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Related FAQs: Good Books for Beginners: Part 1, Freshwater & Brackish Aquaria by Neale Monks, Good Books for Beginners, Marine Aquaria, by Neale Monks, Bob Fenner, Collecting Aquatic LiteratureYour Aquatic Library 2

Related Articles: Collecting Aquarium Literature, Literature Searches,


Building Your Aquatic Library


By Bob Fenner


What can you do to participate, learn and make known to aquaristic others your ideas, notions, facts, methods and attitudes beyond fish-store shopping, club events, visiting with tolerant friends and family? Take a look at the title again! Of course; this is a plug for bound volumes (books), zeens (as in magazines) and the various other printed materials (=ephemeria) in the various hobbyist, engineering, business and scientific fields of aquatics.

When folks come to visit me at work or home they invariably comment on my "fishy" collection, the grand size of which is testimony to my endeavors and values: I like people, the systems and aquatic life forms. My book and magazine collection has amplified my understanding and appreciation enormously. In this article I will urge you to collect and use printed aquatics materials and lend you insights as to how to go about it.

Getting Started: You already have!

What do you call what you have in your hand? "A journey begins with the first step..." There are many viable sources for generating and adding to your book/magazine heap. I'll tell you my favorites.

1) Moving/storage "sales" for unclaimed goods. Some of these are specialized, many are not. I go to check out the genral nature of what's available as most cartons are unmarked as of sale and wait until the auction is over. Books and pulp of interest, discovered by the original buyer and not particularly desired, I bid and buy on the site.

2) Private and public personal and business auctions. These are listed in the newspaper classifieds and can be a fabulous source of natural history related works.

3) Hobbyist clubs and user groups. Make it known you're a collector and are looking. Have business cards made that state so, and take these to...

4) Used Bookstores: these will keep your requests on file and contact you on receipt of items you're looking for.

5) Contact and deal with other's like yourself. There is a magazine and organization called Collector's of Aquarium Literature as well as many fine mail-order dealer's in the trade. They can be found periodically in, well, periodicals. Look at the classifieds in the end of this mag.

6) Become A Reviewer: Learn the format and content of the subject areas and how to write, jot down your opinions and send them to your favorite magazine editor and the work's publisher. You may be pleasantly rewarded by further offerings and even (gasp!) pay! And maybe even...

7) Buy Them! Go to your favorite large library, college or adored private stash and make up a "wish list". This is really fun but remember "If fishes were wishes, we'd all have full tanks" (RMF). Show this list (give it to them) to selected loved-ones, notably around xmas and b-day times.

Towards What Ends?  

Be square with yourself; "why do you want these works?" Art value, financial investment, knowledge/skill content, snob appeal...? Judge carefully what you're buying. Make comparisons concerning availibility and condition.


This is a fancy way of keeping track of what the heck you have in a systematic manner to make it more usable/retrievable. If you're a lucky stiff with a PC you might make up a "spread-sheet" data file, even cross file your titles with an author index. There are off the shelf ready-made programs for this too. At home I have a 3 X 5" card file with the same information as above on the front with the date, source of acquisition and cost (or trading info.) on the back.

The system I employ for filing/organizing/tracking separate articles/topics of interest is so involved, I'll schpeil on about it in a separate offering. Bound volumes and magazine collections I shelve in a semi-logical treed-out fashion. Marine vs. fresh, aspects of biology (genetics, physiology, nutrition) vs. systematic affiliation (Ostariophysians, Characins, Triggerfishes).

Dollars and Cents: 

Collecting printed materials is in some ways better and worse than the actual livestock they concern; it is just as addictive. Better in that they require less care, don't die and worse in that they are not alive even with all the concomitant potential loss. However the best aspect of these products is their intrinsic/extrinsic value as tradable "storehouses of value". That's right, just like baseball cards and comics, they retain and gain exchange worth. Am I being clear here? They're worth bucks!

Care & Feeding:  

All the same basics. Clean hands, no coffee, tea, gin & tonic, Perrier stains allowed. Store in non-sunny, not-too-damp, non-bug-chewing area. Especially valuable pieces should be shielded in dust jackets, binders and the like. Damage (especially water) must be attended to ASAP. Check with your local large library and/or yellow pages under books/restoration for help with the same.

One Last Thing:

 Concerning works of limited or historical value (All eventually are). If you come into possession of these, do take them to, or make it known that you have them to large public, private libraries and learning institutions. Please make them an endowment to these places so that all might benefit from this generosity. Standard works should be bequeathed to local/regional/international groups in their interests.


Aquaristics as an interest does indeed have something for everyone. The printed word, as a legacy of all that has gone before and a vehicle for education, entertainment, motivation, enjoyment of the hobby is unmatched. Seeking out, collecting and perusing books, magazines and ephemeria in our fields adds greatly to our overall understanding and progress. As we used to (and still do) say; "how you going to know where you're going, unless you know where you've been?" The printed word is the current best repository of experience.

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