Private Libraries

Private Libraries

My husband tore a page out of Fortune magazine and thrust it into my hands, “You need to read this!”  The article, Archive of Wonder, is about Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline, and the library he assembled in his Connecticut home.  Mr. Walker’s private library contains a range of artifacts from the first printing of the Magna Carta to the original backup to Sputnik and a motherboard signed by Steve Wozniak.  The library is straight out of a movie with moving walls, secret passageways, and decorated with heiroglyphs.  This library is in his home.  In his home!  Mr. Walker is the only person alive who knows what the library holds.  It’s not clear from the article if visitors are permitted to browse in his library, but I would love an invitation!

If you were able to attend the AISL conference in Dallas last year, perhaps your brain is leaping back to the Crow Library.  If you missed it, one article I found that describes some of the Crow Library holdings is here.  Harlan Crow has been collecting artifacts, books, and as he describes, ideas, in his library.  The library building itself is an impressive piece of architecture, an addition to his family home, and its holdings are amazing, documenting U.S. and World history.  He has a full-time librarian working with the collection to catalog, preserve, and transcribe its holdings. Harlan Crow opens up his library by appointment.  It was a wonderful experience to browse this library with members of AISL.

If you have several free hours you can Google “private libraries” and browse through 44,000,000 search results.  If you have about five minutes, flip through the photo gallery of private libraries on display at Flavorwire.  Amazing!

In my Google searching, I stumbled upon a 2007 New York Times article titled C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.  You won’t be surprised to read that many successful people out there have created private libraries in their homes.  And like Jay Walker of Priceline, the majority of these libraries are, in fact, private and held behind locked doors.  Author Harriet Rubin wrote “…more than their sex lives or bank accounts- chief executives keep their libraries private.”  As a C.E.O., it just wouldn’t do to let competitors know what’s on or in your mind.

How do these C.E.O.s arrange their collections?  According to Rubin, not very well.  “C.E.O. libraries typically lack a Dewey Decimal or even org-chart order.”  Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist, says in the article, “My books are organized by topic and interest but in a manner that would make a librarian weep.”  Jay Walker describes the books in his library as arranged “randomly by height.”  Of course, the C.E.O.s aren’t organizing materials for others to find, so I suppose it doesn’t matter how the books are arranged.

What does your private, home, library look like?  Mine is in three different areas of the house with the most frequently used (cookbooks) easily accessible in the kitchen.  Early in my library career, I collected books constantly, until it occurred to me that the public and school library can take care of the collecting and I can do the borrowing.  Books don’t all have to be at home, saving space and making moving a lot easier.  At home now I have cookbooks (my favorite), children’s literature, tomes from college and graduate school, fun fiction, history books, and titles about raising backyard chickens.  Honestly, it is a small library and quite badly organized for a professional librarian.  In addition, this home library is not private.  I lend books often and usually forget who has what.  Recently a friend gave me my very own personal library kit including date due slips and a stamp.  I might have to get a bit more strict about friends and family returning books!


The most valuable item in my library is a date book that my Great Aunt Doris began in the 1940s to track important events in our family.  It’s no Magna Carta, but it’ll do.

Tell us about your private library.  What kinds of books do you collect?  Where do you keep your collection?  How do you organize it?

 Works Cited

Rubin, Harriet. “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.” New York Times [New York] 21 July 2007, Business: n. pag. Print.

VanderMey, Anne. “Archive of Wonder.” Fortune 27 Oct. 2014: 29. Print.













One thought on “Private Libraries

  1. How fascinating. I must say, my books are a horror of disarray. I did love that Texas fieldtrip! That was a hoot. What a thought provoking post. Thank you!

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