Closed September 2017

10 Books You Can Get Rid of Because of the Internet

Oldbooks2 I guess I have been on a roll lately with thinking about reading material and bookshelves. First my post on opting out of the Yellow Pages, then the National Geographic "Golden Shelves of Glory" post

Today I was thinking about how many traditional reference books we no longer use because of the web. I am not saying you SHOULD get rid of these if you like them, but I am merely asking some questions to get you thinking.

  • How much shelf space are these thick books taking up?
  • How much use are they getting?
  • Are they even up-to-date with the information they offer?
  • Could you use the voluminous shelf space they currently occupy for something more relevant that you need handy?

Here's my list of books to consider:

  1. Atlases: An atlas is outdated as soon as it's printed, given normal growth, political changes, and boundary adjustments that occur regularly throughout the world. Google Earth is great for these needs, as well as Google Maps and Mapquest. Not perfect either, but definitely where I would go first to look.
  2. Medical references: Would you open this book first, or go to WebMD or
  3. Movie guides: Every year new versions of books like Leonard Maltin's are updated and printed. Do you go there first, or IMDB?
  4. Almanacs: The Farmer's Almanac used to be the go-to resource for moon phases, long term weather forecasting, and other useful information. Now they have, where things are more updated and searchable. 
  5. Quotation references: There are lots of places online to search for good quotes, such as and others. Books will not have up-to-date quotes from more modern sources.
  6. Encyclopedias: Talk about shelf space! I am sure we can have a lively debate about Wikipedia's validity, and that is a good debate to have, but if I am going to look up something I will always go somewhere online and search until I find the most credible source.
  7. Cookbooks: I love cookbooks as many people do, but nowadays I am finding I go online first when I need a recipe. I keep my own recipe binder for the ones I use and love (see our Clutter Video Tip here about creating a recipe binder). I would encourage you to think twice before buying new cookbooks, and if you have some on your shelf that you've owned for years and only use one or two recipes out of them… you can photocopy the recipes you like, put them in your binder, and donate the book.
  8. Dictionaries: I am a writer and I am sitting at a computer doing that, so it makes sense for me to jump over to The Free Dictionary for look-ups. We do have a small paperback dictionary here for the kids if they need one for manual-style homework, but the days of owning a gigantic copy of Webster's on our shelves are over.
  9. Thesauri: Yes, the plural of thesaurus is thesauri. I know this because I looked it up on The Free Dictionary.  ;)  I use The Free Dictionary for thesaurus lookups too, because when you search for a word there, it gives you the dictionary definition and then you scroll down and see the thesaurus entries for that word on the same page. I also have enjoyed using The Visual Thesaurus, which can take you on a fun journey of springy, web-like word connections. You can try it but then it is a paid service for about $20 per year. There are many other free thesaurus options out there.
  10. Household maintenance and repair references: Now you can go online and watch videos of someone doing repairs and remodeling projects, which is so much easier to follow than crazy line diagrams and vague instructions. is a good place for this, as well as

Again, I am a book lover, so I am not suggesting you get rid of books you use and love. But I am going to lead the charge by donating several books, including a thick 1995 copy of A Writer's Companion, along with an old thesaurus, a paperback quotations book, a medical encyclopedia, and a couple of books on editing and punctuation–total linear shelf-inches freed up, FOURTEEN!

When you donate to Goodwill®, you can use our Donation Impact Calculator to learn how your books helped someone in your community! For example, donating 10 books is equivalent to:

  • 17 minutes of resume preparation,
  • 16 minutes of job search class,
  • 12 minutes of career counseling,
  • 15 minutes of financial planning class, or
  • 19 minutes of on-the-job training!

What will you "go digital" on today from your bookshelf? Argue with me, or tell me how many shelf-inches of books you are donating in the comments!  🙂

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I am a librarian who loves books – and also spends many hours each day searching for information online. However, at home, I use an older laptop that takes half an hour from power on to actually surfing the Internet, so I don’t turn it on every day. I still want quick reference materials on my shelf so that I can walk over and find an answer quickly. If I had always-on Internet access at home, I’d consider weeding, but not until then.


I agree with most of your suggestions but have trouble with #7 where you suggest copying the recipe out and then donating the book. From what I have heard on other forums (talking about music and patterns) this is breaking copyright. I am not a copyright lawyer and I know the laws are different in different countries but in the USA it is illegal to burn tracks from a CD and then give the CD away, why would it be different to copy some of a book and then give the book away? Making a copy for your own use of a source you own is fine but once you don’t own the source anymore you don’t have the right to keep the copy.

Robert Wall

Beth, I’m not a copyright lawyer either but by my understanding recipes can’t be copyrighted. The page arrangement can be, and the collection can be, but recipes can’t.
So maybe instead of photocopying it just hand-write the couple recipes on 3×5 cards and call it good?
I disagree on the “quotation references” one – yes, the ones you have at home don’t automatically update. But some of the books have great information that no online source has.
The key here is in having the books on your shelf that can’t be duplicated online.
There are plenty of them!

Lorie Marrero

Robert and Beth, I know exactly what you are talking about, particularly with music– it’s definitely copyright infringement to take a digital copy of a CD and then donate it… making your copy illegal as you no longer own the item. I am definitely not an attorney either, but I know Robert is right about recipes, and I also know that from time immemorial people have gone to libraries to do research and made copies of pages inside books to take home and keep. I think it’s probably considered “fair use” to use one or two recipes, quite another issue to copy the entire cookbook. Does that make sense?
– Lorie


This is a great idea. I’m a writer and a collector… so books and other things can become an issue in my living space. But there are things that can be sold off due to the Internet.

Janet Hulstrand

Nice piece, which fits in perfectly with the topic of the latest post on our blog, “Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned.”
In fact I added the link to this piece to a list of resources referenced in our post when I saw it. Hope it brings a few more folks your way!


For keeping those few recipes from a book, I use software called LIVING COOKBOOK. It is my version of the binder! It is a little work to enter the recipes but you can add tips, comments and your own instructions. I’m looking forward to the day this software or something like it will run on a smart phone or an ipad and I can look up recipes while I’m at the store!


If you are worried about copyright laws and recipes, you can do what I do which is to cut out any recipes from the recipe book I am discarding.

Lorie Marrero

This copyright question is bothering me… First let me say that if you ask anyone in my industry, I am a big torch-carrier for intellectual property rights, but here I personally think this falls under “fair use.” Jeri, thanks for the links– it seems like a lot of that is talking about taking recipes and modifying them and republishing them for profit. To me, what I am suggesting (photocopying one or two recipes and donating the book) is not any different than just hand-writing those recipes down on a card and then donating the book. Definitely read about “fair use” if you have concerns about this issue, and make a decision for yourself. – Lorie


I agree with the comments — including Lorie’s — about keeping some books.
Remember — free online information often is worth just what you paid for it — nothing.

Michelle Fox

As an MBA student, I have found that text books are another space-taker. The good news is that there is a strong push by publishers now to convert to digital e-books rather than big, hard cover printed ones. As for the stacks of books still left over from my undergrad, I plan to donate or resell them because 1) I will probably never touch them again, and 2)there is nothing in those books I can’t look up on the internet.


I actually disagree with almost everything on this list.
Becoming overly dependent on the internet, or on technology itself, will come back and bite you in the backside someday.
There is no replacement for an actual atlas. GPS devices are notoriously inaccurate, Sat navs are as well, and the internet is not always available from the road and especially not out in the middle of nowhere. If you want to be lost, and perhaps put your life in danger, don’t own a paper atlas. Maps are invaluable, and relying on Google maps in events of emergency will get you killed.
WebMD is biased. Not to mention if something should happen and internet is not available and you need a medical reference, you’re going to wish you had even an OUTDATED one. Most people don’t even bother owning that much. But, again, the internet is not a replacement for good, sound references like this in the event of an emergency(which is why you’d even want one, correct?!).
Most people just don’t like to think of what MIGHT happen if we no longer have the internet to rely on, or what happens in a really big emergency, but it’s thinking of those things that can save your life. Nothing on this list is replaceable by the internet.
If you had said
Romance Novels
Anything by Jane Austen
Then I’d have agreed. Because we have Kindles for all of those. And, they’re totally worthless in emergencies.

Eleanore Hartz

The wisdom of our species is contained in books. Close the libraries, take away the books, the access to the shelves, the card catalog and a fully categorized system of organization of ALL knowledge, and soon we will only know what the powers-that-be want us to know. Thank God for books!
I love having books, touching books, reading books, feeling the connection between myself and the author, thinking of what has been said, framing my thoughts in response. Yes, they take space. Many of them weigh a lot. Oh, well.
I have yet to find a book that says “Not Responding” on its 1st page, or refuses to open at all. I only have to buy a book once (or take it out of the public library). I don’t have to update it to a new version, or play it on a new machine, or find out that the machine it used to play on is no longer made and sold. I don’t need to pay for a machine that has 30,000 books on it, none of which may be the book I want, many of which will cost additional money once the machine itself is paid for.
I love the feel of paper, and the ability to hold my place while I look back or forward. I love to scan a shelf of books and speculate on which one I feel like reading now, today. I like to see my options.
Books are quiet. Not much today is quiet. People don’t seem to know how to be quiet. Even if they are not speaking, they have to “text” banal remarks. They also don’t seem to know how to be alone. There can be much value and peace in being quiet and being alone. And opening a book.

Lorie Marrero

Here is some excellent information explicitly about recipe copyright law from the government itself:
Source: (last reviewed by their people in Nov. 2010)
It looks like people are overlooking these sentences in my post:
“I am not saying you SHOULD get rid of these if you like them, but I am merely asking some questions to get you thinking.”
“Again, I am a book lover, so I am not suggesting you get rid of books you use and love.”
I believe in and love books as much as the next person. I also wrote one. 🙂
I do know for SURE that many of our books are sitting there unused for many, many years because we never reference them anymore. If you do, PLEASE keep them, and if you feel strongly about any of this, please do what you feel is right for you. I just want people to think twice about the “real estate” that is taken up on their shelves and how it’s being used. The books I listed that I am donating I have not touched in at least 2 years or more because I am a writer who is using a computer and the internet 99% of the time.
Thanks, everyone, for your very thoughtful input here!

Kim Oser, Certified Professional Organizer

Convinced a client to donate a book on watches. He researches everything on the Internet now. He couldn’t remember which watch he had wanted to research or if he even still owned the watch. The book was close to 2″ thick. We donated it to Friends of the Library, along with some others that told the value of particular items. Most older books that are ‘valuation guides’ are out of date and can be recycled. The most current info is available on the Internet and takes up no space on your book shelf.
Thanks for great post and giving us something to ponder.

Jeri Dansky

LJRich, you reminded me that the one medical reference book I do still have in paper format is The Pocket Doctor ( – exactly the kind of thing you might want in an emergency. I got it years ago to take with me when traveling.
But I also have a first aid app on my iPhone – which was very handy when I had a medical question when I was driving around one day. It’s the same one someone used during the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. (


Internet research is convenient, but it often lacks the editorial oversight that printed resources have. Too many people believe whatever they find online, especially with medical information.
Ironically, I keep my own extensive book collection in check by donating most fiction I know I will not read again and using the library whenever possible. I do not begrudge reference books shelf space. Even if I can look it up online, I love knowing I can find the information even if the power is out or the hard drive crashes. Besides, the journey to the data is often the best part of the trip — how many interesting words have I found on the way to the one I thought I wanted? Pick up a copy of Brewer’s Phrase and Fable for the ultimate illustration of this principle!
I collect cookbooks. If I found a recipe good enough to copy and save, why in the world would I give the book away? Surely other recipes might be good too, and how can you be sure you won’t want to try them? I donate books with recipes I did not like or those I find I never use at all.


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