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How to Make a Practical, Affordable Survival Resource Library

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Imagine a severe winter storm causing a power outage, leaving you in the dark. Your child is jumping on the bed and takes a hard fall. Panic threatens as you’re unsure if it’s a broken bone or a severe sprain, but you choose to remain calm and think through your options. In the absence of immediate medical help, you turn to the your prepper library and pull down “Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Help is NOT on the Way.”

Following the expert advice in the section on Bones and Joints, you provide immediate care, stabilizing the injury as best as you can until you can reach the hospital. In that tense moment, your survival handbook becomes a lifeline, ensuring your child receives the care they need when help is far from reach.

Whether you’re a veteran prepper or just beginning to delve into the world of survival topics like food storage and bug out bags, it’s a wise strategy to start building a library of books that can be helpers and guides through all sorts of survival scenarios. In this article, we’ll offer some guidance on building your own survival library.

woman holding pile of books standing in from of home bookshelves

Prepper Categories for Your Library

You can begin by collecting books on various subjects such as gardening, household repair, first aid, military manuals, and so much more. With a well-thought-out list, you can narrow down your choices and prioritize based on your current skills and knowledge. So, whether you’re an urban prepper or exploring the great outdoors, there’s something valuable for everyone.

Medical and dental

At least one basic first-aid book could be very handy to help with minor injuries and conditions. Medical reference, herbal remedies and birthing books would help round out a small medical reference library. There is a chance you will have to depend on yourself to take care of medical issues.

we mentioned earlier would be a great addition to your library. The Survival Doctor’s Complete Handbook is another recommendation. Look for used anatomy and physiology textbooks, guides to pharmaceutical drugs, and and also medical dictionaries in used book sales.

Local plants

Plants can be edible and have wonderful medicinal properties or they can poison you and give you a rash! Knowing which local plants are good and which ones can harm you, is important.

One book to consider is 


Most of us have come to rely on a GPS system for getting from Point A to Point B, but really, nothing can take the place of a map. Knowing how to get out of your area without having a GPS or mapping app will be difficult without an atlas or map. If there’s a chance you could have to leave your house quickly, also get Emergency Evacuations: Get out fast when it matters most. Get a good road atlas of all 50 states, or your own country, or collect maps of the states you travel in as you stop at rest stops. DeLorme atlases are multipurpose and a great value. AAA members get free road maps.

History and social studies books

The saying goes, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Books that cover U.S. history, world history, economics, government, state histories, biographies, and autobiographies — they all work together to provide education as well as an important framework for current events. They’re useful for homeschooling and, of course, adults can also keep their minds sharp by continuing to learn.

Local history books might give you insight into the weather and growing cycles for your area. Also consider some non-fiction adventure stories, such as The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Books like this tell real-life survival narratives that are rich in detail. They grab your attention and hold it while teaching lessons about nature, historical events, and, yes, survival.

Local fish and wildlife

As with the plants, if you have to live off the land, you’ll want to know what type of wildlife and fish are in your area and when and where it’s good to hunt and fish. Some animals and even fish aren’t good to eat, so you would want a book to help you identify those as well. By the way, DeLorme atlases include info about local wildlife and nearby areas for fishing and hunting.

Religious books

It’s been said there are no atheists in a foxhole. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but for millions of us, having a spiritual foundation in a crisis provides comfort and direction. If this is important to you, stock up on Bibles or other books of scripture, Bible study books, prayer books, and books by your favorite religious authors. There may be times you can’t get to church or meetings and you will be able to use those books to conduct your own service at home.

Classic novels and poetry

Even in hard times, maybe especially in hard times, people need to be able to find ways to relax and decompress. And don’t think you must necessarily have ones for adults AND ones for kids. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘…a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.’ Therefore a few good novels can entertain people of all ages, providing something to read and enjoy together with your family. They can also be used to homeschool if that’s necessary. Plus, if you own a Kindle, many of the classics are free or cost very little!

TIP- A classic novel in the TEOTWAWKI* niche is Lucifer’s Hammer. The storyline is a classic end of the world scenario. A previously-unknown comet is discovered only months before scientists realize it is on a near-collision course with Earth. As the story continues, it focuses on the struggles of survivors, building into an exciting, good vs. evil finish. There are 20 survival principles in this book that can benefit everyone.


There may be a day you need to teach your children at home. It could be for prolonged snow days or for a long period of power loss, or simply because their school doesn’t cover an important (to you) topic. And then, of course, we can all still see COVID shutdowns in the rearview mirror, can’t we?

Having books on hand about history, math, biology, literature, and science gives you the ability to teach your child. If you can find a complete encyclopedia set, you have found a highly sought after item. These kinds of books can also be helpful for research when a report is due, but the Internet connection is down.

For some subjects, really old used books can be a great resource. Arithmetic doesn’t change, so an 1870s book will be just as good as a brand new one at a fraction of the cost, and may bring up some interesting lessons on its own through the word problems. (A train goes…before stopping for water. How much water does it need?. A horse travels…distance in….)


Empty notebooks of any kind are an important way to record thoughts, events, family records or even day-to-day activities. For mental health alone, this can be useful and therapeutic. Try to stash away paper or some notebooks and journals with writing instruments along with your prepper library. There are a variety of journals you can buy for yourself or others. Many have prompts to help you write and ponder.


Here is a category of books not to be overlooked. You almost can’t have too many books on the subject of gardening. There is so much to learn and even an excellent resource book like Mini Farming: Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre, can’t teach everything you should know about how different seeds need to be planted at different times, depths of planting and spacing of seeds, just to name a few basic concepts. If you aren’t a master gardener, you should keep several gardening reference books on hand so you can grow your own food if you need.

TIP- I recommend a fantastic book by Steve Solomon called Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food In Hard Times. His premise is that you are gardening because you are going to live on what you grow so you cannot afford to waste money or to fail. He also discusses seed longevity and seed saving.

Home repair and basic construction

Having books about basic repairs and construction at your disposal equips you with the practical skills and knowledge necessary to tackle a range of critical tasks in a survival scenario. Whether it’s a plumbing or electrical issue, or some other home emergency, this category of books offer step-by-step instructions for making vital repairs to keep your home safe and habitable.


These books teach you how to assess threats, develop self-defense strategies, and employ various physical and psychological tactics when confronted with adversity.

Outdoor and bushcraft

These books cover essential skills such as fire-making, shelter construction, foraging, and navigation, which are indispensable when faced with nature’s challenges.


A lot of us now use the internet to locate recipes, but if our internet connection is ever down, long-term, you’ll need actual cookbooks to prepare meals. A few old cookbooks can give you recipes that can be cooked without an oven or microwave. Here are 7 reasons why you should be buying old cookbooks.

Final Thoughts

Imagine the knowledge and confidence these books can provide you! It makes me giddy just thinking about it. These books can truly be your lifeline when it comes to being prepared for anything. After all, none of us can claim to know it all, but having a treasure trove of preparedness reference material right in your own home can be a game-changer.

Frequently Asked Questions

I don’t have a lot of space for books. How should I prioritize what I choose to buy?

If you only have space for a few books, you can use the categories in this article to help narrow down your choices and set priorities depending on your current skills and knowledge set. As a suburban prepper, books about primitive bushcraft skills may not be at the top of your list but those about natural healing and edible landscaping are. For the rest, digital books are your friend, my friend. You can keep scads of books when they’re digital.

How can I build a survival library on a budget?

You don’t have to break the bank to do this. Some of the best places to look for these types of reference books are thrift stores, secondhand bookstores and library book sales. and even free Kindle books. With the Internet being used as a primary resource, many people are getting rid of reference books they don’t use often. These types of reference books contain information that generally does not change or require updating, which makes them valuable for long-term prepping.

Is a digital library a good idea? What happens if there is a power outage?

Let’s be flexible here. There is no one-size-fits all solution. For example, if you’re on vacation or if you travel frequently for work, a digital prepping reference library is more practical. The idea is always to make the library work for YOU. It needs to meet YOUR needs. If you’re concerned about being able to access your books when the power is out, then make sure to keep physical books for those topics most important to you. Digital can be a backup to your physical library and vice versa.

Can’t I just use my local library?

You could, but it’s definitely not ideal. One, local libraries often lack the specialized survival and prepper books needed for unique circumstances.. And two, during emergencies, relying on a local library may not be practical due to limited access to public resources. Having your own library ensures you have immediate access to critical information. However, here are ways the library can supplement your preparedness efforts and survival library.

What are your favorite books to have around as a reference?

Originally published February 26, 2015. Updated with content from Sarah Anne Carter.

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