Home Library Organization

If you're not a bookworm, you may as well stop reading now. But if you're like me and have shelves upon shelves of books, maybe you'll find some useful tips in this post.

Once upon a time, I thought there could never be such a thing as too many books. That was before I got married and had two kids. Now I not only have my own books to contend with, but also my husband's and my children's. We have bookshelves in every room but the bathroom. As I look around, I can no longer find locations for new bookshelves. Keeping the bookshelves looking decent, while also making it possible to find the books we want, is a bit of a challenge for me, but here's what works:

* Go through all your books and give away any you can part with. Donate them to the library or to your favorite charity. Repeat after me: You can't own every book in the world!

* Sort books in a way that makes sense to you. My method is pretty simple: Fiction is stored on different shelves than nonfiction. Fiction is arranged by genre, then author. Nonfiction is arranged by general subject and - if I have a large collection on a particular topic - sub-topics. (For example, first I have my general gardening references, followed by my books on ornamentals, followed by my books on edibles, etc.) I don't alphabetize any more, but I used to alphabetize either by author or title. And no, you don't need a cataloging system. Remember, the system needs to be simple if you're going to keep it going.

* If you like, glue old fashioned metal label holders to the shelves to mark categories. This looks nice if your style leans toward vintage or antique, but may become a pain if you have to re-arrange your books.

* Don't pay attention to decorating magazines that recommend sorting books by size, height, or color. Who cares if it looks cool if you can't find the book you need? Also don't try their ideas about using stacks of books as pillars for a sheet of glass ("instant coffee table"), nightstands, or any other "creative" use that will make the books a pain to get at. If you can't read them, you oughtta donate them to someone who will.

* Do consider laying books horizontally if they won't fit otherwise. It won't hurt the books to stack them and it does add some decorative interest to the shelving.

* Be sure there is enough space between shelves so you can easily reach in and pull books off.

* Think creatively about shelving. The most practical way to shelve books is in large bookcases; however, if you don't get at the books much, you might consider putting single shelves above doorways, for example. (But not if you live in earthquake country.) You can also do away with nightstands and replace them with small bookcases, making better use of the space.

* Consider double shelving. If you really can't reduce the number of books you own and you really don't have room for more shelving, consider putting infrequently used books on the back of the shelf, with more often read books lined up in front of them. This works best for small books.

* Consider where you will need the books. For example, it doesn't make much sense to store cookbooks in the living room where you never cook. And if you tend to read to the kids in the same one or two locations, then it makes sense to have bookcases with their books in those same locations.

* If you have children, you'll need to go through your books at least once a year, giving away those the kids have outgrown. (But don't get overly ambitious! Many children enjoy looking at and reading books that are "too young" for them; those books have become old friends, and they are a comfort. On the other hand, you don't want to be overrun with baby books if your kids are school age, so help your kids narrow down old favorites.)

* Small children sometimes keep books tidier with a book sling rack. Before you buy a big one, you might try a simple, small '.

* Don't think your shelves can't be attractive, too. My prettiest bookshelves ever had rows of flat, scalloped lace glued along the edges. It added an old fashioned, pretty touch that really made the inexpensive white shelving I had look lovely.

* If you have magazines, too, try to rip out the pages you want to keep (oh horrors!) and stick them in a binder with clear plastic sheets. If you can't bring yourself to do this, magazine holders will keep your collection under control.

* Don't store books in the garage, basement, or any other damp location. By the time you're ready to read them, they'll be crinkled - and probably moldy. Again, repeat after me: I can't own every book in the world!

* Consider a Kindle. Last Christmas my husband bought me a Kindle. I must say I love it. It's very easy on the eyes, loads pages instantly, and is the right size and weight for me. So now I buy all my novels in Kindle edition, saving shelf space. (Actually, Amazon offers so many free classics and new books that I haven't bought a single book for my Kindle...so I'm saving money, as well as space!)

Do you have any tips for organizing books?


  1. You hit most of the points I'd recommend for storing books.

    One thing to do when you're moving--especially if it could be a while before you're able to fully unpack your library--is to label the boxes with the types of books that are in them. For instance, I moved last year (and because we're expecting to move again, have all my books in boxes still) but all of my book boxes are labeled as to whether they're fiction or non-fiction, and since my fiction collection is more unwieldy than my NF, I have the boxes labeled by what type of fiction they are. I also know (mostly) whether they're hardback or paperback. I try to put paperbacks in larger boxes since they're lighter. And, try to keep your boxes together if possible. I know there is at least one box of books in my storage unit (which burns my hide!) but most of my boxes are stacked in out-of-the-way places in my home. I can access them easily if I need to, but they stay out of the way otherwise.

    The Kindle has definitely helped me. I'd have another box or two to pack if I had acquisitioned the number of physical books as I have on my Kindle. I'm actually looking to get a lot of my collection onto my Kindle--especially with the books by my favorite authors. I'll hold onto some with special meaning, and I'll probably always collect books--especially antiques and signed copies. But, I see a day in the not-too-distant-future where most of my books are on my Kindle rather than on my bookshelf.

  2. I got a kindle too, but for some reason I still prefer the hard copies. I have uploaded classics or children's books for the children, but my non-fiction books I am still buying the hard copies.

    and Yes, I can't own every book in the world! I can't own every book in the world! :(