I feel that one of the most most important things that you can have in your bag of tricks is a well-stocked reference library. Most of my personal reference library is packed away in boxes or I would add pictures of shelves full of books old and new, as well as the binders full of CDs and DVDs that I have accumulated over the years. Maybe once I get my house with a separate room designated as a library I'll be able to get them all out at one time.
The choice between paper and digital can be difficult, as they both have pros and cons. I'm old, so I prefer turning pages to swiping an often greasy or dirty finger across a screen, although YouTube and the Internet have made it a lot easier to look up information on odd subjects.
- No batteries or cords to get lost
- Harder to alter or "hack"
- Can be paid for in cash in many places
- Untraceable, as long as you don't buy them online
- Degrades slower over time
- No hardware needed to to get to the information
- Requires an external source of light to read
- Heavier than digital copies
- Bulkier than digital, takes up a lot of room
- Easily damaged by water
- Easier to copy and share
- Small size allows for huge amounts of data storage
- Easier to search and scan
- Easier to find "out of print" books
- Prone to electronic disruption (EMP, static discharge, etc.)
- Easier to lose
- Decays rapidly over time
- Prone to hardware obsolescence
A well-rounded reference library should cover a variety of subjects in as much depth as you can find and afford. If you're a long-term prepper (survivalist has a bad connotation for some reason) you'll want to have copies that cover everything from the basics to advanced information on the subjects that you want to preserve. I know that I'm not going to be around forever, so some of my preps are set aside for the next generation or two to learn from. I also realize that I can't do everything that needs done, so having references that I can share allows me the option of growing the capabilities of my tribe. Having a few school teachers in my "network" helps, but they are limited to the resources that they have available.
Subjects and examplesBasics like knot-tying and simple bushcraft should include copies of the old Boy/Cub/Girl Scout manuals. The newer ones don't teach as much of the outdoor skills as they used to.
There are other books that specialize in things like knots- these are my favorites.
The Arts of the Sailor, by Hervy Gerrett Smith.
Written for sailboat sailors, it covers a lot of knots and has a good section on sail repair and decorative rope work.
School subjects like math and chemistry could be very important to pass on. Here is one of the books off of my shelf for an example. Any used bookstore can provide text books at a reasonable price, and Half-Price Books is usually a bit cheaper than Amazon, but with a smaller selection.
Reading, writing, math, spelling, art - any of the subjects pumped into our heads when we were children will need to be taught. Make sure you cover as wide a range as you can afford - you never know who might need the basics and who is ready for advanced studies.
I'm a fan of the ways things used to be done, so I collect old books that cover subjects that interest me. Good luck finding copies of these exact books, but you may find something similar.
Anything put out by CRC (Chemical Rubber Company) is a good reference to have. Their Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (THE reference book for Chemistry labs) is rather expensive - I've seen them new at over $200 - but the information inside doesn't change much over a few decades, and used copies can be found for as little as $3.
This one was written in 1892. It's a handbook full of formulas used by pharmacists before the invention of the FDA. Deciphering some of the terms used took a while, since they don't use the same names for many chemicals and compounds that we use now.
Medical training is essential to surviving any major crisis. Having medical training and supplies gives you a valuable service that can be bartered for the things you don't have or know how to do for yourself. The 2013 edition may be found here.
I actually found this one on eBay. It's a med school text book put out by the manufacturer of sutures. Very informative. 2007 edition here.
To follow Lokidude's post about vehicle maintenance, I strongly suggest that you get a manual like this for any vehicle or large piece of equipment that you may have. Knowing that something can be fixed is the first step in getting it fixed, even if you can't do the work yourself.
Chilton and Haynes are the most common and will get you through the most common repairs. Find a factory manual if you need further detailed information, but be prepared to pay dearly for it.
Weapons maintenance is the same, get as much information as you can on the weapons you own or may expect to find after a disaster. The NRA has published "The NRA Book of Small Arms" for decades, and the various volumes contain more information than most of us will ever need. Bob Brownell (Brownells) put out a series of "Gunsmith Kinks" book that are even more detailed - basically a collection of hints and tips gunsmiths sent in over about a 60 year span to one of the largest gunsmith supply houses in America.
I also have a collection of books to assist me in my shop. The Machinist's Handbook is a small, dense bible to have when working with mills and lathes. I have several books on the construction of barns and sheds, just in case I need to put up storage for extra goods, equipment, or people. Foundry work, blacksmithing, tool making, distilling alcohol, passive solar heating, and a host of other odd fields of study all have a place in my library because I'm not sure what I may need to learn or teach in the future.
If you have the time, money, and space then you should have at least a few books set aside for the bad times. Reference books will help you get through, but don't forget to include other books to read just for the pleasure of reading them. Keeping some picture books around is a good way to occupy the time of little kids, and even the older children should be taught to read (and write) better than what I've seen graduating over the last few years.