most beneficial to you might not be accessible to you. Furthermore, especially niche books or truly rare books aren’t often stocked by libraries. Building your own personal library will allow you to select the books most relevant to your own needs, and you will have instant access to them 24/7.

There are lots of ways to help offset the cost of books if that is a concern. Frequenting used bookstores and searching auction sites like eBay will often allow a frugal book buyer the opportunity to amass a large collection quite economically. But how do you figure out what books to buy? There is after all an almost limitless number of books, and a finite amount of time to read them, and certainly a finite budget to spend on them. Surely it would be wise to sort through them all and make a list of the most beneficial books? Well, one way that I like to do this is my searching appropriate subreddits and forums for recommended books. The social media platform Goodreads also contains user recommended lists for any number of book subjects. Sometimes with a bit of googling you can find blog posts or YouTube videos where content creators share books that were helpful to them. I also find that as I am reading, it is often the case that an author might suggest another book to read on the subject, so I keep a notepad next to my reading chair so I can jot these recommendations down to find later.

Now you may be wondering where to start? Well, lets take my own library as an example. Your library should be unique to you and your own goals, however there will likely be a good deal of commonality with other libraries as there are certain topics and genres that have universal benefit. Your library should also reflect a diverse range of subjects, so you can be a well-rounded reader. According to Justin Brown’s 2018 blog post for IdeaPod, titled “15 incredible benefits from reading every day”, being a well-rounded reader will lead to you being better equipped to handle many of life’s challenges. I have a number of books always at hand, and they are organized by category. One shelf is entirely fiction, including a number of the classics and many science fiction and fantasy. You may think that reading fiction won’t be any help to you professionally, but I beg to differ. Fiction opens your mind to places, cultures, and circumstances. It places you in the shoes of others, and lets you explore different points of view. This experience can be beneficial to us in a lot of ways.

The next bookcase mostly contains books that are directly relevant to my career. I am an Advertising Major, so the first row contains books on Communication Theory and Media Ecology and the second row contains the most recommended books on Advertising. Then, because I am interested the data analytics side of things, we have a row of books about Programming and Databases, and a row about Math and Statistics. The last two rows are Religion.

The third bookcase is where I keep books on subjects that I find personally interesting. Including Art books, Graphic Design, and Typography on the top shelf. The next row of books are all about Economics, and finally a row of books about Politics and American History.

As you can see, there is a great deal of variety in my library. The goal is to become well-rounded in your reading, while still being relevant for your personal career goals. I implore you to begin constructing your own library, one that is inline with your own goals and aspirations, and that will give you a well-rounded base of knowledge. And as you build this library, read from it, every day. This will give you a competitive advantage that can’t be acquired adequately in any other way.

Brown, J. (2019). 15 incredible benefits from reading every day. IdeaPod.

Muller, M. (2020, December 9). Matthew Muller New Orleans: The Benefits of Collecting Books. Matthew Muller New Orleans.

Jasrotia, A. (2021, July 5). Monday Musings of a Bibliophile | Why should you build a personal library at home? BookJelly.

Twain, M. (n.d.). Quotation of uncertain origin. The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.

Perrin, A., Gelles-Watnick, R. (2021, September 21). Who doesn’t read books in America? Pew Research.

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. University of Toronto Press.

Advertising: Research Vs. Creative

Louis Cheskin (pictured above reclining in his chair, mid-thought) was an innovative marketing researcher who spent most of his life advocating for the benefit of using research to determine successful packaging and advertising. In the 1930s, he founded the Color Research Institute of America in Chicago. He also authored many, many marketing books that are quite difficult to track down now (I’ve only managed to find three so far). In his books, Cheskin makes the claim that the success of advertising can be accurately determined beforehand through research, and it seems that he was renowned in his day for his accurate predictions and startling ROI. His research methods focused on analyzing the unconscious psychological responses of test audiences. In his writing, you can feel the utter contempt Cheskin had for the prevalent notion that advertising should value artistic merit foremost, and blamed bad advertising on creatives who tried to express themselves artistically instead of promoting the brand using quantifiable methods.

On the other hand, there is Luke Sullivan. Sullivan spent 32 years in the ad business at elite agencies like The Martin Agency and Fallon, was afterwards a professor of advertising for many years, and authored the popular advertising book “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This“. In his book, Sullivan takes the exact opposite stance from Cheskin. He found no merit in researching ad campaigns beforehand to determine their likelihood of success. Sullivan found research a pesky thing that only created road blocks to his creativity. Instead, Sullivan advocates that ads should value creativity over profit; that even if an ad was successfully profitable, if it doesn’t have artistic merit then it should be thrown out. He states that the alternative would be a world full of annoying, soul-draining (even if ultimately effective) ads.

Who was right? My inner artist wants to side with Sullivan; a world full of uncreative, uninteresting advertising seems terribly dull, and there is something special about an ad that transcends its original purpose to become recognized as a work of art like early posters now are. But art at the cost of profit is too high a price to pay. Cheskin valued applying the scientific method to advertising so that each move was calculated and precise, with results that were predictable and profitable. Though Cheskin recognized value in ads also being creative, he determined this was only beneficial if creativity was used to make an advertisement more effective. I think Cheskin’s approach is the logical one.