How to Organize a Book Collection

Five Methods:Alphabetical DivisionSize or Color OrganizationSubject MethodDesktop OrganizationAlternative organisation

Are you a book lover? Do you have more books than available bookcases? Do friends jokingly call you "Bookworm" or "Bibliophile"? It's great to have lots of books but it's not so much fun tripping over them or never being able to find exactly the one you want. To ensure that your books are kept in fabulous order and can always be found when you want them, here are some simple but effective ways to organize your book collection.


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    Determine how you think of books. Do you categorize them by story type, color, size, genre, title or author? There are as many ways to organize books as there are people. What really matters though, is that you pick the method that appeals or makes the most sense to you. By doing so, this will trigger your memory and help you to locate the book you want quickly. The following sections set forth various tried-and-true methods for organizing a book collection; it's recommended that you pick the approach that appeals to you the most.

Method 1
Alphabetical Division

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    Shelve all of your books alphabetically by author or title. This method will work well if you're good at remembering titles or names. Putting books by the same author together helps you find a book in a series easily.
    • This method is less successful if you're the kind of reader who remembers content but can barely recall the name of the author or the book. In such a case, you'll need to try a different approach.
    • Alphabetical division may also need to take into account fiction and non-fiction division (see Subject Method below for more suggestions).

Method 2
Size or Color Organization

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    Place the books on the shelf according to size. It is best to put larger, heavier books on lower shelves and smaller, lighter books on higher shelves; this is a basic principle to ensure that you stabilize the bookcase. This method is visually appealing and appears neat, as there is a size order. If you remember books by their size or shape, this method might be just right for you.
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    Sort books by color. For some people, the book's color or colorful style/depictions on the book's cover is highly memorable and instantly draws you back to each and every book read. And if you love arranging things by color in your home, this could be a great décor statement as well as an easy to way to retrieve your books.

Method 3
Subject Method

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    Sort your books by topic. This means dividing the books into what you see as distinct topics, such as placing all the romance books in one pile, all the science books in another, philosophy, biographies, how-to manuals, etc. into another pile.
    • Consider dividing fiction and non-fiction. You might like to make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction books––this method tends to encourage this division naturally. Such a division can be done on the same bookshelf, for example by placing all fiction novels on the top shelf and all woodworking manuals on the bottom shelf. Or it can be done by using different bookshelves across the house, for example, keeping cookbooks in the kitchen and romance novels in the bedroom.
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    Determine the shelf space required for each topic. It's always wise to assume you need more space rather than less, since it's likely you'll add to your collection over time and somehow, stray books will always turn up in need of shelving!
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    Place the books by topic selection on the shelves, together with others of their genre. In some cases, as shown in this image, you might like to add some relevant items to the shelf as well, such as figurines, photos or collectibles.
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    Choose an identifying mark for each subject or genre. This method is optional if it's already easy for you to remember where you've placed the books by topic. But if you need to further clarify the topics, some easy methods to adopt include:
    • Colored Stickers: Choose stickers with permanent adhesive from a library supply company, or be prepared to cover the sticker in permanent tape. Avoid packing tape and scotch tape as they yellow, crack and peel, while duct tape becomes gooey over time.
    • Colored Cloth Tape: Permanently adhesive colored tapes work very well for this task.
    • Written symbols: Use a permanent marker to write a letter(s) or identifying mark for each subject or genre. For example: "R" for Romance, "M" for Mystery, "R" for Religion, "B" for Biographies, etc. Unfortunately, not all books are the same color, so what shows up well on one cover may not show up at all on a different color; as an exception for books that use the same color as your label, consider opting for a white label and use marker in the chosen color.
    • These are great to use if you move frequently and need your book collection to stay relatively intact when packed.

Method 4
Desktop Organization

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    If you keep a book collection on your desk, organizing it can help make your work or study more effective. Take a look at what books are currently sitting on your desk.
    • What sorts of books do you consider necessary for a desk book collection? Usually it will be books you need to reach for almost every time you're at your desk, such as dictionaries, reference manuals, computer troubleshooting manuals, guides for writing, editing or calculating, books that are currently important for an essay/report/book you're preparing, etc. Books that are not likely to be as necessary could include manuals you'd check no more than once every few months, novels you're meaning to get around to reading and books that are more interesting than what you're supposed to be getting on with! Remove anything that isn't in frequent use or is serving as a distraction.
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    Use a very small part of your desk for your book collection. The basic rule of books on a desk is to keep them to a minimum. The desk is an area for papers, the computer and spreading out open books that are in use. Anything else is extraneous and risks getting in the way, especially with a small desk.
    • Ideas for shelves on or near desks include: a small portable shelf that can be picked up by hand with the books still on it; books held upright between portable bookends; shelving hanging above the desk on the wall; or simply leaning books up against the wall if the desk sits against a wall.
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    Arrange the books according to frequency of use. Put the most used as near to your reach as possible, and the lesser used but still useful ones can be placed further away from where you're seated. Keep it simple.
    • Get into the habit of always returning books to their proper shelves after using. Books piling up on a desk can demotivate you from getting back to study or work and isn't very organized.

Method 5
Alternative organisation

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    This technique can also be a sub-technique. It only works if you store books in more than one place (different shelves on a bookcase doesn't count, but different bookcases does. You may also have other book storage places). This is also similar to desktop organisation, but for the whole room.
    • Decide where you read the most
    • Organise all your books by how often you will (or when you will next) look at them. For example, if you intend to start reading a book as soon as you have finished your current one, move it closer to your reading area. However, if a book is a book you will only occasionally use / aren't going to read until you have read numerous other books, you may want to move it further away.
    • Remember that this technique can be used with other techniques.


  • Invest in good quality bookcases. Your books will benefit from bookcases that are clean, don't bow under the weight of books and are not damp or moist. Dust bookcases regularly.
  • Invest in good quality books. When given the hardcover or softcover choice, always buy hardcover. It will last much longer and it retains its value better too, on the off chance you want to resell it some day.
  • Invest in book protection and repair supplies. Slipcovers or dust jackets keep books clean and in good repair.
  • Invest in good book organizing software and create the catalog of your collection.


  • Use only library quality repair supplies if you want your books to last. Using scotch, packing, or duct tape on a book will ruin the book for long term use.

Things You'll Need

  • A book collection

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