Organizing Your Library

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Organizing Your Library

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May 25, 2009, 7:56pm

As my library has now reached over 200 books and two bookshelves, I am in desperate need of a way to organize my books. How do you guys organize your books? By author, genre or some other method?

May 25, 2009, 9:54pm

Fiction all goes together, alphabetical by author's last name.

Plays all go together, and so do poetry, in a general chronological/geographical order.

Comics, graphic novels, and the like are together, even though they run through fiction and non-fiction.

Biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies are all together, alphabetical by subject.

Non-fiction is by subject. I try to get related subjects next to each other, so things seem to run together. Like, I'll have religion in one spot, and at the end will be things about Islam, and then after religion will be things about countries or regions of the world, and I'll start it with Middle Eastern stuff, so Islam kind of runs into Middles Eastern history, thus keeping like things together even though I've categorized then as having different topics.

Then there's a special shelf for particularly valuable or fragile books, so that they are out of harm's way among the general clutter.

May 25, 2009, 10:14pm

i just started a new organizing experiment. i'm beta testing collections, which has been giving me all these new organizing ideas. the one i'm working on now is by cultural zones. rather than have everything separated into fiction and non-fiction, those are now together. basically my shelves look like this:

section 1: n america
section 2: latin america
section 3: europe
section 4: mid east (including n africa and parts of central and south asia)
section 5: africa
section 6: oceania
section 7: asia

and each section breaks down into:
fiction- which is broken down into classics (pre-1900), modern classics, general fiction, kid lit

so now, for example, when i've just seen a really great movie from Egypt and want to continue thinking about things along those lines, all my books influenced by Arab culture are in the mid east section and i can pick on fairly easily.

this does present some problems i haven't figure out how to deal with yet, such as minority groups. how to file Brick Lane by Monica Ali, which is about Bangladeshi Muslims in England, is still going to take some figuring.

May 27, 2009, 12:49pm

I have three bookshelves. I rank the bookshelves as 1, 2, 3. My favorite books go on the bookshelf, average to well-liked on the second, and decidedly meh books go on the third.

Within the shelves themselves, I keep series together, but other than that it's just based on what will fit where.

Perhaps that's pathetic for a librarian, but it works for me.

May 27, 2009, 12:50pm

atlargeintheworld --> I think for your area method that I would put a fiction work such as Brick Lane in the area the story takes place in. I would argue that Brick Lane is a book about cultural issues in England, more so than about the middle east. Just my two cents ;-)

May 27, 2009, 1:55pm

>5 gaialover: gaialover

no, i agree with you. i think it's decidedly about issues in England. the problem i'm having is that since i'm setting this up this way, it's going to be easier to forget about a book like that when i think "i'd like to read a book about Muslim women" and that leads me to the Mid East section, just because that's what comes to mind.

plus, if for some reason i decided Brick Lane didn't belong in the European section, i'd stick in in the Asian section before the Mid East.

May 27, 2009, 2:48pm

Alphabetical by author for the most part. All of the large, illustrated books go together simply because they only fit on one shelf and I'll bend the rules from time to time -- a Byron biography going next to the collected works, for example. Given that my library size is fairly small -- 288 books at the moment -- it's an acceptable system. If it keeps growing I'll have to reconsider grouping them more specifically.

May 27, 2009, 3:46pm

I organize my library by genre (the first tag is the main one to determine the book's category) and then alphabetically by author's last name. My library is just under 2,000 volumes so I really do have to follow my rules if I'm ever going to find things! :-)

May 28, 2009, 5:03am

You are all so organised! Basically in the garage I have books read and some of my teaching books. In the living room I have all my To read books. In the bedroom I have the rest of my teaching books and some non-fiction books. But basically everything is all piled together on the shelves- fiction and non-fiction in no particular order.

May 28, 2009, 6:51pm

if you're ever in London, you'd love Daunt Books – where the books are organised by area of the world, not genre. It's a fantastic place to do some armchair traveling.

May 28, 2009, 11:50pm

>10 monarchi: monarchi

wow! that places sounds wonderful. i'll have to add it to the list. thanks!

since most of my traveling has been of the armchair variety up until now, i keep a travel bible- a couple of big binders- with all the articles and other interesting bits about places i want to visit. i always try to have something on bookstores.

May 31, 2009, 7:51am

mine is acase of what fits where, I still live at home and share aroom with my sister we each have 1 shelf for our books(it is a very large shelf mind you) so its a case of what fits where, on the shelf re graphic novals and all my faviorite book and with books waiting to be read, 2 boxes under the self contain larger books and autobiographies, box on top of the waldrobe contins books that I've not read for awhile and some of my childhood books. and about 3 boxes up in the atic. the book are in no order.

Jun 9, 2009, 12:16am

this is going to sound awful, but I actually have a large bookshelf that runs along one entire wall of my bedroom (all the way up to the ceiling), the books are actually organized by color. It looks really cool from a decorating standpoint, but I also have a strange ability to picture the cover and spine if every book I own, and most books I've ever read, so it works for me.

Jun 9, 2009, 3:18pm

To be honest, I'm surprised by the different methods! I would have never thought of organizing my books by the color of the spine or by where they are set. Awesome stuff!

Jun 9, 2009, 3:28pm

I have all my mass market (fiction) pockets on my top shelf, merely for space. There they are alphabetically by author, no genre distinction.
Then I have all sorted by genre, I have travel (then sorted by series/author), then museology (sorted by sub-genre, and catalogues by country/museum), language, medieval history (general, specific issue), medieval texts, other history (chronologically by area), fiction (by author, all languages mingled), biography/non-fiction, classics (pre-1900 mostly), music, nature, children's books, crafts, photography, porcelain... I think that's it. Oh, and heavy and large books are on the ground, and cookbooks in the kitchen.

Jun 10, 2009, 6:08am

#13 - Actually, organizing by color makes perfect sense to me. I do that with my CDs - have them all in one of those big binder things. People make fun of it, but then they want to listen to something and I say "Oh, orange," or "Second page of silver," and they stop laughing. It's a great system.

Although maybe it's a LITTLE strange that I know all my CDs - there are hundreds - by color...

Jun 10, 2009, 8:28am

Nearly everything I own is alphabetical by author. I have shelves nailed into the wall above my desk, and I use various box sets and hardcovers as bookends. The A authors start up there, and it goes in order through three of the other bookcases I have in the living room. One bookcase is devoted entirely to my French literature, also alphabetical by author. I keep "spiritual" books together (Bibles, Tarot books, etc.), non-fiction together (mostly memoirs, some women's studies), plays and poetry together, cheesy romances all together, and kid's picture books together. None of that is any particular order, mostly by size, really. And a lot of that is stuck in the bedroom (2 bookcases there). For mass markets, I had to stack a lot of things horizontally for space. And I still have tons of piles unsorted around my apartment! I can't wait until we move so I can buy some more shelves. :)

Jun 10, 2009, 5:21pm

Alphabetical by author, and chronological order within each author. It works fine because my "library" is comparatively tiny. The only exception is that cookery books (inc. cocktail recipes and a book full of pictures of ice cream portions) are in the kichen cupboard.

I have thought about organising my books by colour, publisher (lots of similarly formatted books together might look nice too) and size. If I was to organise them by size, it might be easier to keep other things on top of the books, and it might create the false impression of having more space.

I always find it strange when people separate fiction and plays.

Jun 10, 2009, 5:30pm


I forgot about cookbooks, haha. Mine are in the kitchen, too.

Plays are really only separate from fiction in my library because I have so few of them, and it's basically all Shakespeare. Made sense to keep it with the poetry.

Jun 30, 2009, 3:32pm

After re-reading The House of Paper, I came across an interesting method of organizing a library.

"...he told me how hard it was to avoid putting two authors who had quarreled on the same shelf. For example, it was unthinkable to put a book by Borges next to one by Garcia Lorca, whom the Argentine author once described as a 'professional Andalusian.' And given the dreadful accusations of plagiarism between the two of them, he could not put something by Shakespeare next to a work by Marlowe, even though this meant not respecting the volume numbers of the sets in his collections...Brauer continued to insist books should be grouped together according to criteria other than a vulgar thematic one." (pg. 50-51)

Any thoughts?

Edited: Jun 30, 2009, 3:46pm

LOL, why is thematic automatically "vulgar"? If you ask me, Shakespeare and Marlowe ought to be next to each other, if only to acknowledge any — um — sharing that went on ;). No matter who wrote it, it's together.

I think I said I would post pictures of the built-in bookshelves of our new house. Let's see if I can make this work:

(Well, you have to click on them, but that's nicer than if they stretched the screen while loading)


Children's/YA Fiction:

Biographies, some theology:


Sadly, my general fiction and mysteries didn't fit anywhere, so they are double-stacked behind the Children's/YA Fiction. I cannot believe I am already out of room...

Jul 31, 2009, 7:26pm

I just use the Dewey Decimal System... I'm lazy and I like people being able to find my books on their own without my help... I don't befriend or associate with people who do not know the Dewey Decimal System, lol.

Dec 9, 2009, 4:50pm

>2 rowmyboat: I do similar to you:

Fiction together, alphabetical by author's last name.
As I have so few plays / poetry I have them grouped with fiction.
Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs together, alphabetical by author's last name.
I just recently separated YA, alphabetical by author's last name.
Non-Fiction is sorted by subject, kind of. Some subjects alphabetical, some more so by what I liked more than others.

>15 divinenanny: I love that idea! By color would be really nice.

Jan 3, 2010, 8:19am

By skimming through some of your posts I feel really odd with my organizing of books...
First of all they are in different rooms: bedroom, 'children's room' (without child) and living room.
In the bedroom there is one big bookshelf and two little ones. In the big are mine and my boyfriend's favorites in fiction and non-fiction, stuff needed for university and religious books. In the two little ones there are encyclopedias and dictionaries (in one) and the other is filled with fairytales.
In the cildren's room there are mostly fiction, this are the not so favorites.
In the living room are again encyclopedias and common knowledge stuff.
Furthermore the books are sorted in the big shelves. To cut the description short they are divided by fields, use and favorites, but it would take to long and bore you to describe it all in detail.
The clue is, I think, that I ordered the books first of all through height, when there are several wit same hight they are sorted by colour. Moreover they are sorted by series, so all Harry Potters will stand together in the right order.

Yeah, I feel odd again, my organization of books is very strict.

Edited: Jan 4, 2010, 2:27am

I have 381 books, and I have 2 big shelves to keep them on in my bedroom.

First Shelf:
1st level: Old books (I've read some, but most are delicate copies for display only)
2nd level: American History
3rd level: French History
4th level: Other History
5th level: Everything else (Harry Potter, reference, Doctor Who books)

2nd Shelf:
1st level: More Old Books
2nd level: Manga
3rd level: British History
4th level: More British History
5th level: Classics

Honestly, this system is made for me, because if someone were to come into my room to find a book, there is no alphabetical order to help them, so it'd be kind of annoying. But it's how I roll lol

Jan 6, 2010, 7:56am

Mine are organized based on size - simply because it is still mostly in boxes and it was a question of what fits where....

Jan 6, 2010, 5:18pm

I moved in with my parents recently, and fitting an entire apartment into a single room has been a little difficult. I could never find anything I was looking for since everything is in boxes. Here's how I re-organized them though:

Books I'm currently reading or will start soon are on a small bookcase
Children's picture books are alphabetical by author and on a small bookcase
Children's fiction (one box for mass market/trade, another for hardcover) - alphabetical by author
YA Fiction (one box for mass market/trade, another for hardcover) - alphabetical by author
Adult fiction (one box for fantasy, one for chick lit, one for veterinary memoirs, one for the rest)- alphabetical by author

And the harder area for me is non-fiction. I grouped my smaller collections by topic, eg weddings, cooking, home maintenance, general science. The larger collections are so large they were no longer cohesive when I used Dewey; I am currently putting them into the LOC system. It's SO much easier for me to find a specific book this way. The dilemma is now finding the LOC numbers on about 40 (out of ~600) that are not held by one of the top dozen universities in that subject area.

Jan 7, 2010, 10:40am

My method is a little odd but here it is:

First, take everything by one author and place it together. Within every author I put each series (if applicable) together in chronological order by the timeline within the series, as opposed to the order in which they were written or published.

My next step is to put the tallest books, usually hardcovers, at the ends of each shelf so it slopes downward toward the middle, sub-organizing by color and font on the spine. I don't organize them so that the same colors are close to one another, however; I put books next to each other that I believe are aesthetically pleasing together.

The only genres I separate from the main mass are cookbooks (organized by height) and graphic novels (organized alphabetically by title and then in published order).

Despite having over 600 books on 6 sets of shelves in my personal library, I almost never have any trouble finding a specific volume once I have organized them in this way.

Jan 8, 2010, 2:27pm

Well, within fiction & non-fiction things are alphabetical, though fictional is then split between my "regular"/literary fiction, and mass paperbacks, mainly by genre like urban fantasy and Hard Case Crime books. Right now I have *very* little room and a LOT of books, so only I can decode the arrangement. :D Here's a picture of the main bulk on my collection (nowhere near the whole thing, though) to give a little idea of my current... situation. You have been warned!

Jan 13, 2010, 2:23pm

I have 2 shelves crammed with books. I do my best to keep them organized but I keep buying more books and they need to go somewhere..... Big fat books go on the bottom, I didn't anchor my shelves to the wall and I'm afraid that if I get too top heavy the whole shebang will tip. I then do my best to separate by authors and genres. Not exactly easy as space is at a premium. Lastly I put books that I don't like, or I'm ashamed of but can't get rid of, behind picture frames and candles.
Oh, and I put cookbooks in the kitchen.

Jan 15, 2010, 9:02pm

That's amazing! I've seen pics of similiar strategies. I also usually remember books by their spine colour. You should post a pic!

Jan 15, 2010, 10:02pm

I am incredibly disorganized. I only have two bookcases, and many more books than can fit on them, so I stick stuff I plan to read sometime in the near future on the shelves, and the rest of my books are under my bed in boxes. The stuff on the shelves isn't even in any particular order, except the novels are on their own shelf and related books are shelved with each other. I'm definitely looking forward to getting my own place where I can put shelves up in every room and actually shelve all my books in some kind of order.

Feb 4, 2010, 10:23pm

Like lauura (#13), my books are also organized by the color of their spines. I'm able to recall the covers of the books I own so I can easily fetch them when necessary. (For example, I quickly pulled out A Long Way Gone — green cover & spine! — for my boyfriend after he told me about a documentary he watched about Algeria and its boy soldiers.)

I'd be ashamed to admit that I'm a librarian if the system didn't work so well for me! ;)


Mar 6, 2010, 11:19pm

Mine are currently haphazardly stacked in various piles around my house...because half are in storage and I don't have room for bookshelves..and haven't had time to organize what I do have out, since I've moved. -_-

I like the idea of arranging by setting. I might consider that next time around. I'm a bit of a travel junky...and setting can play such a momentous part in good books. Hmmm.

Normally I do a standard alphabetical by author, and then publication date with works by the same author - earlest to latest. I also have different shelves for reference materials...but smush fiction, poetry and drama together.

PS. I never learned the Dewey Decimal system. You might consider that shameful for somebody with two degrees. I prefer to think of it as quirk >_>

Sep 11, 2010, 1:03am

I have them sorted in two methods. First they are organized by category (romance, science/math, science fiction, philosophy/religion, poetry, biographies, yearbooks/art journals, manga, textbooks, history, and study books(like for the GRE and SAT)). I also have some cookbooks that are currently just laying in front of philosophy books. They are then alphabetized by author, and books by the same author are alphabetized by title.

All of my books are in my bedroom, though the romance books have their own side of the room because I went kind of crazy with buying them in middle and high school and now have hundreds of romance books. My romance books are also further organized by my sister who partially pulled out all of the books she may want to read in the future.

I do not get the people that organize their books by color, I would never be able to find anything.

Sep 22, 2010, 12:52pm

I finally moved into an apartment last year that has allowed me to have a "library". I have three tall bookshelves and have them organized as:

1. Fiction, Poetry and Memoirs (Alphabetized for the most part)
2. Non-Fiction (Mostly Art History books and other subjects grouped together haphazardly)
3. Science Fiction, Fantasy (My boyfriend's favorite genre and mostly his books)

I also have a mini library on my night stand. It's getting to be so big I could actually alphabetize it too!

Edited: Sep 29, 2010, 8:18am

<21, wisewoman, your library is beautiful! You're inspiring me to move into a bigger apartment! The one that I have, sadly, cannot fit any more books. :(

I organize my books firstly by genre, which isn't all that difficult, since about 95% of my library is fiction. My genre sections are "Fiction," "History," "Biographies," "Science," and "Travel," and "Other." In fiction, I organize my books by author. I have plays and poetry mixed in.

Though the idea of separating them into different sections for Fantasy, HF, YA, etc is a good one... I don't think that I could do it. I don't like the idea of splitting authors into different sections. For example, Oscar Wilde wrote fiction and plays, and I don't want to separate them. It would probably make a large library more manageable, though.

Why isn't my message showing up???

Jun 29, 2011, 4:52am

3, soon to be 4 bookcases

Bookcase 1) Non-fiction organized by genre then height
A) Religion
B) Inspirational
C) Self-Help
D) Biography
E) Humor/Literature
F) Educational (Science, History, Mythology, Psychology, etc)
G) Textbooks
H) Misc.
I) Video Game Guides
Bookcase 2) Fiction
A) Wheel of Time
C) Science Fiction
Bookcase 3) Fiction
A) Stephen King
B) Horror/Suspense
C) Mystery
D) John Grisham
E) General Fiction
F) Fictitious Biographies
Bookcase 4) Misc that either didn't fit with any category or had no room on shelves
A) Bibles
B) Classics
C) Non-Fiction
D) Fiction

Still a work in progress though. Should be temporarily finished once I get my new bookcase in, at least until I run out of room again.

Jun 29, 2011, 7:12am

Most of my books are in storage at the moment and I now have a kindle, but the were all in one big bookcase (and soon will be again as soon as new carpet is laid and I get my stuff back) which was organised as follows:
TBR shelf, in order of when I buy/receive the book (its supposed to make me read the ones I've had longest first, but never works that way)
Bookmooch shelf, for books I've listed on there, in no particular order.
Favourites shelf, grouped by author and series and size. (this is actually 2 shelves.)
Childrens, cookery and big books are all on the bottom shelf.
I also have my favourite cookery books on a big shelf in the kitchen.
And my partner is allowed one shelf for all his books on the bookcase lol.

Jun 30, 2011, 9:23am

I was asking myself this question recently and also see that amz310783 has said something to this question: what about your TBR? I know many around here use the figure of 'TBR-pile' oder 'Mount TBR', so my question is: How do you organize your TBRs?

I have all of them clattered around my bookshelves, fitted into the order of the respective shelf. So I have to remember which books I have to read (or use LT ;) ), but I couldn't stand having them stacked or piled up elsewhere and then to refit them...

Jul 4, 2011, 1:13am

I have my read fiction on one shelf, organized by the size of the book, with each author's books together, and similar authors or subjects grouped together.
My to-read fiction books are on another shelf, not in any particular order.
On another shelf, I have my textbooks and my nonfiction books, both read and unread, as well as any books I have listed on paperbackswap or that I'm planning to get rid of.

I'm not really the most well organized.

Jul 4, 2011, 6:54am

I currently have two half-shelves for my TBR books. The border of read/not-read is moving slowly towards the end of the shelf :)
However, the rest is organized by size and series because of space. When I move (which might be soonish), I will arrange the books by
- comics / manga
- series (books of the same series but different language go together, as well as nonfiction books belonging to the same series as fiction books)
- non-series fiction books
- non-fiction books, organized broadly by topic (history, computer science, linguistics, ...)

Jul 5, 2011, 9:47pm

My library is starting to grow way to big. I have 2 bookcases, one for all prose books, and the second is for all art books and comics. On the prose case I have fiction grouped together by genre and abc order. Under that I have my non fiction section, which is divided by subject. On my other case, I have comics categorized by publisher (eg. Marvel, DC) and non superhero comics, and a space for art and photography books. All the books on my to read list have to go into boxes into the garage since I have no room for them. Thus, my cases are only full of read books.

Jul 6, 2011, 5:07pm

I organize mine by size, height not thickness, and the by series with in the size. I try to keep series together as much as possible.

Dec 5, 2011, 11:28pm

Well, I'm in my own place, and the organization thing is still partially out of the window. The majority of my religion/spirituality books are shelved on a built in bookcase in my living room, though some are in the case across from it. I still find myself culling and reshelving and reorganizing constantly. I don't think I'll ever get it quite the way I want it.

Dec 24, 2011, 5:01pm

Currently one of the bookcases in my living room is alphabetical by author's last name. The others are just sort of shelved willy-nilly.

Apr 28, 2012, 12:40pm

I have one bookcase for fiction and another for nonfiction (with a few art books only fit on the fiction shelves). Within that I really only break it down into genres based on what I'll reach for most. For example, on the fiction shelf sci fi is the only genre that gets a shelf all to itself with the rest of the fiction thrown wherever because I rarely need to see say, all my zora neal hurston books side by side.

On the non fiction shelf I usually organize it by whatever project I'm working on at the time. I'll do classic theory stuff on the top shelf, things from college I never touch on another shelf, history, music and cookbooks, and then one shelf for whatever project I'm working on. Right now it's sports/war and masculinity so all those books are on a shelf together. Then of course, inevitably, I have the shelf for "stuff I bought and need to read...." which never gets any less full. lol

Aug 14, 2012, 1:55pm

I've never understood the alphabetizing method. Especially intermixing fiction and nonfiction. When I go to look for something to read, I am usually looking for something based on the subject.

Two years ago I moved from apartment-living and became a first time home owner. I am definitely taking advantage of the space and the fact that I know I will be living here for awhile. My house has two large built in bookcases, 9 or 10 feet tall and around 4 feet wide. I've got classics, textbooks, and nonfiction on one shelf. These include all the meaningful novels (I was an English major) and texts I kept from when I was in college, as well as cookbooks, travel books, and books on film theory from recent years. On the other bookcase is where all my fiction lives. I have one shelf dedicated to all the galleys and ARCs that I've reviewed for Library Journal or Library Thing. Then I have all my horror in one section (parsed out by the type of horror, i.e. supernatural horror, gruesome horror, zombies, etc.) and YA has its own shelf. I usually keep authors together within their respective genre (i.e. all of the Stephen King stuff is together, however it is arranged more chronologically as I've noticed a great change in the type of writing style and content King has produced in more recent years).

Basically my decision on where to shelve a book is based on the feeling I get after I've read the book. If I could sum up the book in one word, whatever that word is usually has a section (I read some Lovecraft and Poe in college however, when I think of Lovecraft and Poe, I don't associate them with my schooling but rather as gothic fiction, so they get shelved with Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill).

Aug 17, 2012, 12:47pm

I just moved (to another single-room apartment :P) and organized my books by subject. It's a lot better than organizing by size, which I had in my previous apartment because of space-related reasons.
Organizing by alphabet sounds un-useful, because if you get a new book that doesn't fit inbetween you have to move all the books so it will fit...

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