In asking this question, I actually did first review this post from some months ago. But I want to take my question one step further and ask when should old programming books be thrown out? Specifically, our office has several copies of books that were written specifically to older versions of languages such as PHP4, ActionScript 1 etc.

My initial impression is to simply toss these books and purchase more generic entry level books for teaching those who need to learn a specific language and to then purchase the classics that will help our entire staff develop better code such as Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, Code Complete, etc. But is there any benefit to hanging onto copies of books that were for a version of a language that is now either dead or outdated?

UPDATE: Thank you to those who suggested donating the books to the local library. I think that's just what we'll do!

+10  A: 

Don't throw out. Recycle!

There's computer historian types out there that would love to accept donations to their collection.

+11  A: 

Never. Keep them as collectors' items. Leave them to your descendants...

Omer van Kloeten
I would like to have kept some magazines of when I started using computers, back in 1993, to turn myself into an archaeologist now. The same applies to old hardware. In CS things don't take more than 10 years to become ancient history... (I'm a proud possessor of some punched cards, though!)
Federico Ramponi
I have and onld Games in Basic book around, it still has good ideas for simple games, maybe to be redone in new languages(xhtml canvas and javascript :D).
What if your descendants don't implement IProgrammer?
Daniel Daranas
+1 for collections.
+69  A: 

If the language is dead, or will never be used by anyone in your shop, I would give them away. I wouldn't throw them out because they might still be useful to someone. I still have a personal copy of a PHP4 book because some web hosts are still slow to upgrade. I keep it around just in case. Donate old books to your local library and let them decide what's dead.

Bill the Lizard
+1 for giving them away
I tend to give them to charity shops
Omar Kooheji
*All* my library's programming books are old. And dead. I understand that programming books are expensive textbooks, but it gets quite annoying sometimes! :)
Lucas Jones
I could do with a PHP4 book if you want to give it away:-)
@person-b: The programming section at my local branch looks more like a programming *history* section too. :)
Bill the Lizard
I see your point re PHP4, but I have stuff describing Netscape browser APIs that only historians would care about. People going to libraries to learn can't tell which are the worthwhile books, and librarians are less qualified than former owners to judge their worth of a book. If it's truly, truly dead, don't waste their time, just throw it in the bin.
@ijw: I'd donate it to a local university library in that case, instead of the public library.
Bill the Lizard
+5  A: 

When a book is so out of date that it contains wrong information or doesn't cover critical material, replace it. If you're no longer using the technology, recycle it.

+1  A: 

If you did not open any of these books for a year or more, than throw it away. Especially if their content is available on the Internet.

Now, for some pre-Internet era books (old Solaris 5.8, win 3.x and what not), then maybe you should keep these books if you need to maintain applications from that antic era. old content is not available on the Internet most of the time.

There are books and books. There are some that should be tossed out unread. There are some that should be tossed out within the year. But I usually don't buy those. Books worth the reading are worth keeping - because they are not tied to the latest MS fad system, usually.
Jonathan Leffler
+2  A: 

The one and only benefit to hanging on to them is to be able to maintain legacy code written in the language the book covers when nobody remembers anymore its caveats. That said, you shouldn't throw them to the garbage, but donate them.

Vinko Vrsalovic
+2  A: 

I sell them on half.com. You'd be surprised who'll be looking to pick up an old Delphi book for $5.

Cade Roux
+19  A: 

Yes! There is a reason to keep old books around forever. Some day somebody is going to dredge up an old application written back in the last century and ask you to either perform some maintenance on it or rewrite it in a newer language.

Remember Y2K? Every program that had ever been written had to be re-examined. Some of that code was really, really old.

I see this a lot in job postings. They have a website written in 1998 in classic ASP that they want rewritten to ASP.Net.

One of the problems with obsolete versions is that you aren't going to find much about them on Google. Or StackOverflow. About the only place you're going to find any information is in an old book.

Keep the books as insurance. You certainly might want to move them away from the current books, to a storeroom somewhere.

Chance of me using this Visual J++ book I have? fairly slim I'd say... :-)
You can always keep the ebook and give away the paper...
I still regret throwing away my IBM 360 Principles of Operation and my Pascal/VS manual.
Norman Ramsey
+5  A: 

Honestly, I would keep them for pure collection principle and bragging about what I read (and that people may not even know about). I would throw any "For Dummy" book but I would keep any technical book even if for obsolete technology.

If you have issues with storing your books, you might consider a bigger library.

I would consider donating any books that are really low entry level ("Beginning C#"?) so that other people can be enlighted by the reading. :)

I agree. I still regret throwing away my original GW-BASIC manual. Would be fun to reread it some day.
Anders Sandvig
I'll never again use my copy of Power Graphics Using Turbo Pascal, but I still keep it for the memories it brings back.
Bruce Alderman
+1 for parting sorrows. They can take my books by ripping them out of my cold clenched fingers.
+12  A: 

Ah, the problem of "pulp non-fiction" is a tricky one.

re: library. I worked for a library software company and librarians. It is unlikely that they will want your books. They have their own acquisition standards and processes, and don't need your stuff. If you don't want "Visual C++ 2000", why would they?

A friend has recommended Book Mooch (no affiliation)... it seems pretty neat. After all, it is likely that someone, somewhere, is on a legacy project that might just need "Visual C++ 2000".

Michael Easter
That's an interesting idea for a site. Thanks for the link.
Adam Lassek
After reading your comment, I tried Bookmooch. My experience was not so pleasant. You can read about it here: http://bookmoochsucks.blogspot.com/
Josh Kodroff
+3  A: 

I'd say a good time to throw them out (or, as others have pointed out - recycle, donate, sell to Half Price Books for a quarter) is when one or more is true:

a) They're so hideously out of date that they're beyond irrelevant. Running MS-DOS might still be useful next time you have to figure out how to do something crazy from the command line or administer a legacy system. Tricks of the Game Programming Gurus however, which teaches you how to make a "DOOM Clone" in DOS, will probably never be opened again. Borland C++ 4.0 in 45 Days, whose main goal is to teach you how to make a program for this "new fangled Windows 3.0" will similarly never be used again and its 4.5 inches of space on your bookshelf can be used for better stuff.

b) They're some book on some topic you never got around to learning and, akin to the point above, are now so hideously out of date that they're useless. You never read Beginning WinG Programming and in the day and age of DirectX 10, you never will.

c) They're about something that never came out. Maybe you thought you were getting a leg up by buying WinFS: What You Need To Know Now in 2003, but when they delayed that feature ten times and then just flat out removed it from Vista, everything in that book became a historical curiosity and nothing more. Sure, it's sort of a neat artifact from the "oh hey put out a book on this QUICK" era, but whether or not it needs to weigh down your bookshelf is debatable.

+4  A: 

I start throwing books out when I run out of space. I start with the least used ones. Unfortunately previous attempts to recycle/sell/give away have been complete wastes of time, so off to the landfill they go. :-(

Brian Knoblauch
At least you should give them to be recycled, not just buried in the ground.
Anders Sandvig
How would one even go about recycling a book?
Adam Lassek
I left a pile of unwanted books on a park bench one day. I hope someone is enjoying them, or at least using them as doorstops.If not, i hope some county park worker knew how to recycle them.
Way back in the day, when I was in college, we had a "used book" table that everyone was free to add/remove from as they wished. I always liked that...
Brian Knoblauch

I first look for a friend or co-worker who wants the book. I got some free Eiffel books because I wanted a new language to learn, so I returned the favor by offering older books of mine to the same friend. After that, I turn to a student-run organization in my department, followed by libraries. But I don't sell them - I give them away, with hopes that they are used to increase someone's knowledge and skills in the future.

Thomas Owens
+5  A: 

Since I'm rather unlikely to reach for the book on Windows for Workgroups or Red Hat 6.1 they went off to be recycled.

My general rule of thumb is that if it's >10 years old, I probably don't need it anymore. One exception to the rule (for example) is a book I have on SQL published circa 1987. It's still one of the easiest books to navigate (and to a degree, still relevant), and provides really good examples. There's also a couple of books on the shelf for nostalgic reasons.

Books which were more like reference (e.g. MFC Library Reference) usually stick around (for reasons mentioned in the other answers), or find other uses (Scott Meyers "Effective C++" is propping up my second monitor so it lines up nicely my first monitor) :) One programmer I worked with a couple of years ago used an old Hypercard book as a monitor stand!

C'mon.. Vote up if you also "repurpose" your books as monitor stands or something even more devious! :)

P.S I like the idea of sending to a library. If the library didn't want it, I assume it would end up being recycled anyway, so it sounds like a good option.

+8  A: 

Well I don't have this problem since I'm only buying language/plateform agnostic books like "Design Patterns" or "The Pragmatic Programmer".

For language specific information , I refer to the web.

Julien Grenier
This is wise. I wish used bookstore owners had some of this wisdom. At least in my experience, they reject the more general books of lasting interest, such as Mythical Man-Month or Design Patterns , and instead carry specific-version-app books of no value.
I do the same. Out of the 28 software development related books in my bookshelf only 3 are language/platform specific (Programming in Scala, Little Schemer, SICP). Books about a specific framework get old already before they are released and there is more than enough material online, so such books don't give much value. It's better to buy books that make you a better programmer on every platform.
Esko Luontola

I never throw away books, somehow it just seems "wrong" i donate them to Charity or more often, i just keep them, i have boxes and boxes of them

Dave Clark
+4  A: 

If you look at the book and it makes you cringe, or you hated the technology...dump it.

If you look at the book and it makes you smile, and you think of how awesome it was to work with, it can have some good value. You never know when you might want to geek out about the good ole days. And, some historical topics can find use in interesting and unintended ways years after the fact.

+10  A: 
Ola Eldøy
+2  A: 

Unless you are seriously strapped for cash and are running out of space, I don't see any reason not to keep the books. You may never need to use it again, but you might and you already paid for the book.

+1  A: 

Throw away my ZX Spectrum ROM Listing and dBase 3 Manual?



You may be surprised at how unwilling your local library is at taking those old paperbacks off your hands. You may have better luck with a thrift store/church though the chances of your books ending up in recycling/garbage if you donate them there are pretty high, imho...


Generally, I keep em, just like my tax papers - you never know. Actually, my wife really dislikes computer books (because of the screaming red and yellow colors), so they stay in my home office.

Charles Faiga

Generally, books have gone to charity after they have either a) out lived their usefulness or b) out grew the size of the dedicated bookcase. For books that are still mildly relevant you might want to ask around at work or on a social networking site where you know people as they might still have a use for an older book that you are not using.

Also, before getting rid of books I tend to go through them one last time to make sure there isn't anything useful in them. While I may not need a book on the Windows 95 API, some of the older books on computer graphics are surprisingly still relevant as an algorithm reference.