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7 Recommendations for Organizing Your Library


Expert advice on always finding the book you’re looking for.

For the true bibliophile, few things are more important than finding a book from within your library. The fact is that the accumulation of books, expressed most excessively in the world’s great libraries, has been pursued since the legendary library that once illuminated Alexandria. (Surely it was pursued even long before that). In the 19th century, in fact, a condition called bibliomania affected, generally, the wealthy and aristocratic classes in whom an obsession with the accumulation of books became nearly a sickness. Even when it comes to books we’ll never read —known in Japanese as tsundoku— the mere act of possessing them is pursued with the same eagerness as the age-old art of collecting. They give sense to the world.

And for precisely this “making sense of the world,” nothing works quite so well as a giving of order. This, applied to a personal library, can become complicated, especially when dealing with larger collections. Thus, Mental Floss shared seven tips from Jamie Shaner —the founder of the agency Home Solutions in New York— for organizing the books in your home.

1. Keep a record of the books in your collection

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been collecting for decades or for just a few years. Making a record prior to taking on more books is always preferable. Making a record allows you to know which you want to keep and those you might prefer to give away or donate to a library. Books which are irreparably damaged should be discarded and duplicate volumes can also be given away or donated. You can also record those books for which have a particular appreciation, those which know you’ll never read again, and which might be better placed where someone else might read them. In Shaner’s own words:

As an organizer, I’m authorized to say there’s such a thing as too many suitcases, too many plastic food storage containers, or too many dolls with eyes that move. But never, ever, too many books.

The fact is, as objects, we relate to books in a very particular way.

2. Put your books where you need them most

Many collectors and bibliophiles will accommodate books throughout the house and that’s the smartest way. Shaner recommends putting books where you’ll use them most: those of gastronomy in the kitchen, novels for bedtime on the night table, books used for work in the office or studio, and technical manuals for particular activities in the places where such activities are carried out.

3. Take advantage of vertical space

Once you’ve chosen the places where books will be, it is a good idea to invest in bookshelves to accommodate the collection. Shaner recommends high bookshelves, where you can store up to twice as many books using the same amount of space. You may also want to install bookshelves which hang from ceilings, as in such a way you can also better use space.

4. Group similar books into sections and subsections

Shaner’s first recommendation is to divide a library into two main categories: fiction and non-fiction. The first group may in turn be divided into classifications like poetry, short stories, and novels, and novels may then be divided into genres like romance, adventure, mystery, etc. and, finally, arranged in alphabetical order. Non-fiction books should be divided into history, travel books, biographies, and art. Art books, for example, may then be sub-divided into topics: impressionism, classicism, romanticism, etc. Shaner notes that grouping similar books also gives you a better idea of ​​what books you have and allows you to better select those you’d like to keep or to find more quickly.

5. Use an app to catalog your books

If the number of books you own makes you feel overwhelmed, Shaner recommends turning to the experts with an application or webpage dedicated just to books. One of her favorites is Library Things, which is free, allows you to catalog books online, and to keep your list up to date. Other sites include libib and My Home Library. Finally, Shaner recommends GoodReads, a site for readers with book recommendations and ideas for expanding your library.

6. Look for a balance between appearance and functionality

Those leaning toward design and decoration might be tempted to organize books by size and color. Of course, this can make a library look striking and even beautiful, but it’s important to find a balance between function and appearance. That’s to say, it’s always important to be able to find your books. But one needn’t sacrifice style entirely: you can have a beautiful and orderly library, for example, by including objects between the books, as in a gallery. You can also select groups of books, place them on a table or dresser and surround them with ornaments or some other object to your taste, such as works of porcelain, small sculptures, postcards or souvenirs. But most of your library needs to be well organized. The most important thing is to be able to find the books.

7. Organize children’s books to invite reading

The habit of reading, to some large extent, is well known to be inculcated through example. It’s not enough, though, that children grow up in a family of readers for them to also read. It’s important that they have their own library. This means that children’s books (often flashy and playful) should be made available, and preferably in their own room. Shaner proposes placing them in the same places as toys, so that for children they are objects of fun and pleasure. A 2010 study carried out by the University of Nevada, pointed out that the presence of books within a home, especially for growing children, is of vital importance to raising children to be regular readers. The presence of books positively affects student performance and future work achievements.


Image: Janko Ferlic

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