When I was younger, I did not have much space for books at home, so I mostly just read library books. Once I got my own place I started to buy books but with no particular intent in creating a coherent collection, let alone a personal library. Over the years I've given away (and thrown away) lots of books due to moves and such and I'm now finally thinking about building a proper library of my favorite books and the "classics" I haven't had a chance to read yet. My (vain) hope is that such a library would outlast me and be a small foundation for my children to carry on building their own collection(s).
Those of you that have already established their own library - how did you get started? Did you just create a list of the books you wanted and started frequenting book stores? For second hand purchases, are there particular publishers whose editions you'd recommend in terms of quality of print/binding? For example I find the books from foliosociety.com to be very tempting (but expensive!).
Would you be willing to share pictures of your current collection for inspiration?
Every collection starts out small. Whether we're talking books, music, video games, toys, whatever. It all has to start somewhere. Don't start buying things with an end game in mind. It will distract you from the true reason why you wanted to collect in the first place, you enjoy what you're collecting.
With that in mind, here's some things to keep in mind.
1) Buy what you think you'll enjoy. Don't worry about having something on your shelf just to impress others. Your money and attention are precious, so focus it on the things you want.
2) Don't be afraid to spend a little more for quality. You're already asking about binding and different editions and all, and that's great. If you want to take a little more time or spend a little more money for that perfect version, do it. It's worth it in the long run.
3) Don't be afraid to trade up. Did you really enjoy "Smoke From This Alter" by Louis L'Amour? Did you want to find a first edition copy? Buy a modern copy now, to fill in that gap in your collection, and if and when you come across on a good deal on that first edition, that's when you decide whether or not to trade up. Maybe by that time, you'll think "Hey. I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a book I already have. That's silly."
4) Let your collection grow organically. This is important for a lot of reasons. Your tastes slowly change over the years, whether you realize it or not. If you buy everything you want today, the you 5 or 10 years from now might those particular titles as much and is miffed at the you from 5 years ago because you blew all your money and now you're afraid to buy more. Also, because your collection grows slowly and over time, it gives you time to get organization under control.
5) Insure your collection. Renters insurance. Homeowners insurance. What have you. Talk to your insurance agent. Let them know what you have and that you want to protect it. You might have to get special coverage, but it's worth it to protect your investment. It's also important to understand the terms of your coverage. Make sure that your $5000 first edition of Mice and Men is actually covered for that amount, and not say $5.
6) Speaking of money, collecting is a hobby. Not an investment. Unless you're SUPER savvy about what you're doing, you'll never make as much out of your collection as to what you spent on it. It's possible to do if you really want, but it requires further investment in time and effort to educate yourself on your hobby.
7) Most importantly, don't be afraid to let things go. You own your things, don't let them own you. It's hard. Collecting is an investment in time, money, and emotions. Sometimes though, you gotta cull your collection for whatever reason. If you aren't willing to let go, you've lost control and you need to find a way to get it back. Collecting is a hobby. Hoarding is a problem.