How Do You Organize Your Books?

September 17, 2007 @ 7:43 pm | Filed under:

This arrangement would drive me crazy on a practical level, but it sure is pretty.

We have a loose system for shelving our books…probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone else, but works for me. I am usually able to lay hands on the book I want—not always, because if one of the kids was reading it recently, it’s probably under a bed.

Laurie loaned me her CueCat and Jane & I have been slooowly working our way through the bookcases. (Where "slowly" means "did it obsessively for the first week and then forgot about it for the next two months, but remembered again and keep meaning to finish before Laurie needs it back.") We’ve entered around 300 books at LibraryThing so far. And then I started getting invites to GoodReads, so I imported the library to there. Anyone have thoughts about the one vs. the other?

There are two bookcases in our living room and two in our dining area, which is the short leg of the L-shape that makes our main living area. The shelves in the living room hold—just as they did when I wrote about "The Living-Room Shelf" so long ago for Cay Gibson’s book, Literature Alive!—some of our most beloved books, the ones we turn to over and over again. Fred Chappell is there, and E. Nesbit, and Hilda Van Stockum, and George MacDonald, and lots of Penguin Classics. Most of our poetry books. The big Macauley books—The Way Things Work, Ship, Cathedral, City.

(Speaking of Macauley! I’m going to be hosting his Robert’s Snow snowflake here during the Blogging for a Cure event. Go read all about it at the amazing Seven Impossible Things. I’m also hosting illustrator Timothy Bush, whose hilarious and perfect James in the House of Aunt Prudence is one of our family’s favorite picture books, and thus rates a spot on the living-room shelf.)

Scott has a zillion composer biographies, and most of those are in the living room, too. Also my beloved Charlotte Mason series. The rest of my education books are on the bookcase behind the kitchen table. Above that shelf is non-U.S. historical fiction for children, and below it are all the nature study books, field guides, Linnea, One Small Square, and so on. Then come a couple of shelves of miscellaneous educationally-useful things. The other dining-area bookcase holds all my religion books. (C.S. Lewis and Chesterton take up a whole shelf of their own.) There are puzzles and games on the top shelves, and I keep my pretty Small Meadow Press binders there too, because I like to look at them.

I keep thinking it would make an interesting (to me, at least) series of posts to talk about what’s on each shelf in the house, one at a time, and who has read it, and what we think about it, and why it made the cut when we were purging for the move. There’s no dead weight in our book collection now, that’s for sure.

If I scanned barcodes as I blogged, I could maybe get that CueCat back to Laurie sometime before our kids grow up.

(Seriously, Laurie. If you need it back anytime soon, just holler.)

    Related Posts


22 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jennifer says:

    I agree that it would make an interesting series of posts. As to organization. We don’t have a bookshelf (it collapsed under the weight of, oddly enough, books). I try to group picture books by subject and slipped into rectangular bins, but mostly, they are on the floor and stacked 1 foot deep on my nightstand and other places where we read.

  2. sarah says:

    Okay, I started hyperventilating when I clicked to the color coded library shelves. I must, must, must have books of a series together, preferably in order of publication as well. Our shelves with mostly grown-up books are categorized primarily by subject or type-sports, biography, bible/church, art, school philosophy, catalogs, magazines etc. We can do that easily since our likings are nearly 100% nonfiction. We then have several shelves of novels/other fiction that are categorized by height/author. Kids books are at multiple locations throughout the house and are randomly shelved based on interest/size and where Lucy can/cannot reach. I also rotate the books in the girls’rooms on a regular basis. My dad recently made me a gorgeous, custom sized bookshelf for our bedroom. I am actually having a challenging time filling it, because I can’t decide how to best categorize what I’m going to put in there.

    What a great post! I hope others chime in. It would be fun to see pics of different styles.

    Every time I look at our overflowing book shelves I wonder how much it would cost to move them and which would make the cut. It’s a good point of reference when deciding whether to buy or borrow from the library. Would I pay to have that moved? 🙂

  3. Andrea says:

    Here in our new house we have one whole room devoted to books. And we’ve run out of bookcases. 🙂 Two full size, one medium and a smaller one in that room alone, plus a cabinet for the antique ones. Our biggest section is reference and I group them by subject. Or, I try to. It’s braod and general, and my ADD-ness sometimes has isses with where to put as book.

    The children’s book and novels are not all unpacked. We’ve got a bookshelf (it was mine when I was little) in the playroom for picture books, and another bookshelf upstairs in each girl’s room.

    There’s also a small bookshelf in my room and a large one in the hall, plus another in the craft room (off the kitchen) holding cookbooks. I just realized the craft books are three rooms away. Hmmm.

    I’m not sure these will hold all our books.

  4. Sara says:

    16 years working in libraries and bookstores and that picture made me a little panicky. I’ve kept my books organized by nonfiction vs. fiction and then alpha by fiction author since I was about 12. After starting as a shelver at 16 I seroiusly thought about putting my nonfiction in Dewey Decimal order.

    When I used to “volunteer” for our local Friends of the Library sale (Dad was the chair, not volunteering was not an option) we’d have people complaining that we didn’t sort the books by subject. That I understood, but one day a woman came in “where are your blue books?” I thought she meant Edmunds… until she produced a fabric sample. She was a decorator and needed some picturesque old books for someone’s “library.”

    Now I separate types of fiction, group nonfiction by subject. Fiction authors aren’t in order right now (size restrictions) but series *are* together and *must* be in order!

  5. Love2learn Mom says:

    Okay, I sat down and played with GoodRead last night (which I hadn’t heard of before). It seems to be aimed at keeping track of books that you’ve read whereas LibraryThing is more for books that you own. I think LibraryThing is easier for tagging and lesson planning with living books. But I like the feel of GoodRead and I always have trouble keeping track of what books I’ve read and which ones I’m reading. I think I may stick with that one too! 🙂

  6. Lissa says:

    Sarah, I could not possibly love you more. 🙂 I *knew* that color-coding thing would horrify you! 😉

    (Me too, despite its beauty.)

    I am laughing at myself over this post because I couldn’t even get to all our *bookcases* in a general sense, and here I am pondering a shelf-by-shelf series. As usual, eyes bigger than my plate…

    We have bookcases all down our hallway, and lining the walls of every bedroom. It’s almost ridiculous, considering how drastically I culled the collection before the move. As Sarah is my witness! LOL.

    Alicia, AHA!! (GoodReads vs. Library Thing.) That makes sense.

  7. Lissa says:

    P.S. I love the idea of seeing pictures of other peoples’ arrangements. Do go for it!

  8. Becky says:

    I love, love, love shelter magazines but what designers do with books makes me itchy. As bad as organizing by color is organizing by size, and laying similarly-sized books on their side — how are you supposed to get the books on the bottom?!. But I guess those books are read as often as those kitchens are cooked in 🙂

    We’re in the market now for another four bookcases, to add to the, erm, more than 10 (some with books double-shelved, which I loathe but it’s a necessity). I just moved a small bookshelf, so small it doesn’t count lol, to the living room and tucked it in a corner, where the encyclopedias and some other reference books are handier.

    I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I find myself moving around books at the Goodwill shop and at library booksales so series and authors’ works can be together…

  9. Mary Beth P says:

    I have piles of kids books all around my house, 2-3 books that I am currently reading (ha- if you can call 1 page a day, reading) strewn around the house, and a couple Jeff is reading next to his side of the bed. That is currently my shelving system! The rest of the books are still neatly packed in about 16 boxes out in the garage! Our old house had a whole room with built in shelves- we only own 1 bookcase right now and it’s currently- IN THE GARAGE,also. So we have some work to do (but hey, we only moved 5 months ago).

  10. JoVE says:

    I once knew an academic who organized his books by height. Made no sense to me.

    Ours are kind of organized by subject but I can relate to the under the bed thing.

  11. Mary Ann says:

    My husband thinks books should be arranged on the shelf in size order! And I say, how am I supposed to remember how tall a book is when I want it?

    I have used LibraryThing pretty regularly for about a year and I love it. I do not, however, have any real experience with GoodReads to compare. But I do recommend LT.

  12. Kris says:

    Many of our books are now in storage, but the ones we do have are overflowing a single book shelf, leaving stacks on the floor. While the colored shelves are beautifully impressive, I like the looks of this one:

    As for Library Thing or Good Reads, I find myself preferring Good Reads.

  13. Laurie says:

    No worries about the cuecat. I’m glad it is getting used.
    I’ve been to your house and enjoyed seeing someone else with rooms of bookshelves full of books. So I knew it would be a while for you to enter all of those books, even with the kids helping.

    I’m still pulling books out of the linen closet to find new homes for them on our new bookshelves in the remodeled family room, so I don’t need it for a while.
    Fondly, Laurie

  14. Emily says:

    I am a little type A when it comes to organizing my over 550 volume library. 🙂 I have it arranged by subject, then author, so I have: adventure, autobiography/memoir, biography, current events, fiction (subdivided into novels, plays, poetry), film, finance, health,philosophy, music/theater, and theology. At least that’s all the categories I have for now…my friends think I’m crazy but I love it!

  15. Emily says:

    I am a little type A when it comes to organizing my over 550 volume library. 🙂 I have it arranged by subject, then author, so I have: adventure, autobiography/memoir, biography, current events, fiction (subdivided into novels, plays, poetry), film, finance, health,philosophy, music/theater, and theology. At least that’s all the categories I have for now…my friends think I’m crazy but I love it!

  16. Fe says:

    If you use a mac, I highly recommend Delicious Library. It’s great!
    I’m still working through our library, I’ve scanned all our fiction and the small non-fiction shelf, but now I’m going through entering manually all the books that didn’t scan (obscured bar codes, no bar codes, no ISBN) which is quite a large number. I’m up to P on my books (DH and I are _slowly_ merging our collections—which should allow us to discard unnecessary duplicates!), then there’s his, the random shelves in the lounge, the rest of the small non-fiction shelf—then I have to attack the two (mostly) non-fiction bookcases in the study. And the boxes of picture books that I had collected, but have not put out yet. So far we’re at 1500 books.

    My fiction is alphabetised, and the non-fiction is loosely grouped (it will become more so as we get the rest of the books in line). One of the things I really like about Delicious Library is that you can enter locations as well—and it’s really easy to ‘loan’ books out to people. Makes it really easy to keep track of where they are:-)

    (I just noticed Milly-Molly-Mandy in your sidebar, I’ve just finished reading it to Puggle, and we’re reading the next at the moment:-) )

  17. Steph says:

    We are a family with a LOT of books. We have a loose system of organization by subject, and fiction is alphabetized. I have MY fiction in an odd arrangement: 4 groups: mystery paperbacks, mystery hardcovers, non-mystery fiction/classics paperbacks, non-mystery fiction/classics hardcovers. Each group is alphabetized. The kids’ personal bookcases are organized by methods of their own devising. Works for us, if we can remember to put things back where they belong.

  18. Zeca says:

    LT has a history of offline problems and lame excuses (see the blog).
    It’s paid service.
    And it is uggly. So I think the choice is easy: goodreads or use the now-reading wordpress plugin, if you use wordpress for your blog and don’t care about the social aspect.

  19. Kim says:

    I am intrigued by Beth Newingham’s system – -for our schoolroom. We have new gi-normous shelving which yes, houses all those books. Still, you can’t have a 6ft row of books and try to take ones from the middle on a regular basis or you are courting disaster. I am thinking of investing in these baskets to group them topically and by series so they can be used regularly wihtout major reshelving.

  20. Mrs Jackie Parkes says:

    Love the blog…

  21. Mrs Jackie Parkes says:

    Love the blog…

  22. Mrs Jackie Parkes says:

    Love the blog…