Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living With Living Books Part 3: A Place for Books

It's a life changing choice to build a home library, it can be an exciting challenge to find space to put it, but the decisions about how to organize your books can be the most baffling. Before you begin the labor of stacking, and moving, and shelving and shifting them around, - perhaps many, many times - let me first try to convince you why it is important that they be organized, and then I will offer some organizational options.

The ultimate purpose for undertaking this project is for the books to be used. There are enough distractions and discouragements to reading in this day and age without expecting your family to actually go hunting for a book, even supposing they know exactly which book they want to find. In my last post I made an argument for why books need to be kept in the open, easily seen, out in plain view. In addition, it is invaluable to know where a book is and how to locate it when you want it. Orderly books save you as the teacher a lot of frustration. When that teachable moment occurs, or you have your child's interest aroused and curiosity peaked, you don't want to lose that moment in wandering off on a possibly fruitless pursuit for a book you just "know" you have, but can't lay your hand on quickly. Just as a schedule for routine can help you manage your time, so having a system for your books can save you energy as well as time.

Even better, when children themselves understand the order, they are more motivated and successful in finding things to read for themselves. When you want to loan a book, you can actually do so. When you choose books for the coming school year's studies, you can select from your own warehouse. When you wonder if you already own a book, you can check easily. All these benefits save money and time, especially the time you need to set aside to make trips to the public library, which you won't need as often, and the money will help you buy more books - or bookshelves for them.

Let me very emphatically state that there is no best way to organize your books. Home libraries may have as many models of organization as their are home libraries. It can appear to be a daunting task. Therefore, choose the simplest method you can understand and your family will catch on to. You may desire a detailed break down, but this might not be the most realistic for you with all your other time demands. It is always best to attempt something and actually accomplish it, than to plan and scheme and get no where. Bear in mind that you would like to achieve this library before your grandchildren are grown and gone.

Here are just a few of the many, many, many ways you could set about this work. You may choose any combination or variation of the following or something inovative and useful to you that isn't even noted here:

1. Alphabetize your entire collection by author or title.
2. Divide them by subject - poetry, biographies, nature books, history, etc.
3. Though some find it helpful to divide by age level, I find ages of readers to be a wobbly dividing line and often locks children into getting stuck at one level of reading so they don't progress.
4. Put different categories of books in different rooms, - fiction in the dining room, religion in the family room, etc.
5. A friend once suggested we divide by color of the book, but I offer this only as a joke.

Here are a few suggestions you can employ within categories to further subdivide:

1. Organize history books chronologically.
2. Organize biographies by the last name of the person they are about: E for Einstein, not S for the Smith who

authored the bio.
3. Group science books by the days of creation, light, chemistry, physics for the first day, astronomy the fourth, etc.
4. Buy some small colored stickers for the spines and designate categories by color for easy reference - green for literature, yellow for art, red for geography, etc.
5. The ultimate is to learn the Dewey decimal system, a marvel in organization and not nearly as
incomprehensible as you might think.

There are rational rules to his system. Many resources are available online and in print to assist you with this endeavor and I commend it as a valuable subject for homeschool study that will serve your children throughout their life.

In addition, there are many options for databases and library cataloging available now for your home computer. If you're old fashioned, you can go so far as to buy pockets and cards. Keeping track of your books helps them to stay in order once you have arranged them so, and also to follow the trail when they are not where they belong. Whatever you decide to do, get your children involved in the process. They may just have even better ideas. One thing is sure, their participation will help them to take ownership and automatically learn your method.

Happy sorting. The efforts you make today will be rewarded by beautiful order, fruitful quests for knowledge, and life-long readers.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Thank you so much for this post! I am looking forward to working with my kids to create an organizational system that they can own, too (what a fabulous idea!), which will (I hope) inspire them to keep books where they belong. It's time for a re-org anyway, since we've got a whole passel of new books arriving for the new (home)school year.

  2. these posts have been so timely! thank you for your encouragement and inspiration! God bless you!

  3. Thank you, I can't wait to get started, especially since I have been organizing the rest of the house. I've saved the library til last in lieu of your post