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 gothmom on

    Hilarious that some people actually put books in order by color – in the library we are often stumped by patrons who, when asked to describe the book they are looking for will tell us the size and color!

    I am a former book-hoarder and after a fourth move when I realized the last time I touched most of the books was when I unpacked and shelved them, I got over it. If you’ve read a book and you aren’t a re-reader, give it to someone who would like to read it, book-crossing it, or donate it to the library for their Friends booksales.

    The books I have at home are reference books, cook books, gaming books, how-to books and the like. Of course, I can always pick up whatever book I want when I am at work!

  2. posted by Becky on

    I started organizing my books by color about 8 years ago, much to the distress of my professional-librarian sister. But it’s just as easy to find books as when they’re organized any other way, unless you have a *lot* of books. I have about five 6 foot by 4 foot shelves plus a few little miscellaneous shelves, so that’s a lot of books. Organizing them by spine color and size makes the bookshelves recede into a peaceful background in a room, rather than a chaotic mess of color and size. It really does look nice and peaceful.

    And my librarian sister? She organizes her books by color now too (at home only!).

  3. posted by Karen on

    I keep some of my books in boxes – horror of horrors! But I read a lot of books (I’ve read as many as 15 in a week) and the books I enjoy aren’t readily available from the library. So I keep a large stash of unread books. (One day I’d love to have the space to store them on bookshelves, but it’s not possible in my tiny apartment.)

    I created my own database in Filemaker many years ago to keep track of them. One nice thing about creating your own database is that you can create your own categories – I include information on the book’s setting and time period and type. I’ve tried some of the programs for books and they aren’t as flexible. I don’t know if all database programs are as easy as Filemaker, but it really wasn’t difficult at all, and although entering the books initially was a little time consuming, once that was done it wasn’t hard at all.

  4. posted by Pam on

    I’ve been arguing with my husband for 25 years about NOT organizing our books by color. We have hundreds of books and I can never find anything. He’s always done this and can always find a book. When I’m looking for one, the dreaded question always comes up — “what color is it”? Who knows?! Now I find out he’s trendy. I will not be able to live with him if he ever finds out.

  5. posted by Jean on

    Have you tried LibraryThing? It’s a place to keep track of all your books – online! You enter your books and then tag them so it’s meaningful to you. I don’t worry about where the books are on my shelf, I want to know if I’ve read it, what it was about, and if I’ve loaned it to anyone. Currently, my library has over 500 items. I think it’s a great tool:

  6. posted by Lori on

    The different ways people classify books always fascinates me. I have a good visual memory, but classification by color would give me hives. My books are separated by broad subject and then broken down more precisely, although the mechanism for organizing varies within those small categories.

    For fiction, the mass market paperbacks are separated out and live randomly in their own little stack (there aren’t many). The rest are alpha by author.

    The reference books I need for work are on the shelf behind me to the left at a comfortable grabbing level. The two I use most often are the easiest to reach, with the others drifting off into the distance in order of frequency of use.

    How-to art books, artistic inspiration, and supply catalogs live in my studio upstairs.

    Books for my niece are on a shelf in “her” room.

    Books and journals I’ve worked on over the years live on two high shelves.

    The rest of the nonfiction is grouped by subject (gardening, history, computer manuals, comics, travel, etc.), and then most typically by size — weird, I know — except that I keep books by the same author together.

  7. posted by Dani on

    I have averted my eyes from the whole colour trend, waiting for it to be over.

    Since I was a child reading Judy Blume, I have always grouped my books in “neighbourhoods”. I still subdivide them into fiction, non-fiction and reference, but the final placement depends on the writer.

    For example, you would NEVER put a Margaret Atwood next to a Stephen King; they’d claw each other’s eyes out. I tend to keep my CanLit separate anyway. πŸ˜‰ Timothy Findley usually “lives” next to Margaret Atwood, who blends into Carol Shields (oh how I miss her!) and so on. (By the way I do miss Tiff as well, just not the same way as Carol.) Inevitably, some books must be arranged by size but even then I carefully consider who is who.

    My husband laughs and shakes his head every time we move (a lot) because I will not stop tweaking the shelves until they are right. He also has a story he likes to tell about how I woke up one morning, hung over from an especially crazy Canada Day celebration. I took one glance at a wall of books and asked, “Where’s my East of Eden?!”

    Book arranging is such a personal thing for those who really care about writers and stories. I read something recently about people judging others by their bookshelves. I must admit, I have done this and have worked at stopping that. However, in an age where finding sister/fellow booklovers is challenge enough, I’d just be happy to find new friends who read at all.

  8. posted by Eden on

    Ours are organized by what they are. The shelves are from Ikea and they’re like sets of cubes. Each cube has a different type of book (gardening, novels, memoirs, home reference, etc.). My husband’s books for work are along the bottom of one bookcase b/c they’re large and heavy. I keep small paperbacks inside a slide-out opaque plastic bin. We each have a “to read” cube so that when we want something new to read, we don’t have to search through everything.

    BTW: I just found this blog yesterday and I love it. πŸ™‚

  9. posted by Nina on

    I used to have my books ordered by class and then alphabetically by author (just the novels though, as those are the most books I have). Then I moved though and got rid of a lot of books and now they are just ordered by class. I think the next time I have a few hours I’ll organize them by author again. I think this is a good organizing system and I never needed a computer to find anything.

  10. posted by Meghan on

    I arrange my books somewhat by category, but mostly by size. I just don’t have the bookshelf space to have each shelf be really high. If I arrange the books by size, then all the tall books are together on the bottom shelves (usually coffee table books and art books), middle shelves are for hardbound novels and non-fiction, and top shelves are for really small books (any category). This way I can adjust the shelves by the height of the books on them. If I arranged by color or the Library of Congress way, I’d have to have more shelves! I do try to keep authors together as much as possible, though. I only have 2 small bookshelves, so I don’t have any trouble finding anything.

  11. posted by Aria on

    Another plug for LibraryThing – the webprogram of choice for almost all of the librarians I know (actually all of my library peers who don’t use LibraryThing…don’t use anything to catalog their books at home, lol) Anyway – its an awesome program – and its nice to have access to your database of books away from home… Tim and the team keep coming up with new features all the time, and are adding new libraries that you can search for cataloging every week!

  12. posted by Maria in Iowa on’s catalog software is excellent, as is their support. Price is in the same range as that one you described as cheapest.

  13. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Mine are organized by category: science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, children’s lit, other fiction, history, religion, art, travel, organizing, time management, etc. I don’t get too fussy within a category, although I will tend to group all books by one author (or in one series) together. I’ll do some arranging by height to make things look nicer.

    Some categories might make sense only to me, such as “books tangentially related to organizing” – on a bookshelf in the room next to my office, having run out of bookshelf space in my office itself, even with constant re-evaluation and clearing out.

  14. posted by Natasha on

    My non-fiction are loosely based on Dewey Decimal, then literary-related non-fiction go at the top of my lit-fic (grouped by essays/poetry/fiction/etc.), and then literary fiction are sorted chronologically.

  15. posted by Barbara on

    Books are my downfall… Maybe if I was a librarian I wouldn’t hoard so many… I still won’t cull the herd… Maybe someday.

    We have a room in our house that is too small for a bedroom, so we use it as a library, wall to wall shelves with a couple of Queen Anne chairs and a small round table. It’s my sanctuary, my desk is in the closet. I have children’s books in the nursery, my nicer older books in the family room and living room (serves as decoration and protection from the use of the library), reference books grouped by topic, fiction grouped by type and then by author. Sort of like a bookstore. I can’t imagine grouping by color. I prefer my authors stay together regardless of spine color.

    Thanks for the Inreda Bookends mention. I’ve put them on my birthday wishlist.

  16. posted by Kris on

    The idea of organizing books by color gives me hives. It might look nice, but I’m in and out of my books a lot–how would I lay hands on the book I’m looking for in under 30 seconds? I think the people who organize books by color don’t have the 120-ish shelf-feet of books I do. (And every single one of those books has justified its presence in my home multiple times. I read a lot, and I re-read.)

    How I organize mine: mass-market paperback fiction is organized by author. Nonfiction is organized by subject–linguistics, cooking, household, computer, photography, writing reference, etc.

    The only exception to this is my projects shelves, where I group books related to projects I’m working on together–my Irish culture books, Greek history, Japanese culture, Aztec history, etc etc. If I’m hunting for something in particular, I’ll often need to reference two or three books, so keeping them together works for me.

  17. posted by allen on

    I am always shocked when people organize their books by colour. It saddens me.

    I like your empowerment to people to organize by their OWN catagories. A friend of mine had their cookbooks all apparently willy-nilly. I asked him about it, and he pointed out that the norwegian cook book was with the scandinavian books, the japanese with the asian, &c.

  18. posted by Alison on

    The thought of organizing books by colour, although beautiful to behold, has me shuddering in horror – how would I ever find anything?! Although, I could see organizing my books, then creating colour coded dust jackets for each category or shelf… but the time that would take also has me shuddering.

    I keep my permanent collection of books to a minimum of mainly reference books. I give away most of my fiction after I’m finished reading it, unless I’m certain I’ll read it again. However, it doesn’t usually go too far, my two roommates/sisters are packrats, and mostly scoop them up before I have a chance to get them out of the house! Thus, if I ever change my mind and want to read a book again, there’s no need to pick it up again at the bookstore or the library, I can just browse their collections.

    I, too, categorize my books by subject – social sciences texts and reference books in one area, gardening books in another, and several shelves reserved for fiction, which I alphabetize. (Although I quite enjoyed Dani’s comment about neighbourhoods, and readily agree that Margaret Atwood and Steven King would not be good neighbours!)

    Like Meghan, I have a limited number of bookshelves, and so I, too, organize by size. Luckily, this seems to work well with my categorization, as most of my gardening and art history books are quite large, and most of my fiction collection are high end paperbacks, and thus of similar size. However, I do have a miscellaneous shelf of trade paperbacks which are lumped together strictly based on size. This annoys me, and I would like to add extra shelves to my Ikea bookcases to have a shelf of small fiction paperbacks and another shelf of miscellaneous reference paperbacks.

  19. posted by Shauna on

    Another endorsement for Library Thing! I love it so much! I can organize books by tags, share it with friends, talk to other people who have similar interests,it’s awesome!

  20. posted by Martin on

    @ Jean and everyone else toting librarything:

    You are my personal hero of the day. Thanks for pointing me at this. I’m so going to use it!

  21. posted by Julia on

    I’m a librarian. And I hate to say this but we have no orgnaization system for the nine bookcases in our home. I did once put all of the books in order by author’s last name, but that flew out the window when we moved. I suppose that should be on my to-do list!

    If I was doing it, I’d go with Dewey. Very simple.

  22. posted by Megan on

    I “organize” my books in several different ways. First, I have the nice living room bookshelf with all of the pretty books on it (nicely bound hardbacks, and non-garish paperback covers, which usually end up being classics, but not always). This bookshelf is organized more for looks than making it easy to find something. I do try to keep authors together, unless my collection from a particular author is split with some paperback titles, and some hard-bound. I also like to keep books of a similar height grouped together, with the tallest ones on both ends, and the shorter ones in the middle. I have different shelves dedicated to different subjects – well, not really subjects, but similarities such as all British classics, all French classics, all non-fiction, all science fiction/fantasy, etc. This makes me sound a lot fussier than I am, I think.

    The bedroom or office bookshelf (we’re in between houses, so not sure which room it will end up in in the next house) is all of the rest of the books that my husband and I own – the not as pretty, neon-font, and/or very worn books are there. With these books, I pretty much just try to keep authors and series together.

  23. posted by Dawn on

    My organization system is so much lazier than most; fiction in my bedroom, non-fiction in the living room, and reference at my desk. And simply ordered by size, largest to smallest.

  24. posted by Melissa A. on

    I keep my book collection small, mostly using the library these days. Fiction is by author’s last name, then by date. No further categorization (I have an MLIS, so I know how to get fancy). Everything else is my title, except the knitting books which are all on one shelf, and my cookbooks which are on top of the fridge.

  25. posted by cdelphine on

    I actually like the way bookcases look with all the different colors, shapes and sizes mixed together but apparently that’s just me.

    I have been trying to figure out how to catalogue my books and keep a list of books to read for a while. I’m a poor college student so while I knew that there were programs out there it’s not for me. Finally I discovered that in Excel you can make lists that can be organized in many different ways with the click of a button. I got the original template on the microsoft website but you don’t need it to create lists. It’ss just helpful for getting an idea of how it works. Here’s the link:

  26. posted by Faculties on

    Organizing your books by Library of Congress number?? Who has the time?

  27. posted by Michelle on

    I jettisoned most of my books before moving cross-country after college; when I got to my new place I bought one tall bookcase and determined that I would try to never have more books than fit in that case.

    Almost ten years later, I’ve done remarkably well. I buy fewer books, because I don’t want to fill up the bookcase quickly. I give books away sooner, because I realize they’re not worthy of space on the bookcase. And whenever the bookcase looks too chaotic and cluttered, I know it’s time to go through my books and weed some out. Which I just did this weekend, in fact.

    Within the case, books are organized by generally by category: history, poetry, cookbooks, fiction, etc.

  28. posted by patricia on

    I have two major groups: read and un-read. Within those two groups, I order books by their category. Much easier to find things that way and with a quick scan I can see what sort of dent I’m making to the unread books group (which at last count was about 200). Plus it’s a deterrant to bringing in more books. Since moving into a studio apartment and having to tighten up on the budget, I’ve become more frequent visitor to the local library. A friend gifted me Delicious Library but I’ve yet to enter all of my books. Definitely have to get to it though.

  29. posted by infmom on

    I’ll put in a plug for Readerware. It’s extremely easy to use and if you happen to have an old CueCat barcode scanner it’s lightning fast. It takes a lot longer to remove the books from their shelves and put them back than it does to enter the data. I used inexpensive barcode printing software and Avery labels to make my own barcodes for the books that are too old to have ISBN or Library of Congress numbers.

    We have bookshelves in every room of the house except the bathroom (I have a shelf full of cookbooks in the kitchen). I generally organize them by category, but it doesn’t always work out because of the irregular spacing of the primary bookshelves in the living room. They’re IKEA “Billy” units and I had to raise the lower two shelves on each one to accommodate oversized books. This means that some of the upper shelves are only far enough apart to hold paperbacks (not that this is a bad thing).

    My Readerware catalog lists each title and which bookcase it’s in, so it’s pretty easy to locate any particularly elusive tome.

    I go through the shelves at least once a year and cull stuff we’re not reading or keeping for reference or for sentimental value, and what gets pulled out gets donated to the public library. If they can’t use them on the shelves, they can sell them at their book sales, and that gives them some money and us a nice tax deduction at the same time.

  30. posted by David on

    Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on tracking books that you have loaned out to friends (or on how to politely request their return)? I’ll look at LibraryThing, but unless you have a computer running next to your shelves at the time someone asks to borrow, you’ll be missing checked out items.

  31. posted by N. & J. on

    Wow that’s a lot of effort for books of course it makes sense if you have a large collection that you regularly reference. I did once catalog all my books, DVDs, and CDs, and then never updated it again… Visually though I love the idea of arranging by colors.

  32. posted by Kat on

    The organizing by color is very pretty. Like an art piece on your wall. I can see why some people would hate it, but why others would love it. Some are more visually oriented and can remember color easier.

    We have a very large collection of architecture books. All are ogranized by types of projects, theory or architect. We only keep design books in the library. All the rest are either borrowed from the actual library or given away.

  33. posted by Erin Doland on

    @David — If I loan a book to a friend I just assume I’ll never see it again. Every once in a while a book will return to me, but usually the friend just passes it along to someone else. No one has ever asked to borrow a book from me that I value so much that I would be crushed if it weren’t returned. Maybe someone else has advice for what to do in that situation??

  34. posted by Jill on

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention organizing by publisher. Books by the same publisher often have spines of similar design and size (or at least various series put out by publishers do). I have Norton section, an Oxford classics section, a Penguin classics section, etc.

  35. posted by Sasha on

    Love your suggestions. I have used Powells books before and thought they were fantastic. So easy to use and as for organizing on shelves I choose to group in categories. And I always but the biggest, heaviest books at the bottom of the bookcase for stability. I love the look of the color coded shelves but I tried it once and found it sort of annoying that topics weren’t grouped together so I changed it back. And as Eden mentioned above, the bookcase she is referring too is the EXPEDIT from Ikea. I love LOVE this bookcase. It’s now wonder you see it used on tons of tv show sets (Ugly Betty anyone?) It’s perfect with the cubes because books don’t fall over. I prefer cubes to one long bookshelf, easier to maintain.

  36. posted by J. on

    Books by colour? *shudders* πŸ™‚
    Over half of my books are nonfiction, and I have them loosely organized by topic.
    And another plug for Library Thing! How could you talk about making an inventory and not mention Library Thing? *fights urge to start using caps*
    I’m not sure how to include a proper link in these comments – html? bb? (Perhaps you could include a small line with basics under the submit comment button?), but the link to Library Thing is:,
    It is awesome!

  37. posted by Chris on

    hold the press because you don’t need to save all the books. Here are a few sites for great books on the web. and the best one This should help with getting rid of those books but please don’t throw them away find a book reseller and make some money or trade them for books you need. I have a site that you can pay to view every techbook you can think of but I have not found it yet let me get back to everyone on that. It has dummybooks and everything. Hope this helps.

  38. posted by Fili on

    I work at a library (not that it really makes a huge difference,) but I color-coordinate one shelf:

    The DDC works wonders if you have thousands of books. But I like the color system, just because I’ve organized by every other category.

  39. posted by Stimey on

    Books are my biggest challenge. I like the “if you won’t replace them, reconsider keeping them” rule. That’s a good one.

    I used to color coordinate my CDs, but I never thought of doing it for books. I don’t think I could hack that. πŸ™‚

  40. posted by Thomas on

    I have a huge personal library. I use the Firefox add on Zotero to catalog my books. It is intended for academic research, but it works just as well for a library inventory as well as ‘wants’. The beauty of it is that it captures book records from a host of online catalogs including the LOC, Amazon, and Google books. When I order a book from Amazon via Firefox, for example, Zotero has an icon in the address line that I click and presto it’s in my database.

  41. posted by erin on

    I organize my non-fiction books by category but beyond that they are jumbled together. My fiction books are loosely in categories of historical fiction, fantasy, etc but the primary thing is that everything by an author is in one place. The system looks jumbled from the outside but I know where every single book is.

    I recently added another bookcase and haven’t reorganized to fill it (one bookcase is stuffed to overflowing so with some reorganization I will have three bookcases full). I think I will use LibraryThing and make that my project for the day. Thanks guys! πŸ™‚

  42. posted by Drew on

    As far as book-lending (or movie-lending or any other kind of lending, for that matter) goes, I usually just keep a list of what’s out and who has it. The books-out list stays by the bookshelf, the movies-out list stays by the movies, and so on. As for getting the books back, sometimes I just have to break down and ask. Less and less am I willing even to lend books anymore, though. I’m reminded of an episode of a TV show where one character lends a book to another, and when she promises to get the book back to her, he tells her to keep it, it’s a gift. “Never lend books.” As much as I love them, it’s good advice — I reckon it means more when you hand one over too.

  43. posted by Brice on


    You can add up to 200 books to your library for free. There is a sliding scale for yearly or a lifetime membership to have unlimited books. You can even customize your library views to include LC or Dewey Decimal numbers among others.

  44. posted by Allie Orange on

    I think whether one embraces the “rainbow” method of arranging books or cannot imagine doing so, just depends on whether you’re visually oriented or not.

    I am a big magazine article clipper and I have scads of clippings in notebooks which are sort of like custom-made reference books about topics I am interested in. I place and find the articles by the way they look and can remember the layout, the colors and how they would relate to the layout and colors of other articles. It is pretty easy for me to find things but others are amazed at such an odd system. My husband, who is blind (opposites attract!) actually suggested that I arrange my books by color because I am so visually oriented.

    It has been fascinating reading what others buy in the way of books. I read mysteries, but would never think of buying one, because I rarely reread them and can get them through the library. I buy cookbooks, decorating books and organizing books and books on needlework but usually only after having checked them out through library or interlibrary loan. Our library is wonderful at tracking down just about anything.

  45. posted by Merlyn on

    While I realize cataloging books gives many pleasure, it just makes me break into a sweat. Who has the time? For replacement purposes I take a high-resolution digital photo of each book shelf in my house. We auto-magically backup off-site, so if there’s ever a disaster, I have the pictures to help me rebuild my library. The spine gives me all the information I need; high resolution means I’ll have no problem reading the spines in the picture. I retake pictures every 6-12 months and it takes maybe 10 minutes total. We love books but use the library a lot to stay uncluttered so our holdings are not extensive. We have one shelf of signed first editions. I take more pictures of them to show their condition, including the signed title page and the edition notice. They’re the books I’d be most concerned about replacing.

  46. posted by Jen on

    Good heavens, how could you not mention LibraryThing?

    At $25, a lifetime subscription for unlimited LibraryThing usage is cheaper than any of the other options you listed
    LibraryThing is connected to hundreds of book databases, including the Library of Congress, Amazon, and numerous academic and world libraries outside the US
    A LibraryThing account maintains a list of your books on a server that is offsite from your home — which is critical, in the event of a catastrophe (flood, fire, plague of locusts) that harms your books
    LibraryThing permits tagging, which allows you to categorize you books in any way you like, to easily keep track of book lending, a collection spread across multiple locations, or who owns what in a shared book collection
    Should anyone actually have a hankering for exact Library of Congress sorting, it can be done in a snap (I just sorted over 1000 books by LoC# with just two clicks)
    The LibraryThing website actually sells CueCat barcode scanners for inputting
    ISBN info
    LibraryThing users can join interest groups and connect with users who have similar books or reading interests
    Since LibraryThing is a web application, users can automatically access new features each time they log in, rather than needing to track software updates and patches

    LibraryThing, you make my heart sing! You make everything groovy

  47. posted by ShopLittleGifts on

    Organize by color πŸ™‚ Don’t know if you read the Martha blog, but Kevin Sharkey – one of her design directors organizes his design books by color. I think it looks beautiful! The only problem is that my books don’t really represent the full color spectrum… Plus I have to organize books for two – so it’s basically – divide and conquer – his and mines, sorted by usage. But I will definitely take a look at Readerware and see what if offers. Thanks!

  48. posted by JulieLyn on

    At last count there were over 900 children/young adult books in the kids’ “book area”. We are purging this week. There are some books that I know we have duplicates of from foster care intake gifts. Some books I will not part with, but others are going. I visited the local children’s arts company and they will give me a receipt for a tax deduction. I’m hoping that the books will fit on the shelves when we are done, but I’m not holding my breath; we bought a very cool 3-D book of the titanic and some others while we were there.

    We have no television and that promotes books to a completely different level of importance in our home.

    My books are all over the house on any surface that will support them, including timber beams and the spaces between the rafters. I have them organized by subject, and then loosely by size. (I struggle at remembering author’s names, which I do feel terrible about.) I keep boxed sets of references or series books together. I only have to remember the general location of the subject I’m looking for and I’m good to go. For example: writing references and religion are on the upstairs landing; cooking is mostly in the kitchen with overflow on the downstairs landing along with building references; mysteries, poetry, and classics in the loft along with philosophy, family, and personal development, and really cool science books. I have a separate set of shelves for reference books related to sewing and needlecrafts in the loft near the sewing table. National Geographic can be found in any room of the house, including the bath, although we try to keep them in a large basket by the sofa. We only save our favorites. It’s not a very scientific system, but it works for me.

    The husband is not much of a book reader, which allows my “system” to rule. He mostly reads specialty magazines and hobby reference books which are kept in baskets or on the table by his end of the sofa with his books on shelves by the bed and in his hobby room. If he does want a construction book, he just asks me to find it!

  49. posted by Ivar Zantinge on

    I’m in the process of selling my house. I have a rather large bookcase right now and uncluttering my shelves would result in many empty shelves, which definitely is not the smartest thing to do from a sales perspective. Therefore, I organized in three categories:

    1. read/keep
    2. to read
    3. ditch after I sold the house

    The majority of my books are in category 3 and I can’t wait to get rid of them! Now, in order to give those books a chance to a second life, I ask friends and relatives to come over and check out if there’s anything in category 3 of their liking. If they fancy anything, I ask them to write their name on the first page and pick it up after I have sold the house.

  50. posted by X on

    I use Libra to keep track of my book (it’s free) and dvd and music and games. I usually arrange the books by favorite. Whichever I love more, stay closer to my hand, kinda thing, and also by Author. No system whatsoever. I would keep it by color, except mostly they aren’t all that colorful.

  51. 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 πŸ™‚

    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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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)

  54. 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. πŸ™‚

  55. 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.

  56. posted by Dup on

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

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. posted by Chris on

    Alexandria is a free program for keeping track of books.

  61. 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 πŸ™‚

  62. 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.

  63. posted by Cecilia on!!!

    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.

  64. 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.

  65. 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.)

  66. 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!

  67. 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 […]

  68. posted by Francis on

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

  69. 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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