Are You a Literary Lush? How to Organize Your Personal Library

Organizing book collections often requires daunting decisions. How to decide which books to keep? What if you want to read a favorite again, pass a recommendation along to a friend, or remember concepts within the pages for reference? Consider the following ideas to help with the decisions as you get your book collection right-sized and organized.

Easing the Editing Process

Identify any books that you no longer want in your collection: old textbooks, book club novels from years gone by, nutrition and diet books that are not for you, or how-to manuals for hobbies that no longer fit your schedule and priorities. Do a first pass of your current book collection to eliminate the obvious books you can edit from your shelves.

With the first round of editing done, it’s time to ask the more difficult questions. To determine what will or will not make the final cut in your collection, consider a few things:

  • Space - How much storage do you have for your book collection? Assess your current bookshelf space as well as additional space for book storage in your home.
  • Availability - How easily could you obtain the book again if you wanted it? Would it be available through your library system? Do you have an e-reader that you could use instead of having a printed edition of a book? Rare editions may warrant keeping in your collection, but many other books that you’ve been storing over the years won’t be missed.
  • Preference - Take just five minutes to list any books that come to mind that you’d like to read. My guess is you will be able to generate quite a list without much effort. If the books you are debating whether or not to keep aren’t on that list, it may be time to let them go. Another idea is to pick 12 books out of your collection that you’d like to read within the next 12 months.
  • Others’ Enjoyment - Consider the enjoyment others could get from the books you are holding onto. Donate books to a library or a charity for others to appreciate. Build a little free library of your own to share parts of your book collection with your neighborhood. Donate magazines to Goodwill, retirement homes, doctors’ offices, or schools to use for art projects.
  • Reference - Are you keeping any books just to remember a particular concept communicated within the pages? Instead of allowing it to take up room on your shelf for just a few pages of content, scan or take a photo of the pages you’d like to reference in the future.

Sorting and Setting the Margins

Now that your collection has been edited to just your favorites, your next reads, rare books, sentimental reads and books that are referenced somewhat regularly, its time to sort and organize. Sort your books by genre and also by paperback or hardbound within each category. Group magazines or catalogues together and organize them by genre into magazine files.

Empty the shelving unit completely and wipe it down. Next, assess whether you want the display to be decorative or strictly functional to maximize storage capacity. If aesthetic appeal is important, display the hardbound books and nicer looking paperbacks on open shelves. You may like to hide well-loved paperbacks in lower cabinets or within labeled decorative baskets on open shelves.

When placing books on the shelf, begin at the bottom of the bookshelf and work up, assuming you have adjustable shelves. This tactic will allow you to maximize your shelf capacity by adjusting the height of the next shelf up.

Keep genres together and place them upright in descending height order for a clean look. To keep the books upright, use bookends or stack three to four books horizontally to function as a bookend. When the books are organized on the shelves, align their spines a couple of inches from the front edge of the bookshelf to give the display a clean look.

Poetic License

Once your books are grouped and arranged as you like, place a few decorative items in the empty spaces to add some interest and personality to the book display. Some choices include framed photos, pieces of pottery, a figurine or animal statue. Children’s art pieces or family heirlooms passed down from previous generations add a meaningful touch. For a tidy look, utilize decorative baskets or boxes to contain other items that may need storage on the bookcase, like remotes, electronics, toys or office supplies.

Lighten your load and your library. Make the difficult but worthwhile edits and you’re sure to feel as good as a best-selling author.


Laura Leist, CPO
Organizing with Laura