How to Organize Books for a Home Library

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 3rd Sep 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/73qzt-1_/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Housekeeping>Decluttering

Ask any bibliophile, and she will talk about her books. How many she has, her favorites – and her lack of storage for them. Storing books and being able to find them again can be made easier with a database. Entering just one box or shelf into a database each day will catalog an entire collection in short order.

Background

I love to shop at used bookstores. However, I’ve got so many books that sometimes I can’t remember which books I wanted to acquire and haven’t yet. So I get home and discover that I have three copies of the 2nd book in a series, but no copies of the 4th. With a database I could access from my smart phone, I could easily access my entire collection. It is time consuming, but well worth the effort.

How to Sort

You Will Need:

Books
Database program
Boxes, Shelves, or some combination

A database won’t care where you physically store your books. Number the boxes 1 – 100 (or more), list all the books that are in each box in the database, (you will need to make a column for book box #) and have an easy way to find your books. My favorite used bookstore does this for their online collection, giving each book a unique bar code. The book can be searched by title or author in the database. But the physical placement will be with other books on the day’s pallet.

Databases can be sorted by author (or any column desired). Physical lists can be taped to the outside of the box – or slipped inside a sheet protector taped to the box.

Boxing and Shelving

I bought large bookshelves at a popular furniture store, but still had more books than space. I compensated by using shallow boxes as added shelving on each bookshelf top. As I noted in my earlier article, uses for cardboard, I also use soda boxes to store book collections front-facing on the shelf. The top handle of the box turned to the front makes a convenient handle for grabbing a section of books. Boxes can be attractively recovered and decorated for one look, or have a similar theme (like a single brand of soda) for an eclectic, recycled look.

If shelving is your primary method of book storage and display, then sorting books in an easy-to-find manner is imperative. For adult fiction, I use what has worked well in libraries – alphabetical by author’s last name.

Books you don't need to display but don’t intend to get rid of can be stored in boxes as detailed in the previous section.

Database

OK. Here’s the tedious part. There are barcode scanners that can be purchased to make this job easier. I have looked into them, but never purchased one.

Instead, I used Excel to make a database. I started by labelling the top columns: Author, Title, Series. (Don’t forget “box number” if you are storing your books in boxes.) Then I started entering my data. When I realized I was missing volumes in a series, I made two more columns. One was for # in series and the other was for “books missing in series.” Now when I know I don’t have one of the GEODYSSEY books, but can’t remember which one, I can consult my spreadsheet. Did I even find the second GREGOR THE OVERLANDER? What books do I need to complete my NORA ROBERTS collection? The information in the database will be at my fingertips. Much easier than taking all my books with me everywhere!

More Columns

As my database grew, I realized more columns might help me.

In the WISH LIST column, I put other books by that author or series that I want to read or own. Later, I can sort by just that feature. If I want to, I can sort and print and have a bookstore shopping list. I can also send this list to anyone who asks what I want for my birthday.

Columns for “loaned to” and “loaned date” will allow me to share books with others. I don’t like not getting books back because I forgot what I lent whom and when!

Columns for “to read” and “last read” mark books on my shelf that I haven’t read. Someone recommended it CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR and LOOKING BACKWARD years ago. I intended to read them. However, if I still haven’t read them two years from now, I’m giving them to someone who will.

Finally, the “original owner” column is for books on my shelf that I don’t claim as mine. Some belong to my two siblings in college. They don’t want them now, and gave them to me because I bought many of them originally. I feel they may want them after college or in the future. Sometimes they complete a series that I have – I didn’t see a need to purchase my own copy if I could borrow theirs and vice versa. But making a note of their books will allow me to return or replace them.

Time Management

With a large collection, enter a box or shelf into the database each night, instead of all at once. It’s surprising how much can be entered in a week or two! You might also ask a bibliophile to help you. Many bibliophiles will jump at the chance to snoop through someone else’s collection!

Do you have a special way to organize things? I’d love to hear about it in the COMMENTS section. Or, feel free to write your own article and give me a shout out on your page. Thanks for reading!

Tags

Book, Books, Catalog, Collection, Database, Home Organization, System

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- phylcampbell.com -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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Comments

author avatar Peter B. Giblett
3rd Sep 2014 (#)

A woman after my own heart. I can never say that I have purchased a book that I already own (although I know my wife has). I have not gone to the extent of building a spreadsheet - but have an old card index file (now out of date) but have thought about a database that will link with my smartphone (once I am able to see that again).

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

I have built four library databases for classroom teachers. Had one built for myself years ago when 3.5 floppies were all the rage. It was long past time to start over.
Good luck if you choose to create one -- or maybe you could get your wife to!!

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author avatar Retired
3rd Sep 2014 (#)

How this appeals to my organized bibliophile's heart. Love the database idea. Thanks for this, Phyl.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Thanks, Susan!!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
3rd Sep 2014 (#)


Good afternoon, Phyl - you have solved a decades old problem and I appreciate that. I remember content by the color of the book, not title – it’s a weird memory thing, so years ago, when I had my office repainted, my staff then put my books back up, in alphabetical order - I couldn't find a thing until I got my color coding back. However, maybe if I created a data base, I would include a column for color.....again, great idea and thanks for the images as well. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Absolutely! I should have mentioned systems where books are organized by size or genre -- you are limited solely by your imagination and what you include in your database. Thanks, Marilyn!

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author avatar spirited
3rd Sep 2014 (#)

I have tried a few systems and none of them have worked faultlessly as yet.

I even include shelf numbers on the bookshelf the books are in.

Unfortunately, I can never still find a book because I live with other people.

People will take a book off one shelf and put it back onto another. My wife will clean the whole shelf for dust and put the books back differently.

I forget where I have catalogued up to then, and am just constantly redoing the order.

Sounds like a humorous story but it's not for me!

Thanks Phyl

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author avatar spirited
4th Sep 2014 (#)

"Sounds like a humorous story but it's not for me!"

I was saying that this happening is not funny, not that a book-cataloguing system is not for me. I use several myself, cataloguing them in different ways, by name, by shelf, even by the date when I last shelved or re-shelved the book!

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author avatar spirited
3rd Sep 2014 (#)

"A database won’t care where you physically store your books"

But often we still need it to tell us where our book is shelved....

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author avatar spirited
3rd Sep 2014 (#)

If you want a free book database program, you can go to the booksellers site, Abebooks.com.

You do not need to sign up as a member to download there free homebase program.

I have been using it for many years. It's a good one.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Interesting about the Abebooks site. I'd have to see how it was run and whether it would have been easier than my manual input. When I did the classroom databases, I included the reading level and created a link to the synopsis of the book. I may go back and do that if I do open up my library to a lending library. We'll see. Thanks for commenting, even if it's not something you'd do.

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author avatar spirited
4th Sep 2014 (#)

"Thanks for commenting, even if it's not something you'd do."

But I do do this Phyl, it's just I'm still trying to find a fool-proof system.

I can never find a particular book when I want to!

Actually second-hand booksellers have the same problem, with customers re-shelving books in the wrong spot.

They lose many sales from this.

I was such a bookshop owner for many years. It's so annoying, you know you have the book, you know where it is, where you placed it, but somebody shifted its place!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Please allow me to stand corrected! Sorry for your troubles! I had this problem keeping DVDs in place with my 11 year old, but after all it is another chance for learning and parenting in our relationship -- not the same with roommates or other adults sharing your home!

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author avatar Retired
4th Sep 2014 (#)

I have a nice collection but not so many that I need this system.I just keep unread books in one part of the house, and older ones in another!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

People who have Kindle say similar things. It is a good thing to be able to live with less "stuff" and be content. ;) Thanks for weighing in.

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author avatar snerfu
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Bibliophile is not purely feminine if I may say so Phyl. I love your ideas of arrangement and assortment of things in and around the house.
In my house, the situation is different. I keep buying books and my brother keeps giving them away...it keeps number of books in the house down to minimum of one or two.

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author avatar snerfu
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Ha ha, sorry almost did not catch the play of words there...phy(i)l(e).

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Ha Ha! I love the play on words. I pronounce my name "FILL" -- very often people say they've had their "fill" of Phyl!
And you are absolutely right that bibliophiles are not exclusively feminine. In that first paragraph, I wanted to use a singular pronoun and did not want to use the masculine. As if I was referring to someone talking to me, but to other bibliophiles as well, but one at a time. I often use he or she, but it just didn't feel right this time! I hope you weren't offended, Snerfu!

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author avatar Ptrikha
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Wow! a great How-to! However, the current place I am living is so short on space and storage that I won't be able to get such a rack.

Also, the "Database" stuff is great- so techie!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Ha! It may be on a computer, but I think it's FAR from techie! I will leave that to my brother! But databases can be as simple or as complicated as imaginable -- part of what makes them so much fun!

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author avatar Delicia Powers
4th Sep 2014 (#)

...trying to stay organized is always a challenge- very cool ideas...thanks Phyl...

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Thanks, Delicia!

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author avatar C.D. Moore
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Great for those who want to have a library. Great advice! I have some keepers, poetry books, so I might need to organize them someday.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Awesome, C.D.! Thanks!

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author avatar Retired
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Nice info, Phyl. My son is the book collector in our family now, so this will be of value to him. I collect music.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Twenty years ago, my sisters, mother, and I made a database of all the music in mother's Sheet Music magazines. I'm sure the same theory could now be applied to my mixed CDs, but it is rare I would take the time to get out the database rather than just pop the CD into the car or blue-ray player -- and the top is generally labeled. But ideas abound in the quest for organization! Thanks!

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
4th Sep 2014 (#)

marvellous advice Phyl...I love books too and when I go home to London I visit the old book stores there...looking for books unfindable now...and the charity shops too

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

The internet is a great place to find books that have gone out of print. Good luck!

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author avatar Retired
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Having been a professional librarian for 40 years I ought to be an expert on how to organize a book collection, but I must admit that my home collection is a mess!

We are soon going to have our house extended, and the plans include a "library" alcove in which there should be room for floor to ceiling bookshelves. When that happens, I look forward to getting all my books (and there are hundreds of them!) properly housed and organised.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Ooh! I love home libraries! My current one was "supposed" to be the dining room. Who needs a dining room and a breakfast nook? It's bad enough my books must share space with my office, but it cannot be helped. When I can figure a very comfortable bed that hides away into the floor, I may never leave this room...

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author avatar Courtney
4th Sep 2014 (#)

I never thought about putting my book collection into excel. Thank you so much, this will help me out a lot. Also, using boxes is a great idea! I have so many different piles of books on my floor because I don't have space for them on my bookshelf. I will try using boxes.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
4th Sep 2014 (#)

Hi Courtney! We have such great technology and sometimes forget about its more humble uses. I wish you much success with your book cataloging and storage.

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author avatar Retired
5th Sep 2014 (#)

When I had a lot of books, I kept them grouped by genre. But I've learned that collecting anything becomes a weight; I've given most of my books away, and what I kept fits on one shelf.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
5th Sep 2014 (#)

Living simply is a good way to live. I have downsized a lot since March, but still could use a good decluttering. Writing as I do it seems to help. Good for you that you can live simply and be content with what you have.

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author avatar writestuff
6th Sep 2014 (#)

Unfortunately I had to downsize my library when I retired and moved into a smaller flat. However, my remaining collection is arranged by genre and memorable Afro-centric events.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
6th Sep 2014 (#)

Knowing you can find your stuff is half the battle. Well done, writestuff!

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
9th Sep 2014 (#)

I don't have much of a collection of books but some are kept safely to be accessed when the opportune time dawns to read and savor them. Thanks for the tips Phyl and they are a great guide to organize our little library - siva

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
9th Sep 2014 (#)

And thank you always, Siva!

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author avatar Carol
10th Sep 2014 (#)

Great ideas on how to keep your books tidy Phyl

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
10th Sep 2014 (#)

Thanks Carol!

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
11th Sep 2014 (#)

I sent teh link of your psotto my youngest son to apply it. As he is going to become a Physics and Math Major. Thanks Phyl!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
11th Sep 2014 (#)

Thank you, Fern! That's great!

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author avatar Sherri Granato
11th Sep 2014 (#)

I definitely need a system. Thanks for sharing a really awesome idea on how to do that.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
11th Sep 2014 (#)

I hope it helps you, Sherri!!

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author avatar Kingwell
15th Sep 2014 (#)

I have quite a few books but certainly not nearly as many as you. Your ability to organize is nothing short of amazing.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
15th Sep 2014 (#)

I don't know about that. It's certainly taken me long enough to have a system and use it. But thanks, Kingwell!

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author avatar Lee Hansen
16th Sep 2014 (#)

Your love for books is quite evident. Your suggestions are excellent in maintaining order while not pulling your hair out trying to keep track.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
16th Sep 2014 (#)

Well, glad that isn't in doubt. My fiction database reached a whopping 1127 titles. That only includes novels I already had on shelves. It does not include young children's books, non-fiction, or the books in the case in my son's room (except for the LOTR trilogy -- I did include that). And just today, my husband reminded me of a title I'm sure we've lent to someone and it never got returned, so I was able to catalog it as such, and re-add it to the "wish list" portion of the database. Before he only thought it was a busy-work / shopping tool for me. When he saw how quickly I could make it work for him, he was impressed. Aren't men funny? Gotta love 'em, though. Gotta love 'em!!

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author avatar Nancy Austin
14th May 2015 (#)

This is basically what public libraries do so it makes sense for a home library as well.

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