Six Organization Systems for Bookshelves

It’s time for spring cleaning again, and in addition to monotonous tasks like dusting the ceiling fan or exploring for moldy lumps in the back of the fridge, many households like to take these next few weeks to get organized…and for readers, that includes their bookshelves, stuffed with old favorites and to-be-read volumes alike.

Want to join in, but need some options for what your shelves could look like? We’ve got you covered. Here are the top ways we’ve seen shelves put in order.

The Color Spectrum

Description: In a display worthy of an art museum, these shelves are laid out in rainbow order, with books within one color usually subdivided by shade.

Bonus points if: you call those colors names like “blushing rose” or “pale aquamarine” instead of “pink” and “blue.”

Preferred by: Instagrammers, the artsy crowd, people who think normal bookshelves don’t look pretty enough to take up a full wall.

Downsides: Better memorize the spine color of your entire personal library so you can find titles when needed. Also, what do you do with brown, white, and black books? Put them at the end? Put prettier book cozies/jackets over them so they don’t mess with the color scheme? Burn them?

The Dewey Decimal

Description: A topical organization where books on a similar subject are grouped together. Classic novels here, biographies there, books with an angsty YA protagonist who just can’t choose between two drop-dead-gorgeous guys who are madly in love with her on the middle shelf, etc.

Bonus points if: You actually use the ordering numbers of the Dewey Decimal system to order your categories.

Preferred by: Lovers of nonfiction or those who have niche interests, organized people who can’t quite commit to alphabetical order because it seems like too much work.

Downsides: There’s the issue of what to do with the lonely books that don’t fit into any category…and how to describe a book’s location to anyone but yourself.

The Alphabetical Association

Description: Ordered by author’s last name (or, more uniquely, by title). No exceptions.

Bonus points if: you can order everything without once humming the “ABC Song” under your breath.

Preferred by: The ultra-organized crowd, people who want everything in its proper place.

Downsides: If you follow this too strictly, you’ll put series out of order, and you actually have to remember who wrote each book to find it. Much like a spice drawer, though, the more use a bookshelf gets, the harder it is to maintain this system.

The Staged Array

Description: This is a carefully curated collection of tomes, fiction and nonfiction, designed to be impressive to guests in your home. Have you read all (or any) of the books? Not necessarily. It’s all about appearances. Overachievers can switch out certain books based on the interests or political/theological makeup of the crowd coming over.

Bonus points if: you have a multi-volume leather-bound set of something that actually looks like you’ve read it.

Preferred by: Front-room bookshelf owners, people who never did the assigned reading in high school but still wrote solid essays anyway.

Downsides: Someone who loves one of your display books might try to engage you in a detailed conversation, blowing your cover. Beware! At least have some profound quotes underlined so you can refer to them in a pinch.

The Kid-Proof Structure

Description: If it can be chewed, it goes on the bottom shelves. Chapter books round out the middle, and if it needs to be preserved for any length of time, put it at least three feet about the head of the tallest child. Any valuable/rare/sentimental books go in a fire-and-drool-proof safe until the kids are off to college.

Bonus points if: the board books are arranged in order of raggedness.

Preferred by: Parents who want their kids to love books, but not love to destroy books. (It’s a fine line.)

Downsides: Easy access to books you’ve had to read aloud hundreds of times, possibly forgetting about beloved favorite books stored way up on the highest shelf.

The Haphazard Free Spirit

Description: Order? Who needs it? Books are arranged however they best fit, with most recently-read books usually occupying the outside layers or most accessible shelves. Sometimes series are together, sometimes the series might be in three places, including behind the TV console. On a good day, all the spines are facing out, but we can’t make any promises.

Bonus points if: you regularly tell people to “just explore” when they can’t find the title they’re looking for.

Preferred by: Me, and also people who, like me, find the restrictions of organization too confining to our creativity (or who are too lazy to keep a set order maintained).

Downsides: Why, none at all, of course! Things like disorganized books jammed in every nook and cranny and giant stacks that could crush you at any moment just add to the adventure of reading. Right?

So, readers, tell us: how do you organize your books? One of these methods, or another one entirely?

28 thoughts on “Six Organization Systems for Bookshelves

  1. I either organize my books in rainbow order because I love the look or by author’s last names so I can keep my series in order. 😂 I really enjoyed this post! It was very enjoyable to read!!

  2. The Alphabetical Association, by last author’s last name. However I do separate series that are by written by different authors, and I have two different shelves. One for my fiction and another for my non-fiction. My two young daughters each have their own shelf so I don’t mix mine with theirs and they each have their own space :).

  3. I have a combination of alphabetical and genre. But mostly haphazard because I’m running out of space. I try to keep series together but need to acquire the whole set …. sometime?

  4. When my children were little, definitely the kid-proof. After that, I am 100% The Haphazard Free Spirit. I do try and have each authors books grouped together but it is not a priority, to my detriment sometimes. And I double stack because our home is really small and I don’t have much space for more shelving. I’m weeding through all my books right now and donating quite a few to our local thrift store. All proceeds from any sales go to feed hungry folks in our community.

  5. Divided first by genre, then alphabetical by author, and by publishing date within that (it generally doubles as chronologically within series, but chronological trumps pub date if they are in contention). There are exceptions and weird cases, such as Star Wars books, which have myriads of authors who published series all over the chronological spectrum, overlapping each other in pub dates. They are therefore lumped all under genre sci-fi/fantasy, author ‘Star Wars,’ keeping each trilogy/quartet/sextet together, but arranged so that series are chronological according to the old cannon that Disney threw out.

    Organizing book shelves is therapeutic for me. I often do a number at Barnes and Noble when I visit, as they are terrible about maintaining their system.

    • I love how detailed your system is–you’ve really thought this through! I can’t imagine organization being relaxing, but I’m so glad you get joy out of that. 🙂

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  6. I have 2 bookshelves 2 books deep and then surrounded by books that I have yet to read. The left bookshelf is contemporary fiction and non-fiction in alphabetical order by author. The right bookshelf is all historical fiction in alphabetical order by author. I can’t even imagine organizing by color. I’d never be able to find the books I want. lol

  7. I try to organize by author and keep series together. Novella collections are shelved by genre (Amish, Historical, etc) in publication date order. 🙂 This was a fun post…thanks for sharing!

  8. I used to do alphabetically but I have so many books now and only a small bookshelf that I put them however they fit. 😂

  9. I have a couple bookshelves that I keep in alphabetical order but the rest of the books are just so my same authors are all together. I have two small libraries but I pack a lot of books in those two rooms. Bookshelves wall to wall. And more bookshelves on the smaller walls. I wish I had a way to show them to you. Loved seeing the pictures of these bookshelves.

  10. I am more the alphabetical association – by author of course. Then, if I have more than one series by a person, in order by series, if characters overlap…otherwise, the series are arranged however they best fit on the shelf.

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