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How To Organize A Bookshelf

How To Organize A Bookshelf

Chances are, many of us will own a few more books after the holidays. But even if the books you have are carefully stored and cataloged, where do you put new ones?

We asked a few listeners how they organize their book collections. And there is no one we turn to more for wise advice than our Librarian Emerita Kee Malesky, author of All Facts Considered and Learn Something New Every Day.

Our Listeners

Tyler Tankersly of Kansas City, Mo.

In third grade, I was made to memorize the order of the presidents. I remember it. I can still sing it: "George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson" ... When I buy a presidential biography, I am singing that song to myself as I place it on the shelf. All of my presidential biographies — and I have about 20 now — they are all in the order that the presidents served.

Kate McDermott of Port Angeles, Wash.

I have my books arranged on my bookshelf by color, which works for me. It's a way that I can see them and find them easily. I guess that's just how my brain works ... I found that a majority of the books on my shelf have to do with my love of pie making. The red books tend to be baking, my older books seem to be browns and tan, and many of the cooking books — like The Greens books — are actually green ... The first thing that people say when they see them is how it's beautiful art. There have been people who have said this is actually inspiring for them — that they're going to do this, too.

Karen Alea Ford of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

I was sucked into the Pinterest craze for sure ... There were a few in rainbow order and I was just taken with this. I got sucked into this whole idea of the color coordination ... The other day someone wanted to borrow, Of Mice and Men, and I was saying, "Is it white? Is it white?" No, its ecru. I could never find Of Mice and Men, and I've done that for three books now, and I'm so frustrated ...

It's sort of like having a child and you go through labor, and think, "Oh my gosh, I'm not going to do that again." You have to wait and forget that experience before you do it again. And that's what I'm trying to do before I reorganize it. I have to get rid of that pain before I reorganize it into something that makes sense.

David May of Massachusetts

David's interest in cataloging books started when he got a job in his college library 60 years ago. He "became so enamored by the Dewey Decimal system that I decided I would arrange my own books that way. So, I sneaked the library's copy of An Introduction to Cataloging and the Classification of Books back to my room and puzzled out simplified Dewey numbers and taped them onto the spines of my books.

"It was a pointless thing to do because I only had 20 books, most of which were textbooks. And after a year or two, of course, I gave it up because I was embarrassed by it ... [but] the sense of order that created was very gratifying and I dreamed about a day when I would have a personal library of 10,000 books, all organized by Dewey's wonderfully precise system of organizing human knowledge."

NPR Librarian Kee Malesky

Is there a right way to store books so that you can find them?

Not in your home. There's no library SWAT police that's going to show up and tell you you have mis-arranged your books and you must use a different system. Obviously, it's whatever works for you. If you only have a few books, you probably don't need a system. If you have thousands, you might want to use Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress. Or even arranging by size or color.

What about Karen and her library of many colored books?

If she can find the books she wants, then it's a workable system.

How do you do it?

I'm probably not the only librarian in the world who's much more organized on the job than at home. We do have lots and lots of books. We have one room designated as the library, which is just shelves of books and chairs and a desk. But unfortunately, there are also stacks of books on the floor all over the house.

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