Personal library organization

#1

There are all kinds of ways to maintain a personal library, with varying degrees of organizational capabilities, orientations towards modes of reading (e.g. mostly physical vs. mostly e-reader), what sorts of things you most often read, and so on.

I’m thinking of everything from general systems / strategies — e.g. “I arrange the bookshelves in my apartment by genre”; to software e.g. Arena, Calibre, or Zotero; to the peculiarities of how you organize files locally on your computer.

Personally…I don’t really organize my physical books any particular way ~in space~ but I do try to keep track of what I own via Goodreads. I have a few folders on my Kindle e.g. nonfiction, articles, sci-fi, fiction (other). My hard drive is kind of a mess. Haha and of course I have this site, very much a work in progress, where I’m attempting to better organize my antilibrary! I also use Pinboard a lot (and Arena a bit too lately) for organizing web bookmarks.

What sort of hodgepodge of tools, approaches, etc. have you adopted for keeping track of all your books, media, interesting finds of whatever sort that you consider to be part of your personal library?

#2

Love this question; curious how other folks do it too!

I try to keep Goodreads up to date for organizing what I have read and want to read. I used to have a really intense “shelf” system going on Goodreads but one day I decided it wasn’t helpful and deleted all of my shelves except for “read” and “want to read” and “queued up.” I kind of regret this impulsive deletion - I had this one shelf called “Slim Volumes by Women” (e.g. Women by Chloe Caldwell, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, The Self Unstable by Elissa Gabbert, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Ofill etc) that I often find myself wanting to link people to before I remember that I deleted it.

I have tried to use Are.na for organizing my books, but for some reason it hasn’t clicked for me. So I continue using Goodreads, sort of by force of habit. I’d love to use something else, though, in an attempt to engage with Amazon as little as possible. It felt ironic/bad to use Goodreads to give five stars to Seasonal Associate by Heike Geissler, a book about the misery of working in an Amazon fulfillment center.

For my physical books, I used to not pay any attention to how they were arranged but then in college I read something in one of Susan Sontag’s diaries about how you can judge the seriousness of a person by how their books are arranged. This is obviously untrue, but at the time I was like “Oh no, if I wanna be ‘serious’ I better think about how I arrange my books.” So the system I devised then has persisted to the present day, with little reflection or refinement:

I have my shelves sorted into fiction, standard non-fiction, non-fiction about design, and self-help-y non-fiction (which I hide in a bottom corner of my office in the hopes no one will judge how much my self needs to be helped based on the quantity of books there :rofl:) . And then within those categories they are alphabetical by author. It makes it easier to find things I’m looking for and sometimes the collisions of authors beside each other makes me laugh, but besides that I don’t think it is necessarily that great of a system.

I googled around to try to find the Sontag quote about seriousness and organization. Couldn’t find it, but I did come across this write up of how 11 writers organize their books; kind of interesting: https://lithub.com/how-11-writers-organize-their-personal-libraries/

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#3

Nice! I’ve never really settled on a good solution for more specific lists / “collections” though definitely something I’d like to make. In Goodreads really the only “shelves” I use besides the defaults are one for books I own, and a shelf for each year (starting 2013) tracking all the books I read per year.

I have been thinking a lot about this question for the antilibrari.es site! A couple things I’d like to add:

  • tags — I’d probably aim to add a few basic tags to each book, for general topic(s) / genre
  • collections — I want a way to make arbitrary custom collections so I can group books by theme, authors, publishers, recent bookstore discoveries, etc.

One challenge for me is that the main impetus for this is wrangling my own growing antilibrary lists, basically giving myself a more personal DIY solution as alternative to Goodreads / Amazon wish lists / misc notes. But I’m also trying to balance this with the impulse I have to share this stuff publicly, and ideally highlight books in a way that’s fun and/or useful for others. Still working on that :slight_smile:

This reminds me, I found this great site Bookshelf (via @saraha I believe) with some really fun unique “book mixtapes”. More weird / independent than Goodreads, which I dig.

I guess are.na would get you something similar but with a bit slicker interface. I’ve thought about trying that too but I also just wanted to play around with my own hacked up version here (running on WordPress) where I have full control over everything, even if it means lots more work and tedious data imports etc.

Ha! Seems like as good a system as any. On my Kindle I do a simple grouping kind of like this, with folders for fiction / non-fiction / classics / sci-fi…but really no system at all for my physical shelves. With my smallish city apartment dweller collection (maybe ~500 or so) I don’t feel the need, but if I ever get to say 10k+ volumes like some people in that article, may revisit this!

I read this book a little while back called The Dynamic Library that talks about this innovative art library in Switzerland where all the books have RFID tags and users can generate their own collections on the fly and then save them for others to stumble on in the future. Very cool…maybe overkill for a personal library but I might still give this a try if there were an easy way to do so.

#4

I just organized my bookshelves, which contain the few books that survived our cross country move. I used roughly the same system. I have sections for general fiction, sci-fi, short stories, general non-fiction, biographies, travel writing, memoirs, photo books, art books, and then just a general misc area. It was very satisfying.

While I was doing it I was thinking of starting a “Show us your bookshelves” thread, but havent gotten around to it yet.

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#5

I have categories like nonfiction, fiction, comics, art/design books, you know the usual…

But I also have some books organized in different ways, born of different needs:

  • books that I’m in the middle of reading (on the nightstand)
  • books that I just bought and haven’t shelved yet (Strewn about the living room)
  • books with a very tall form factor (these all go on the same shelf regardless of subject due to size constraints)
  • books with cool looking spines (go on the decorative bookshelf in the living room)

I was also just talking to someone about the urge to arrange books by color. Not how I was taught to think about books but I’ve seen it in practice and it does look nice. Maybe it makes it harder to find certain ones if you don’t remember exactly what they look like?

In general I think that organizing my books isn’t something I consciously do, unless I just moved (or perhaps am doing a big cleaning/tidying project.) if I need to find something I rely on my last memory of where I saw it (usually shoved on top of some other books on wherever the closest bookshelf was at the time.)

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#6

I have strong feelings about arranging books by color. Namely, that it’s wrong.

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#7

Great idea, this would be fun to see!

Reminds me…I was wrong when I said I don’t really organize my physical books at all. I’d say most of my books are fairly randomly organized but I can think of a couple exceptions:

  • I have a shelf or two specifically for books I’ve read and liked enough to want to keep (large majority of books I own are unread, in my antilibrary, and many I finish and end up getting rid of, but I like having faves mostly in one place in case I want to revisit or lend to a friend)
  • My nightstand does double duty as a mini bookshelf; it holds a few dozen books that I either way to read soon, or have started at some point but not yet finished

Anyway, great point that there are lots of ways of organizing books that don’t have to imply some kind of final state of perfect organization, but can be specific, contextual, temporary, shifting…

Haha re: organizing books by color, for example — I don’t think it’d be a great approach for one’s entire collection, but I can see how it might be fun for a certain shelf, or to have a few coffee table books out that match the decor, etc. I wouldn’t call it “wrong” exactly but…perhaps only narrowly contextually useful!

#8

@spike Hahahaha! Yes it does seem very superficial…

I’m a member of this women’s coworking space called The Wing…they have a wall of bookshelves where every book is (1) written by women (2) organized by color. Not the most helpful if you’re looking for something by subject but i have to admit it’s been kind of an interesting way to come across books I’d never see otherwise.

It does seem to treat books as more valuable for their surface aesthetic than what you get out of reading them, which feels…against the point of reading, in a way. On the other hand plenty of books are celebrated for their aesthetic. Like the first illuminated manuscripts. Makes ya think

#9

I use Goodreads to keep track of what I want to read and what I’ve read, but beyond that I don’t use any organization whatsoever! Well, I keep my cookbooks together and closer to the kitchen, but that’s it. The chaos of my book collection keeps it somewhat exciting; as I look for books, I’m remembering other ones I have, and I don’t get too precious about where they’re placed.

I do agree it seems a bit shallow to organize by color. Even though my method is ultimately just as chaotic… I don’t know, it seems more honest.

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#10

Yeah, exactly! It’s using books to show that you have books. It’s also just not very practical if you ever want to actually find anything.