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Books and other old-fashioned paper publications, such as magazines and pamphlets, could be your most important survival tools. The reason these items are so important is that they contain the most vital survival tool of all—information. A good library of books and other resources could be the key to survival.
The advantage to a paper library is obvious: Paper is not vulnerable to electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and power outages. Books are not going to shut down if the power grid collapses or an electromagnetic pulse disrupts the Internet and Wi-Fi. Sure, Kindles and iPads are handy, but without electricity and an Internet connection, a Kindle or an iPad is nothing but a paperweight.
Every serious survivalist and prepper needs to build up a paper library of books and other publications for emergency purposes. This library will serve the dual purpose of providing useful information and entertainment. Something many people don’t consider is what will you do for entertainment if there’s no television, video games, or radio?
Electromagnetic pulse can shut down the Internet and your tablet. It cannot shut down the box of comic books or paperback novels you have in your basement. You may find you’ll need to kill time in an emergency situation. The biggest enemy in many survival situations is not looters, disease, or starvation; it’s plain, old-fashioned boredom.
Books for Essential Knowledge
There are two kinds of printed publications that you should keep in your paper library: those that contain essential knowledge and those that provide entertainment. Essential knowledge is the practical information that will help you provide your family with things like food, shelter, and healthcare. Accumulating a store of printed publications with essential knowledge should be your first priority in assembling a paper library.
Some essential knowledge that you might need includes:
- Gardening books 
- Field guides to help you locate edible plants for foraging 
- Auto manuals and books on car repairs 
- Books on home maintenance and home repairs 
- Books with information about practical skills , particularly those you lack, such as carpentry and plumbing
- Books on self-defense  and firearms
- Books on first aid, medicine, nutrition , and health care 
- Cookbooks , particularly those that contain old-fashioned and country recipes  (Hint: They were written before people had modern kitchens.)
- Books that tell you how to construct or repair things  you need
- Books or publications that tell you how to maintain systems  such as water filters, solar panels , windmills , etc.
- Maps  and atlases (Hint: There will be no GPS if an EMP hits.)
Examples of essential books could include The Boy Scout Handbook , old military training manuals, textbooks, and do-it-yourself books. Beyond that, you should have basic knowledge about things like law, government , history , education, literature , etc. Remember, you might have to rebuild civilization or at least help rebuild it.
Some basic knowledge books your family should include:
- A Bible and other religious works , such as prayer books, hymnals, etc.
- A book that contains the basic documents of the United States (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence)
- A good world atlas 
- A road atlas 
- A topographic atlas of your state or province
- A set of encyclopedias ; good encyclopedias such as the Britannica contain a vast amount of information.
- Basic textbooks on subjects like math, finance, history, civics, government, law, chemistry, science, biology, economics, geology, engineering, music, philosophy, theology, literature, etc. You can use these to educate your children or yourself if necessary. Note: Older textbooks on literature, history, and civics are often better because they are more accurate and comprehensive.
- A good basic history of the United States
- A dictionary
- A thesaurus
- An English-Spanish dictionary (Spanish is the most common foreign language spoken in North America)
- Some basic survival books , such as field guides, The Boy Scout Handbook, etc.
- Copies of literary classics, such as Shakespeare , Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, etc.
- Biographies of great people , such as Lincoln, Edison, Washington, etc.
Books for Entertainment
You should also assemble a stash of reading material for entertainment purposes. Accumulate a large supply of the books and other publications that your family likes to read. This should include a lot of your favorite fiction, such as murder mysteries, thrillers, westerns, romance novels, horror, fantasy, science fiction, or whatever you like to read.
Try to put in copies of works by your favorite authors and authors you’ve always wanted to read. Throw in some really long books as well because you’ll have plenty of time. If you’ve always wanted to read The Lord of the Rings , War and Peace , or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , get a copy, because you’ll have a chance if the grid goes down.
Other works you can read for entertainment include magazines and comic books. Graphic novels (paperback reprints of comic book stories) can be good entertainment. Comic books are also a great way to get kids, particularly boys, to read. Make sure you have some kids’ books , such as the Hardy Boys  or Harry Potter, as well, because the kids will have nothing to do.
Lay in a large supply of reading material, because you might not know how long you’ll be without electricity. You might go weeks, months, or longer with no Internet and no television. Your paper library might be the only thing that keeps you from going insane from boredom.
Books and Publications for Trade
Books and other publications will also make great trade goods in an emergency situation. If there’s no electricity, people will want something to do. You might be able to trade old Stephen King novels or back issues of Captain America or Motor Trend for ammunition, canned food, or other items that you might need. A copy of The Boy Scout Handbook could be worth a fortune to people who know nothing about surviving in the woods.
If you find a big stash of old paperbacks or popular novels, put it aside somewhere, even if it is stuff you don’t read. You might be able to use those books as trade items in an emergency.
Where to Find the Books
A big advantage to books and other paper information sources is that you can buy or get many of them real cheap these days. Walk through the alleys of any big city and you’ll see dozens of perfectly good books in dumpsters and trash cans. Many thrift stores sell old paperbacks for fifty cents apiece and old hardbacks for one dollar. Comic book stores often sell back issues of less popular titles at less than a dollar apiece. You can pick up a set of encyclopedias at a garage sale for ten dollars.
If you need a particular book or a book on a particular subject, go online and check eBay, Google Shopping, Amazon.com , and bookfinder.com . You can find most books there for less than five dollars plus the cost of shipping. Other sources of books include school and library sales, used bookstores, and thrift stores.
A good way to get your hands on a lot of used books for free is to volunteer at your local library, because libraries are constantly throwing out or selling off books. You can help your community and have a choice of books at the same time.
Saving and Preserving the Books
Once you’ve assembled your paper library, you will have to preserve it. Paper is vulnerable to rot and the elements. It can also attract all manner of insects, including bedbugs.
The best way to do this is to put the books and other items into plastic storage containers. These containers are cheap, and they are airtight and waterproof. If necessary, you can hide them or even bury them.
Something to remember is that the first thing political extremists like to do when they seize power is to burn books. Remember those pictures of the Nazis burning books when Hitler took over in Germany. American political extremists of both the left and right also have a long history of burning books they don’t like.
It isn’t hard to picture the politically correct going through libraries and destroying every book written by dead white males, or fundamentalists burning anything that contains the word science. It’s also easy to picture the Department of Homeland Security trying to destroy any book that contains information about poisons, firearms, or explosives. Such fanatics could easily shut down or censor the Internet; they can’t censor your paper library if they can’t find it.
A paper library might not just help you survive. It might also help preserve our heritage and our civilization for your children and their children.