Building and Organizing a Home Library

You know that I already recommend using LibraryThing to catalog your home library, but how should it be done, and where should you start?

How do you want to organize the books?

First, you need to decide how you want things done. Will you organize by the author’s last name, by genre, or by title? Just about any criterion is acceptable, so long as it works for you. The key is that you have an easier time finding your books, because otherwise, what’s the point?

Personally, I organize by genre. Within the genre, I organize by the author’s last name. And within an author, I organize by publication date. This (usually) keeps series together, which makes it easy to find trilogies and other series. It also gives me some room to expand.

If you organize alphabetically, make sure to leave some space throughout your shelving, otherwise you won’t have any room for new books in the future and will have to shift things around a lot. One of the strengths of the Dewey Decimal System, for instance, is how much space it gives you to expand. Unfortunately, if you have a limited amount of shelving space (like most home libraries do), it just isn’t practical. Take all this into account before you start shelving.

Cataloging the books

Second, you need to get all of the books cataloged so you know in what order they should be arranged on the shelf. Of course, I recommend LibraryThing, but this is where you implement your decisions from the organizational step.

If you’re using a service that has tags, try and keep your tags consistent. It’ll make things harder on you down the road to have some books tagged scifi and some as science fiction. I sometimes find it helpful, especially when adding books later if I haven’t done it in a while, to open up my list of tags and find already established tags to use.

Once you have them cataloged, it’s time to start shelving.

Putting everything away

You’ve probably got books spread out all over the place by this point, but be assured, the cataloging was the hard part. Putting them on the shelves is relatively quick and easy. As I mentioned earlier, leave yourself some room for expansion, maybe a blank shelf at the bottom of each book shelf or room for 1-2 books per shelf, depending on how often/quickly you tend to buy new books.

Moving your library

When we moved in September of 2008, I had to unshelve the carefully arranged 500+ volumes from our bookshelves and transport them to the new location. This is actually easier than you might think, provided you plan ahead.

Though it means using a few more boxes than you might otherwise, you can place books into boxes in the order they were shelved, making it easy to restore them to their rightful places once you’re all moved. I used a bunch of boxes I was able to get from work that printer paper comes in, and I took books off the shelf and put them straight into the box without stacking or wrangling them.

Less books per box meant more boxes, but it also meant they were easier to carry and easier to restore to the shelves. Each box was labeled with the genre and a number, so Fantasy Fiction had 1 through 12, while Young Adult had 1 through 3. Then, I just unboxed them in order where I wanted them on the shelves. This made restoring our library a lot easier and faster than it otherwise would have been.

Share your stories

What tricks do you have for accomplishing what is sometimes a monumental task? How did you setup your home library?

I hope this series has been helpful for you. I’m certainly glad I was able to write it, as taking a more in-depth view at these three cataloging services has made me appreciate my own setup all the more. Now, I think it’s time to actually go do some reading ^_^