How to Organize Books

Four Methods:Choosing a Simple Organizational MethodChoosing a Standard Organization MethodSorting and Cataloging Your CollectionDisplaying and Storing Your Books

Over time, home libraries can become unorganized and overcrowded. Organizing your collection on a regular basis will help you keep track of your books. There are several ways to organize books, including by height, color, or the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Method 1
Choosing a Simple Organizational Method

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    Organize your books alphabetically. An alphabetical organization system makes it relatively easy to find books. You may alphabetize the books by the author’s last name.
    • If you prefer a less traditional system, you may alphabetize the books by title.[1]
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    Sort your books by genre. Depending on the size and scope of your collection, it may make sense to sort your collection into very specific categories. These may include fantasy, mystery, cookbooks, history, anthropology, art and art history, and or science.[2]
    • Alternatively, you could sort the books by reading level (children, young adult, adult).[3]
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    Sort your books by color or height. If your top priority is to create an aesthetically pleasing display with your books, consider sorting them by color or height.
    • Group the books by black, white, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigos, and violets. When you are ready to stage your shelves, you can color block your books.
    • Line your books up from tallest to shortest or group books of similar heights together.[4]
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    Put your books in chronological order. Use your books to create a timeline of literature and/or civilization. You may place the books in order of their publication date or you may organize the books by order of when the subjects lived, events occurred, or ideas originated.[5]
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    Combine multiple organizational methods. While you may choose to rely on only one method of organization, most collections are sorted by two or more methods. For example, you may choose to sort your books by genre and then place each genre in alphabetical order. Alternatively, you could sort your books by color and then place them on the shelf by order of height.[6]

Method 2
Choosing a Standard Organization Method

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    Select a cataloging system. There are two primary cataloging systems: the Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC) and the Library of Congress Classification system (LCC). In 1876, Melvil Dewey developed the DDC system. Today, it is the most common cataloging system in the world. This system provides the perfect amount of details for small libraries and book collections. If you are looking for a system that generates a more detailed call number, consider using the LCC system. In 1891, the Library of Congress developed its own system of classification. In order to keep track of its enormous collection, it needed a system that was more specific than Dewey’s. The LLC system is used by major research libraries.[7]
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    Learn about the Dewey Decimal Classification system. The DDC system organizes books by main class, division, and section. Every call number also includes a Cutter Number to identify the author and the edition date.
    • Main Class: 800 (Literature)
    • Division: 10 (American Literature in English)
    • Section: 3.54 (American Fiction in English)
    • To get the call number, add up the three numbers: 800+10+3.54=813.
    • Following this number, you may add a Cutter Number to identify the author (the first letter of the author’s last name) and the edition date. When this information is added, the call number becomes: 813.54 M 2007.[8]
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    Learn about the Library of Congress Classification system. The LCC system catalogues books by class, subclass, and topic area. Every call number also includes a Cutter Number to identify the author, a Cutter Number to identify the title, the edition date.
    • Class: P (Language and Literature)
    • Subclass: R (English Literature)
    • Topic Area: 9199.3 (Provincial, Local, etc.)
    • Cutter Number, Author: M3855
    • Cutter Number, Title: L54
    • Edition Date: 2007
    • Additional Information: c.2
    • To construct the call number, list the components sequentially like so: PR9199.3.M3855.L54.2007.c.2.[9]

Method 3
Sorting and Cataloging Your Collection

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    Set aside books to donate or sell. Pull your books off the shelves and out of storage. As you sort through your entire collection, divide the items into three piles: a keep pile, a donate pile, and a sell pile.
    • Reasons to keep a book:
      • It is rare or collectable
      • It is by your favorite author
      • It is a book you have not read yet
      • It is a good fit for your personal collection
      • You have space to keep the book
    • Reasons to donate or sell a book:
      • It is old or damaged
      • You will not read it again
      • It contains outdated information
      • You do not have room to keep it
      • It is a textbook that you will not use again[10]
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    Box up the books you want to donate or sell. Bring the books you want to donate to a secondhand store, a local library, a daycare, or a near by school. Contact your local used bookstore to inquire about the books you want to sell.
    • Alternatively, you could try to sell the books online.
    • If you donate your books, don’t forget to ask for a receipt to file for a tax deduction.
    • You may also recycle paperback books.
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    Complete an initial sort of your keep pile. Sort the books you want to keep into stacks, piles, or rows that correspond with your organizational method. For example, if you want to alphabetize your books by author’s last name, place all of the “A’s,” “B’s,” “C’s,” etc. into their own pile. If you want to sort the books by genre, create a pile for history, literature, etc.[11]
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    Finalize the order of your books. After you have sorted your entire collection once, systematically organize each pile. For example, if you sorted your books by author’s last name, grab the “A” pile and put the stack in alphabetical order. If you separated the books by genre, grab the history pile and organize the books into sub-genres (American History, Women’s history, etc.) or by author’s last name.[12]

Method 4
Displaying and Storing Your Books

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    Choose a location for your collection. If you don’t have an office or a study, don’t worry. You don’t need to store all of your books in one room. Feel free to spread your collection throughout your house.
    • For example, keep all of your cookbooks in the kitchen. [13]
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    Settle on a storage method. You can display your organized book collection in a variety of ways. You may store your books on shelves or ledges. You can also stack your books in storage cubes.
    • For a more eclectic look, consider stacking your books on the floor, in a dormant fireplace, or down the edge of your staircase.[14]
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    Stack or shelve your books. Once you’ve settled on a location and storage method, you can finally put away your collection. Place the books on your bookshelves or stack the books in a storage cube.
    • Before you shelve or stack your books, you may want to clean and dust your storage unit.
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    Make books you use often accessible. For convenience, frequently used books should be readily accessible. This is especially important if children will be using the books.
    • If children are using the collection, store the books at their level. Instead of a traditional shelf, consider a storage system that would allow them to stack the books. Lastly, you may also want to store the books in the places they will use them the most, such as a playroom or bedroom.[15]
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    Box and label excess books you want to keep. If you don’t have the space to display your entire collection, you may need to put some of your books in storage. To protect your books while they’re in boxes, follow these tips:
    • Stack your books horizontally with the heaviest books on the bottom.
    • To fill in gaps, insert books vertically. Never place a book spine down.
    • If possible, try not to stack more than three boxes of books on top of each other.[16]
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    Protect rare, delicate, or important books. If your collection contains rare books, you may wish to take extra steps to protect these special items. It is good practice to apply all of these suggestions to your entire collection.
    • Store your rare books out of direct sunlight. In addition to fading the book jacket, the sunlight will slowly deteriorate the book.
    • Keep your books in their dust jackets.
    • Before shelving or storing a book, always remove bookmarks and scraps of paper.
    • Try to store your books at a consistent temperature. Too much humidity will generate mold in your books; too little humidity will leave your books brittle.[17]


  • Consider using computer software to organize and track your book collection.


  • Don't put any stickers or labels on collectible books, as the book may be damaged when the next owner tries to take it off.

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Categories: Clutter Busting | Organizing and Caring for Books