In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the following question with Umberto Eco, who happens to possess a rather significant, personal library.

Is the value of a library in the books you've read or in the books you have not read?

Most people are disappointed to learn that Eco hasn't read most of the books it contains. Eco feels precisely the opposite. To him, the value of the library lies in the unread books--the books yet to be discovered.

Which is why he continues adding to his collection. So to Eco (and Taleb), the library's value lies in its undiscovered volumes, which echo's Shakespeare's line about the "undiscovered country."

But others answer the question differently...

Neither; the value is in your relationship to the library. A library is for information. Information enlightens us when we have the capacity to assimilate it. Books we've read have enlightened us--and we can return to them with new insight at anytime. Books we have not read are waiting to enlighten us--when we are ready of course.
~ Barbara Rhyneer, Assistant Professor at Northern Michigan University

A brilliant point that reminds us how dynamic the relationship is between an individual and a book. In reality, you may read the same book multiple times and discover new insights with each reading--I experienced this in a big way with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

So the full value of a library lies in both the read and unread volumes, and the many relationships that implies. While I like Taleb's contrarian insight about the value of a library's undiscovered volumes, the re-discovery of a previously read volume hold at least as much value over a lifetime. And lets not get into how reading one book will affect your reading of another. Like weather patterns, the systems of relationships are just too complex to anticipate.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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