Check It Out: How to Organize Your Library

As a lover of words, it goes without saying that I have a substantial home library. When I say substantial, I mean that it’s like that plant in the movie-turned-musical-turned-movie remake Little Shop of Horrors; the monster cries out, “Feed me! Feed me!” and as I add more and more books, it becomes harder and harder to control. Previously my solution for dealing with the book monster was to just resign myself to the inevitability of more clutter and buy another bookshelf. But like the musical/movies’ main character I have decided to take a stand. Well, not really. My husband is the one who took a stand. And after failing at my attempts to rationalize why I have 2 copies of Lolita (I forgot I already owned it and bought another copy at a yard sale) and stacks of books all over the place, we both—80% him, 20% me—decided it was time to find a better solution. Ok, it was 90% him.

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Take Stock of Your Library

Hmm, I haven’t read this book in (insert number) of years.
I know it hurts, but if you have enough books to merit calling your collection a monster you probably need to get rid of a few. Or a lot. Gain a few karma points by sharing the literary love.

  • Keep: books with sentimental value, books with monetary value, reference books, books you plan to reread or lend out.
  • How to get rid of the rest: donate them, sell them, gift them, or put them out on a table in your yard with a sign that reads “free books”.

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Make the Most of your Bookshelves

Where in the (insert expletive) did I leave my copy of (insert book title)!!

I don’t generally use exclamation points. I feel they can be distracting and lose their meaning if used too often, and I’m in agreement with F. Scott Fitzgerald: “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” However, if I am unsuccessfully looking for a book I’d say the level of aggravation with which the above phrase is uttered merits two exclamation points. Maybe more, depending on the book and how badly I want to read it right then.

Cut that frustration out of your life by organizing your personal library. How you sort your books is a personal decision. Some people prefer to sort by color, and while this is aesthetically pleasing it can still be a great pain looking for the book you want. For this reason, I tend to sort alphabetically and by genre. My system is very loosely based on the way my local library shelves books; the shelves are labeled with a genre and there are section dividers sticking out between the books to make finding a certain letter easier. I know this sounds like something you have neither the budget nor the time for, but if you aren’t particularly worried about looks—or are too worried about your collection becoming unwieldy—to bother with anything too permanent, just do what I did and use painter’s tape and a marker for the shelf labels and coloured notecards for the section dividers. And as for time, you’ll save yourself lots of it in the future if you organize now. Think of it as an investment with lots of frustration-free payout later.

If you lend your books out regularly, and don’t mind altering them, you might want to consider adding bookplates to the insides so they don’t get “accidentally” added to your friends’ personal libraries. Or, if you prefer to be a bit more in control you can outfit your books with library book pockets (you can choose from self-adhesive versions, patterned versions, or the plain manila kind) and book circulation cards (both the cards and the pockets are widely available online). When someone wants to borrow a book, write their name on the card and set it aside. Later when you can’t find the book you’re looking for you’ll know exactly where it is, and with all the extra time you saved yourself, you can try to devise a plan to get your book back without seeming rude.

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Next Time…

Originally this blog post was meant to encompass all of my library organization tips, but I think I got a little overzealous—which I am prone to do with topics I’m passionate about. So, stay tuned for the second installment which will go over methods to eliminate what my husband calls “the dreaded duplicates” and tips on how to save yourself from paying library fees. In the meantime, I think I might head over to the book store; after all this organizing, my book monster is looking famished.

Do you have your own book monster? How do you deal with it?

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