Personal Libraries

You read books. You like books. You have a lot of goddamn books.

In organizing my library I’ve attempted the following systems:

  1. Grouped by genre, then alphabetical by author.
  2. Grouped by publisher.
  3. “Organized” by three factors: How Often I Refer To Book, How Much I Want Guests To See Book (e.g. Smarty-Pants Books in full view, Self-Help Books nearly hidden).
  4. Grouped by size and color of spine.

I’ve honestly been thinking of implementing the Dewel Decimal system in my home. Since The Archive Project, not to mention 8+ years of formal research spent in univeristy libraries, I know the system well. Plus, I love Party Girl. Is this ridiculous?

So, dearest readers of literary ilk, what system(s) do you use to organize your books?


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9 Responses to “Personal Libraries”

  1. gbem1 Says:

    I usually have two ways of organizing. The first: physical height/size. The bigger books go together. The top shelf is usually the smallest books–either mass market paperback or portable dictionaries (because I strangely have so many!). Then I usually have one book case entirely devoted to poetry, though I am trying desperately to “narrowing the scope” of my library so that I don’t have so much filler.

  2. sflovestory Says:

    Hi gbem1. You bring up a good point: size.
    I hate it when one book sticks out (isn’t there some Chinese proverb for this) or doesn’t fit with the rest on a shelf. I tried to stop paying attention to this issue (putting books in sideways) but the truth is that we’re in a HOME and aesthetics matter. Finding the book might matter more, but it doesn’t make the aesthetics obsolete. On the other hand, you have the nouveau riche who call up NYC booksellers and ask for “all the red covered hardbacks.” Actually, their decorators do this for them, and actually that’s a true story from a friend who owns a shop. Can you believe?

  3. gbem1 Says:

    That is absolutely absurd. Though it’s just about as absurd as every other blatant denial of utility and value in this country. I hate to stress stereotypical superficialities, but gah! All the red-covered hardbacks?! That reminds me of 8th grade when I collected all the blue Magic: the Gathering cards because they had pictures of water on them.

  4. Nathan Bowers Says:

    A friend does her bookcase by color. Looks good from across the room, and if you’re very color aware like she is then it’s easy to find stuff.

    I do mine by size then genre, size is a good predictor of genre anyway. Design/art/architecture books are always odd sizes.

  5. Tony Says:

    Dewey is not a bad option. It’s one I’m considering for myself, as I CAN’T FIND A DAMN THING IN MY LIBRARY.


    Anyway, it also depends on how much you care about your books themselves, versus how they look in your home. If there are books you don’t really care so much about, then fine, do the whole Pottery Barn thing and stack them on endtables or whatnot. But take the volumes that are worth the most to you and treat them right (e.g. low humidity, out of direct sun, constant temp, yada yada).

  6. P.C. Sweeney Says:

    Hey team, try out it’ll help organize the books and its fun!

  7. sflovestory Says:

    Hi Tony dahlink!

    I care about all of my books, but I’m not quite worried yet about humidity/sun/temp damage, EXCEPT the books I have that are out of print or first editions, etc. And those are treated as archival material.

    Which reminds me, if you’re in SF, a great place to wander into for antiquarian books (and archiving advice) is the Argonaut Book Shop on Sutter and Jones. And I just discovered that even their website is antiquarian, haha. So cute.

    Anyway, I’m going to try out this (thanks, P.C.!), though I’m not sure how it will help me locate books in my own apartment. Still, the site looks fun and what’s yet another social networking site membership?

    I will totally report back on my findings.

    Thanks guys, srsly.

  8. sflovestory Says:

    Here’s a cool link I found regarding the care of personal libraries and collections:

  9. Brett Peters Says:

    Sun damage is one of those things that sneaks up on you. A lot of my wife’s paperbacks were damaged by about two years in the Georgia sunshine. Adding doors to the bookcases solved not only that, but also made the library much less cluttered.

    We considered Dewey, too, but the thought of the effort to recategore all those books leaves me stuck with the system we have: genre > author > series > alphabetical, with oversized getting the top shelves.

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