My new workplace has no programming books. For some reason every programmer, if he needs a book, buys it for himself personally and he might get reimbursed if he can make a business case for this purchase (i.e. convince the boss).
I'm used to situation when books are bought for the office and they are shared.

How to convince the boss that shared office bookshelf is better? Or is it?

+2  A: 

In all honesty, if you've got a boss like that I doubt you're going to convince him to buy books. The main problem I see is that he sounds like the kind of boss motivated by actual numbers (cost & benefit) and it's pretty much impossible to quantifiably prove that buying a book makes him money. Especially when he knows developers will buy the books themselves anyway.

Good luck!

Stewart Johnson
Well, he's not an evil boss... it's just I guess he's not used to idea of buying books for the office.
I never said evil!
Stewart Johnson
+1  A: 

Two Words: Business Case

Figure out a solid business case. See if there is a training budget you could piggy-back on to, for example. Find out when budgets are due and see if you can get money put in for that.

At my workplace I got $100 a month put into the budget for purchasing of share books. Most of us still purchase our own, and may or may not get reimbursed if we choose or choose not to try.

Another option would be to pool together money from everyone - a dollar a week from 10 devs would be one book a month. When you show that kind of initiative it may be a good motivator to get it put into the budget (or to be used, but that's a different story)

Cory Foy

Can't you make your "business case" in advance?

+30  A: 

If a book is worth reading, I want my own copy, so I buy it for myself. I long ago learned that I'm responsible for my own professional development.

That's right, but you usually work on a team and you want your colleagues be "on the same wave" as you are.
That can be a problem.I have tried to overcome it (with limited success) keeping many of my books in the office for others to read (I don't have room for them all at home anyway), recommending books that I like, and generally trying to promote good practice.
@sneg IF people are unwilling to learn for themselves, a book on the shelf will not change that. That's at least my experience.
Totally agree Kramii
Some colleagues *do* willing to learn and they buy books that I would like to read as well for themselves only.
Keep your receipts. If you spend for the books yourself, you might be able to write the expense off, saving you ~25 off the cost of the book off the bat. Your mileage might vary based on your tax bracket.
Peter Walke
+28  A: 

A book is much cheaper than a training and can be used by many readers at no extra cost.

+10  A: 
  1. It is cheaper than sending developers to training and more efficient use of funds than the current practise of reimbursment, since everyone gets access.

  2. Apart from that having the shared library is likely to promote interest in more diverse range of topics for any given developer.

  3. It is also possible to "plant" books in there as a more subtle and less intrusive way of letting people know about expected competences.

  4. Company ownership makes it more OK to read a book at a workplace and as opposed to individual ownership promotes more collective, team culture when developers do not feel on their own.

  5. A good company library sends the right message about what is valued and creates a positive impression on prospective employees and customers alike. This is one very good and inexpensive way in which management can demonstrate their support to the team.

+1 for team culture
+1  A: 

A shared office bookshelf is generally a good idea. I prefer to buy my own books, as I can always leave with them, while if the company pays for them, I don't own them. But if several members of a team indicate a need for a particular book, you could present it as a group to the boss as a needed resource. Try to get him/her to budget something for such purchases, or give each person a limit on how much you can spend per year on books beyond which you will need special approval.


I agree with Stwart and Kramii. This kind of boss can hardly be persuaded unless it means it will save him some money. If you eventually develop your own knowledge you 'll leave the company for a better paid job. Then he'll get the message.

+21  A: 

Actually, as a business expense, I'd say that programming books make very little sense. It's difficult to predict what books you'll need, and when, their value is very short term, and they take up large amounts of office space. IMHO, a subscription-oriented service like O'Reilly's Safari would make better sense. It's a fixed monthly cost that takes up no space.

Sherm Pendley
That's an interesting idea.
Totally agree here. One-off book purchases are good, but Safari is really good.
A very good point. OTOH, at least half the books that I buy / read are not specific to a particular technology, e.g. Code Complete.
I agree in theory, but I don't tend to do leisurely reading off of a computer screen. Maybe if I had a kindle...
Disagree. Usually things addressing particulars of a given technology are best found online using Google or, indeed, StackOverflow. Books are best for learning never out-of-date ideas, principles and approaches also things beyond programming, such as technical writting or typography.
We have Books 24/7 and Safari where I work. The difference is, we don't use those books necessarily to expand skill set (though I have). They are great for reference material, as they are searchable and often contain information not on Google.
Abyss Knight
Books are incredibly cheap. Even an expensive book doesn't cost more than 20 minutes of consultants.
+1  A: 

I have an extensive personal library, some of which I might schlep into the office. However, having a "group" library that everyone can borrow from (a bookshelf in the hallway, for example), in my experience, leads to everyone benefiting.

1 $60 book that gets shared amongst 5 devs for a year is an "investment" of merely $1 per developer per month.

Certainly the "boss" is spending more than that on the electric bill! And books last, more-or-less, forever.

It actually is more expensive for the company if they both talk about it for half an hour than buying the book...
no kidding :P ... i was trying to stick with "visible" cost as opposed "actual" :)

You ask him and explain how much time you will be saving by having real book instead of looking up on the web.

But, don't expect anything that can be freely available.

Dev er dev

My company spoils me, they send us off to conferences (yay PDC08) and give us a $200 yearly book allowance each. It makes me a happy code monkey, and a happy code monkey writes better quality code. Tell him that the more tools and knowledge you have, the more productive and efficient you'll be. But sometimes, in such a tight economy, that might just never happen, its all about your company's culture.

+2  A: 

Just tell your boss how the book relates to what you are doing in that company. If it's not related, you should buy it yourself anyway (and read in your private time). If the book would actually help you save time and/or improve the project and your boss still refuses to buy it for you anyway, change bosses...


I have considered it a perk and nothing more to have company bought books.

The company I work at will once a year ask us to submit a book list. Then the head honcho's pick and choose what to buy.

Normally at work I aim for references. Nutshells, Cookbooks, and quick references. Thinks to make work easier and more productive.

On the other hand. I have probably bought myself 15 programming related books this year.

+1  A: 

Books 24x7. My company doesn't buy books, nor do they want to store them. Just about anything useful is available electronically on Books 24x7. They add books on a daily basis. Maybe this is the thing the manager should put in the budget.


I haven't read a programming book in several years. I read programming blogs, forums, mailing lists, IRC, and Wikipedia. The content in books is often stale by the time you read them for any tech-based book, and if it's design-based, pretty much every design decision you can make has been discussed to death somewhere on the net. You'd probably be better served by convincing your boss to let you spend down time (like when you're compiling) reading some programming-related sites (that's what I do). An RSS reader is indispensable for this.


I agree with the other respondents who say buy your own. Books aren't that expensive relative to what you can earn by increasing your knowledge.

I have a couple of hundred computing books so I am biased..

+2  A: 

My previous employer was the same way. When I had annual reviews with development staff, I recommended that they join ACM. One of the perks of a professional membership is access to both Books 24x7 and Safari. You don't get free run of both services, but even the subset you have access to is a lot cheaper than what you'd spend acquiring and storing the same number of books. You also get access to online courses as part of the membership fee. Finally, because it's for professional development, a developer could write off the cost on his or her taxes.

Scott A. Lawrence
I was about to write about the tax alternative, but you beat me to it, so I'll just add that this of course, only applies to US Income Tax. Other jurisdictions will have to check their own local laws.
James Curran
Thanks for the reminder of the U.S.-only nature of that tax benefit. I forgot the international perspective when writing up my answer.
Scott A. Lawrence
+1  A: 

I'd say it depends on many environmental factors. Do many of the other programmers read programming books? I ask because not everyone likes to read from paper and I could see some of today's programmers being more used to using a search engine, e.g. Google, or massive on-line library, e.g. MSDN. Is there a place where the books would go? Is the place clean enough that a book isn't likely to get lost in the sea of papers some keep at their desk.

In my own case I bought the books I keep in the office and do share them among my co-workers if they want to borrow them. This also means that if I move onto another company, I can take my books with me.

I would note that these aren't technology specific books but rather general books like Refactoring by Fowler or Head First Design Patterns.

JB King
+1  A: 

You could argue that buying books could update developers' skills, knowledge and productivity for business. However, It is still a kind of business expense. The problem is how to not abuse it. Some people may take this excuse to buy un-related books or just keep the books for personal stock but rarely reading them. You may think this is very reasonable but not for others. Does the boss really want to open the door?

That's why most boss or businesses have a simple policy to constrain the expense. There are some many cases in business policies not making sense. All in all, it is a double-edged sword, there is no simple and correct answer.

I tried so many times and finally just give it up. You have to depend on yourself. If you need the book and it'll benefit for you, spend your money and do it. You are the boss! Don't beg others. It's much simpler if you think you are the boss.
+2  A: 

Personally I would suggesting going the route of having a combination of a shared bookcase as well as allow for the developers to purchase personal reference material. A couple thoughts on each:

Shared Bookcase

  • Books will still be there for the next developer to join the company, thus if the book is on a library that is being used in an application then you don't have to worry as much about finding someone that already knows it.
  • Some programming books are "one offs" in that you buy them to learn a language, but once you have finished that task you really don't need it any more. Allowing the company to purchase these for the bookcase will allow multiple developers to upgrade their skill sets for future projects.
  • Some reference materials are only sparingly referenced, there is no point in developers all having their own copy of a think reference book if they only use it once every couple of months. However, the time saved when they do need that reference likely means that the money saved in their pay exceeds the cost of the book.
  • As noted by another poster a shared bookcase can be used to "plant" books that are semi-required for better scores on performance evaluations or recommended reading for junior developers.

Personal Book Allowance

  • Allowing the developers to have a personal book allowance (eg. $250 a year) allows them to purchase relevant material as needed. Since people have different learning styles it might be hard to get people to agree on a book for a shared bookcase that is going to be read by everyone to learn a new skill set.
  • A personal book allowance means that your developers might get a book outside of their normal interests since they don't have to worry about paying for it. While this might not sound like such a good thing, it would likely contribute to the developers creativity and give them some more ideas to solve a problem. The return might not be immediate, but it could make a major impact in the next project.
  • Not all developers are going to take full advantage of this, but all developers are going to see such an allowance as a benefit of working with the company; allowing you to retain quality developers.

I'd get a better job, one where your boss isn't a jerk. Problem solved.

Well, each workplace inevitably comes with its own pluses and minuses. So, it is not a viable solution to this sorta problem.
+1  A: 

Depends on the type of book you’re looking for. Technology specific books generally don’t have a long shelf life. For theses, as mentioned above, Safari or Books24x7 are great resources. For other books that transcend technology, I would recommend you buy them for yourself. These will be useful throughout your career.

+2  A: 

The facts that you are dependent on one person's approval to get something that is useful for you and your company, and there is lack of 'culture' that supports professional development, are signs of bigger problems.

+2  A: 

I think perhaps you should stop trying to 'persuade' your boss into putting funds into a company book library. Instead, why not start a small library yourself? Purchase a book or two every once in awhile directly related to your companies past (for maintenance), current and future language/interests.

When you get a small collection going, send your co-workers a note about your small library (including your boss). Tell them your current collection and what a specific book would be best used as (i.e. learning tool, reference, etc.). Also inform them of how they can 'take out' books from your library.

I suggest setting up a sign-out/in system where a co-worker can come grab a book from your library, sign it out and bring it back later. You might want to setup some sort of return policy so co-workers don't keep the same book for months a time and require the re-signing a particular book out every day or week or so.

If space allows (and your superiors don't mind) put the library either outside of your cubical (if you're in one) or your office to trim down on an annoyance of co-workers coming and going from your personal space, if that is something that you think would bother you.

After a time, if you find that a lot of employees are taking out books and reading them, using them for projects etc., bring this data to your boss/superiors and suggest again that they get a company library going. They may now see evidence that it might be worth the money invested into it.

To even strengthen your case, you might like to get 'testimonials' from your co-workers. Something like "Without this library, I probably wouldn't have been able to use best practices to the full potential when implementing this project."

Dalin Seivewright
Interesting idea.
The only downside to this is that he is using his paycheck to provide something back to the company for other employees. Doing this might make it harder to convince the higher-ups to support paying for the library as he is already doing it.

Buy your books yourself and litter your desk with them until your boss asked you where you got them from... tell him that you bought them yourself.

It is very likely that you can use these books as a deduction on your taxes (but I'm not an accountant).

When I buy books myself, I usually buy them used... on Amazon or eBay... especially if I'm buying a lot of books... you'll save $10-$20 a piece this way.


It's very simple: How many hours would it take you to learn the same thing without the book? How many hours with the book? If the number of hours with the book is less than without, then the cost of the book is paid for by you consuming less hours to complete a task, since you don't work for free. Even more simply: your time is costs more than the book does. If the buying the book saves time everyone wins.