Recently, I'd noticed yet another question on something along the lines of "I need a book recommended to me", and I thought "Oh, I'll go search through the listing of questions with 'book' in the title..." and subsequently stumbled upon the elusive tag, and was surprised at the number of closed questions in my search.

Now, the two of them contradict each other a bit - the search reveals that a good 65%+ of the questions (through search) are closed, but only about a third of the [books]-tagged questions are closed...

What are our policies on these questions?

From what I know, they should be closed/deleted (though, under what flag? should we try to find duplicates if possible?). Should they instead be left alone, under some kind of conditions? (what would these be, in that case?)

Related: Where do books & learning sources questions belong?

2 Answers 2


The only two policies I know regarding programming books are the following:

  1. They're off-topic/not constructive on Stack Overflow.
  2. They're off-topic/not constructive on Programmers unless they are about a niche topic and phrased in such a way to find the canonical book about the subject. A list of one-line recommendations (like the popular ones you see on Stack Overflow) is always off-topic.

That said, there once was a time where those lists were really popular and arguably (I emphasize arguably) valuable resources on Stack Overflow. There are going to be several book recommendation lists that will never go away simply because:

  1. Doing so would cause more problems than it would solve
  2. There is no good home for them (again, Programmers or any other site is not that home)

So these questions are, or should be, locked with the express purpose of pointing out that they are there only for historical reasons. However, even this status is up for debate.

With respect to the others, it's likely no determination has been made on them and they just simply slipped through the cracks or they are so popular that community moderation can't handle them (they get reopened too quickly or they need an obscene amount of delete votes). If you don't think they belong and regular close votes aren't cutting it, it might be worth it to flag it for moderator review.

  • I understand there used to be a point in the past when questions like that were perfectly acceptable, but seeing as they are generally not condoned anymore, should we not follow suit and close (though, not delete) those questions as well? Nov 27, 2011 at 21:22
  • @Nightfirecat yes: I said as much in my answer.
    – user149432
    Nov 27, 2011 at 21:36

What are our policies on these questions?

Shopping recommendations are generally off-topic on any SE site.

The answers for those questions (questions about recommended books, services, or other items) would all be equally valid, and that is a reason for not asking such questions.
Every time a new book is published, a new answer should be added to the question to suggest a new book; actually, users who answered those questions could change their mind about the suggested book because somebody published a book that is better of what previously suggested. For this reason, those questions could be considered too localized.

I generally see those questions closed as not constructive, which is the closing reason with the following description:

We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

When you ask about the best book, who answers is not probably answering basing on facts (e.g. the number of sold copies), but answering basing on personal opinions.

  • 1
    The whole "shopping recommendation" thing is usually a bit of a misnomer. Are you saying that if I wanted to borrow a book from the library, then asking for recommendations would be okay? The "shopping" part is really completely incidental. It was used in a blog post once and now it seems like everyone's latching on to the phrasing for no good reason.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Nov 27, 2011 at 17:58
  • 1
    No, I am not saying that recommendations about a book to borrow from the library would be okay. My answer is for recommendation questions.
    – apaderno
    Nov 27, 2011 at 19:02

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