Finding order on your bookshelves

After reading Bringing your bookshelves back to order last week, you’ve hopefully had time to go through your books in your personal collection and clear the clutter. Now that you have enough space for your books, it’s time to take on the task of organizing them on the shelves.

I want to start by recommending that you take inventory of your books. If you value your books enough to keep them, then you should want to replace them if ever your collection is ruined in a disaster. If you wouldn’t want to replace them, then you may want to reconsider keeping them. Additionally, a current inventory allows you to search your whole collection with just a few key strokes on your computer. There are many software programs out there to help you with your inventory. On a PC, you may be interested in trying Readerware for Books ($40). It seems to be the least expensive, most positively reviewed, and it also has a version for Windows-based handheld devices ($50). If you have a Mac system, the two most positively discussed products are Booxter ($50) and Delicious Monster ($40). Neither appear to have the bells and whistles of the Readerware program, but they have much more intuitive interfaces.

With your collection free of clutter and properly inventoried, here are some recommended ways of organizing your books:

  • The latest trend is to organize your books by spine color. This method is definitely not for me since it doesn’t provide easy access to finding what I need quickly, but, if you have a home inventory in place, you could enter shelf location and make searching your collection easier.
  • I organize my collection using the Library of Congress classification system. I don’t get into the nitty gritty of subclasses, I just follow the broad category groupings. All of my social science books are together on a single shelf, for example.
  • If the LoC isn’t for you, the Dewey Decimal groupings may be more your style.
  • I’ve also found that organizing most accessed to least accessed works well, especially if you have a lot of shelves that are above shoulder height. Books rarely accessed go up on high shelves, and ones regularly accessed go at eye level or lower. If you have smaller children, reserve the lower shelves for their books.
  • Creating your own organization method is always an option, too. If this is the path you choose, I recommend labeling your shelves with Inreda Bookends or sticking a printed label directly on the lip of the shelf. Doing this will help you find your books most efficiently.

Good luck with your book organizing efforts! I’m eager to read in the comments how you’ve decided to organize the books you’ve chosen to keep.

Image from chotda’s collection on flickr.

70 Comments for “Finding order on your bookshelves”

  1. posted by Curious Bunny on

    Our books have been organised by spine colour since a few years ago, when we saw the idea in a magazine and loved the it. The “fiction” bookshelf is about 6″ wide (yes, really! It was very tiny spare corner, but it works) by 12′ tall (floor to ceiling), and having this little rainbow in the corner of the room is visually pleasing, and a talking-point. We do have friends who think we’re crazy, storing books this way, but we can both remember the colour of things :)

    The thing that causes friends more distress is how few books we own – some of my friends own thousands, if not tens of thousands. We get rid of nearly everything we’re not going to read again.

  2. posted by Emma on

    We recently re-decorated the room where all our books are stored and decided to replace a bookcase with a sofa-bed. This meant we had no choice but to get rid of some books. Both my husband and myself are avid readers and find it hard to get rid of books (so much so that we have two complete sets of Terry Pratchett as we both read them before we met!)

    Going through them on a case by case basis worked will I read it again was the only question asked. We got rid of five boxes of books! (though both TP sets remain…)

    I’m going to go through these organisation methods with him tonight and hopefully we’ll get the ones we have left (still a vast number) sorted.

  3. posted by Wharda on

    hi all,
    I have been organising books by colours since I was a child (a long time ago…). What makes me sad (read = Allan) is that some people think they have the right to judge others on how they organise their stuff. Hence: books are for reading, I know the colours of my books, I read them.
    Alan, have you ever given attention to the designs of your books, the coulours, the fonts, the lay-out?
    How sad (weary smile)

  4. posted by Gumnos on

    I find (before I married a librarian) that my way of classifying books was purely a matter of how I recalled the book. Some books I recall by title (Beatles Lightly Toasted and other YA titles from my youth), some by author (Lloyd Alexander, Mark Twain), some subject/topic (all my programming & cooking books), and some by physical attributes (the one that’s falling apart, the one with the grey cover, etc), and lastly some get organized by use of frequency (the dictionary & thesaurus are within fast grasp).

    Currently, all our fiction is now by author (I have to do a linear search for some of my favorites because I don’t remember the author off the top of my head) within a given genre. I’ve managed to keep a bastion of topical organization in the non-fiction. :)

  5. posted by Living Room Furniture on

    My books are organized by topic. There is a shelf for the fiction thrillers. Another for the finance books. Another for the cookery ones. Another for health. And another for all my interior design and architecture related books. Haven’t used a program really. But I do make sure I note down when someone borrows a book. So I know when the person has conveniently forgotten to return it even after a few months.

  6. posted by Dup on

    I’m surprised to see that no one mentioned the social networking site, Goodreads.com. Easy to put your collection in there and it’s free. Plus fun.

  7. posted by Meg from FruWiki and All About Appearances on

    Throughout the house, my husband and I have about a dozen tall bookcases — though many now hold things other than just books, such as the few knick-knacks we’ve kept, our mail-sorting bins, canisters of dry foods in the kitchen, etc.

    Having so many bookshelves, though, I tend to first split up books by general subject. Three shelves are devoted to sheet music and music theory, there’s a shelf for craft/drawing books, and three bookcases that cover things related to history, linguistics theory, religions, and ancient languages (yes, there are a couple separate shelves for modern languages).

    Within a grouping, I organize by height — so much that some people might thing I’m a bit obsessed. If there are books by the same publisher that are the same height I try to group those together if they aren’t already.

    The only place I have organized by color is my piano music where the books are the same height. It’s only one shelf (or most of a shelf), but it has worked very well since I am a very visual person.

    Part of me in reorganizing one group of bookcases by color — the ones with books history, linguistics, etc. In that case, the bookcases are a focal point of the room and it might be neat. At least in the beginning, I’d have to organize by height as well. And part of me doesn’t want to split up paired books that aren’t in the same color, but there are only a few cases of that.

    By the way, I just found out that the twice annual library book sale is having it’s 10 cent day today. Resisting the urge. No more books! For now.

    Maybe someday I’ll check out LibraryThing or something similar. Right now, I just have way too many books to want to do that.

  8. posted by Mags on

    Another plug for LibraryThing. As well as the already mentioned online (and therefore offsite) benefit, it also allows:

    – user-defined tagging and/or comments
    I use the tagging to categorise (fiction, non-fiction, read, to be read, wishlist, borrowed from library etc) and the comments to note where the book is (crime shelf, contempory shelf, kitchen, in drawer at work, on shelf at chap’s, sent to charity shop) etc. These functions means you can configure your online catalogue to exactly suit your real life ‘system’ (or lack of it) but all the books are tied back to their ISBN, British Library etc ref. So in the event of having to restore your library, you can use a traditional method of listing them.

    – mobile device access
    If you’ve a big ‘to be read’ pile, you can look at your LibraryThing catalogue on your mobile phone or PDA whilst in a bookshop and realise that, actually, you already have a copy of that book waiting to be read so don’t buy it again! Thus stopping the cluttery ‘to be read’ pile from growing any bigger.

  9. posted by Chrystine Bennett on

    Color only works if you regard each book as an individual, nothing to do with being visual. I am visual, I can picture shelves and describe to people which books are where. Much of my collection is reference, when I am looking up something, I am interested in what other sources might say and I expect to find the other sources on the same shelf. All the color and library systems are essentially “closed stacks” requiring written submissions. In my own house, I want an open stack system. My mother’s rule was to only buy books that she had read and wanted to read again.

    There is little point in listing one’s library for replacement. So many things, particularly good art books, have small print runs and become rare or impossible to find very very quickly.

  10. posted by Chris on

    Alexandria is a free program for keeping track of books.

  11. posted by Sandra on

    My friends always made fun of me because I have organized my books alphabetically since I was 6 or 7. The nonfiction tends to get organized by topic and size. That, and since I’m Japan-obsessed and end up with a lot of books on Japan for classes, Japan gets its own 2 or 3 shelves.

    I can’t BELIEVE anyone would organize by color! Eeep. I mean, I can handle visually-pleasing arrangements within my alpha order (sometimes I stack books vertically to break up the space as well as to fit more books in) but it just seems so much harder if you’re not using my friend the alphabet! To each their own, I guess :)

  12. posted by Heather on

    I’m a mac-user and have recently found Bookpedia (and DVDpedia). These programs are relatively inexpensive and turn the iSight camera into a barcode reader. It works off of an iTunes format which I find really easy to navigate.

    For the first time I found cataloging my books (hundreds) easy and fun. All I had to do for most of them was wave them in front of the computer! The program got all of the meta-data off of the internet (like iTunes when you put in a cd)

    I lost most of my library in Hurricane Katrina, so am acutely aware of the importance of knowing what books, what editions, and what signatures were on your shelf. It took me about a day. We were preparing to move, so every book got scanned on its way to the boxes. Now, re-shelving is easy as I can sort the books by collection, signature, author, subject, whatever. No more man handling as I try to figure out where to put the books!

    They have similar programs for video games and CDs.

  13. posted by Cecilia on

    librarything.com!!!

    It’s like Facebook, but for books. Bookbook? Anyway.

    I started cataloging my books in preparation for going overseas – I want to be able to see which books I already own so I don’t buy them again. My collection’s fairly small by most standards so on Librarything I can just tag them with the location.

    On the actual shelves, I group roughly by subject matter, but mostly I go by whatever looks prettiest.

  14. posted by Melinda on

    RE: keeping track of loaned books

    My friend has a book where she writes down who she has loaned the book to and the date. They have a large collection of books they are happy for people to borrow. In this way if she is looking for a particular book she can give that person a phone call and ask for it back.

  15. posted by JustTheSort on

    The television show “Mad About You” had an episode where Helen Hunt’s character Jamie was, if I remember correctly, suffering from writer’s block while working from home. As something (ANYTHING!) to do she organized all the books in their apartment by color.

    Pointing this out to her husband Paul (Reiser) he retorts “Oh, that’ll be handy if we ever want to read something orange!”

    (I group my clothes and towels by color, but not my books.)

  16. posted by pdxwoman on

    I also use LibraryThing (over 2000 books!). Luckily, you can use a small hand scanner called a CueCat to scan the ISBN numbers on the books…they don’t have to be entered by hand.

    Best for reducing clutter — I download my LibraryThing list onto my PDA, so I never buy a book I already own and/or have read!

  17. posted by Off the Beaten Plan » Blog Archive » Goal 3: Other Bloggers to the Rescue on

    [...] at Unclutterer posted last year on today’s date Finding order on your bookshelves. The second paragraph is my favorite. If you value your books enough to keep them, then you should [...]

  18. posted by Francis on

    wow.
    i thought (naively) that i was the only person in the world who sorted her books by colour. boyfriend thinks i am insane…

  19. posted by WilliamB on

    I think I’m Dani’s twin! My books are organized by neighborhood also, and I *never* let movers pack my books because they mix them all up and don’t label properly. It takes me more time to undo their mess than to pack my 2000+ books myself, pack the empty spaces with paper, and labeling the boxes properly (by neighborhood name, on 5 sides). A’course, each box then weighs a ton, which is why they’re all small boxes.

    Even so, it takes me up to 4 days to unpack and organize my books. Books should go in their neighborhoods, with some consideration for height so the shelves are efficiently used, and the ones I reread the most at waist to chest heights. Except for the atlases and encyclopedias, which should be near the floor so I can reach them easily when sitting down, surrounded by reference material. In theory I should be able to duplicate shelf structure from one apt to the next but I’ve never been able to manage that in practice.

    But organizing by color?!? That’s for people who don’t read. You might as well buy books by the yard, or rows of fake books with fancy covers.

    – WilliamB, not usually so intolerant of other people’s systems.

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