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More Than One Way to Shelve a Book

Posted by Susan on February 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Libraries
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Ask a simple question, get lots of fascinating answers. Last week, I talked about my home library and asked: "Do you organize your books? How so?" Between comments on the original post and on Facebook, I got over 200 responses. I thought you might enjoy reading a sample of them. There were lots of funny, creative and intriguing answers.

How did the majority of people say how they organized their books? By genre? By author? By subject? Nope (although all of those were mentioned repeatedly.)

Child organization 2.jpgThe number one answer was: by physical attribute. Height, size, width and weight were all on the list. Also, whether the book was hardcover or a paperback. A surprising number of people said they sorted by color. See this picture for a beautiful example.

"I live in an RV. The few precious books we keep are divided by owner (Mom/family) then fiction/non-fiction, then ordered by size (because space is at a premium)."

"Hardcovers are shelved vertically and paperbacks end up stacked horizontally."

"Height, so I can adjust the various shelves to the level of the books on them. (This drives people who organize by subject crazy by the way)."

The second most popular method was by genre and the third was alphabetical. Many adults were very specific about they shelved their books. For example:

"As a grad student I had a special system. My personal library was broken down by subject, content similarity, book size, and color, since I knew exactly in my head which books I had and what each one looked like. I could find them much quicker that way."

"I have photos of each of my bookcases, so that when I move, I can arrange the books exactly how I had them in the previous setting. I pack them according to bookcase too. Original arrangements are by topic, and size, mostly, often author, if several titles by same."

Children's books posed a much bigger challenge, and one I completely understand:

"Arrange the children's books?? Try explaining that concept to my 4 year old."

"I put them in a bookshelf. Then said child comes along and tears them all out. Then rinse and repeat."

Leon's Library.jpg"I have 3 year old twins, I am happy if their books are back on their book shelf every night!"

"My son's books always get scrambled through his room every time I try to organize them."

"If I can keep the kids' books with the spines facing the right direction, we're doing well."

"Are you kidding me? We have books everywhere. Just getting them on a shelf is an accomplishment. I take solace in the fact that the books are all over is because they love to read book, after book, after book."

"My toddler is against organization."

Here's some of the methods used by parents:

"Big books on the big shelf. Little books on the little shelf. Keep the books off the floor."

"I have the board books down low, and a big shelf of readers. Then there is a giant pit full of oversized books I don't know what to do with. All the books in the kids' room are left to their own devices. It's all about serendipity up there."

"On my adult shelves, by category, then author, then height, for visual appeal. On the kids shelves, there is a lot of traffic. So I just tidy and place by size so it looks neat."

"I've got it 'easy' since my child is a toddler; all indestructible board books on one shelf, other books arranged by publisher/series on another shelf with a special spot for 'current reading' books. We're concentrating on winter/snow-related books this week."

Child organization.jpgA few people mentioned that it was the children actually doing the organizing:

"As a child I wanted to be a librarian and taped little call letters to the fronts of all my books."

"When my daughter was 8 she began organizing her book shelf by genre. I was in chidren's literature course while finishing up my English degree and she was fascinated by the work I had to do. So one day she decided to put all of her historical fiction, fantasy, biography, etc. in respective categories. I was impressed by how much she had learned."

And I found that not everyone holds on to their books.

"I try to give my books away. I only keep those I have an attachment to. I find it's better to share with the Veterans Admin., or library, or wherever so they are read again and again."

"We recycle a lot of my son's books with their younger cousins. We lay out the books they've outgrown and invite cousins over to pick and choose what they like. The rest have gone to the friends of the library."

Plus, I discovered some interesting and creative ways to shelve books (and other objects.)
"The most fun way to organize is to have the titles of the book all tell a story as you look the spines on the shelf. Sentences and poems are fun to make that way. I also like to put them in order by relation to one another."

Flotsam"I am a self-confessed bibliophile. I live with my books, constantly making stacks of the ones I'm reading at the moment and displaying them with other furniture about the room. At school, I've arranged low, long book shelves with one standing tall bookshelf for display of children's books with great, illustrated covers/sleeves and related artifacts that go with that theme. For example: Flotsam is on display with a collection of shells, clay sea creatures, etc."

And, this was a common refrain:
"I just want to know how she gets her kids to follow the system!"

The truth is, I don't. I mentioned in my previous post that we had moved recently, but it was six months ago. My son had disorganized everything I had originally organized. Our books were everywhere, so last weekend, I made an attempt to put them back in some kind of order. We discovered lots of books this week because we were finally able to find them.

And here are my favorite comments. I kept these until the end to give you a laugh.

"By how short the errant chair leg is."

"I organize them... mess them up a bit... then organize again."

"The librarians do it for me. I store them in my library bag until they are all read, and then I drop them in the book return slot. Then I go look for more already-sorted books. It's like magic!"

"Yep, right on the back of the toilet in order of which was most recently read!"

Thanks to Lee Erickson for the beautiful pictures of his toddler granddaughter looking at books. See his whole post on the subject here (with more great pictures).

Thanks to Alex Zealand for the picture of her five year old's bedroom and his book collection.

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