Your guide to organising a home library

The decline in sales of digital copies of books has come as a great chance to say ‘I told you so’ from all those of us whose homes are bowing under the weight of printed dead tree matter. We lug those hardbacks and paperbacks from home to home, damaging our spines and the suspension of self-hire vans as we go, just because we love the smell, heft and (most importantly) contents of a good book.

But when we get to that new home, or when we rearrange our current one, we are always left with the quandary of just how to arrange our prized collection. The need for strong shelving, and plenty of it, is a given. But just how do we sort our books so that we can find that photography book about cacti, the novel that we want to loan to a friend or our collected works of Shakespeare?

book in the bath

Image source: literaryninja via BuzzFeed

Fashions, fads and a stern talking to from librarian friends may all colour our views on book storage, but you should at least make a stab at organising them in a way that means you will be able to find and access any book you may need. For this reason, organising by colour of book spines is probably not advisable. It can look great, especially in a modern home. But it will also require you to be able to recall the colour of a book’s spine or be willing to spend a week setting up a spreadsheet that can tell you that information.

Many will defend this method of storing books and there is no denying how effective it can be visually. But this can also give the impression that you only keep books for decoration. If this is the case then you can easily buy some of those display books of the kind they have in larger furniture retailers. It will save you a lot of time digging around in bookshops, charity shops and secondhand dealers’ basements to find the right hues.

colour coded books

Image source: Most Beautiful Things

The most simple way to organise books is by alphabet. But even this throws up problems. Do you organise by title or by author? Author order is traditional, but this often works best for fiction only. So you can decide to organise your novels by author and then have sections for subjects, much as you would in a library. So, you would keep travel books, biographies, history, art books and your DIY books in groups, further arranging those sections by author if that makes sense. You don’t need to go as far as librarians and use the Dewey Decimal System (those little numbers on the spines of books in the library) and can instead just organise by groups that make sense to you and your family. So, children’s books may have their own section and could be sub-divided into reading books, picture books and educational books.

Of course, size is also an issue at home for book organisation. Art and photography books tend to be larger, as do atlases and manuals, so it may make sense to have a section where you put larger books together in some kind of order.

hallway books

Image source: Most Beautiful Things

Serious book collectors may like to organise by age and edition of their book collection, or even by the order in which they bought them. But that does not make sense for most of us. The best way to arrange your books is to find the way that suits you best and one where you can remember where everything is.

Organisation doesn’t mean much if you have one stack of novels, but when you have thousands of books to decorate your home and mind with, it is something you need. For me this means that novels, plays and any kind of fiction is filed by author surname. Everything else is split into genres, such as science, and then by subjects, such as medical, popular science, nature and so on. You can then sub-divide by author name if you need to and have enough books to justify it.

professional book organising

Image source: Kelly Doust via Design Sponge

Your system should make sense to you. So, for one person birds may come under nature, but for a big birdwatcher then bird books may be a section by itself. Just make sure that you have enough time left after all the organising to read some of your beloved collection.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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