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How to Create and Organize Your Home Library

Posted about 4 weeks ago by Meldon Jenkins-Jones
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Stressed by books? Are you stuck at home with piles of books and magazines, and running out of space? Do you want to set up a personal library, but don’t know where to start? If you have boxes of hardbacks and paperbacks that you have collected, inherited, or obtained at yard sales, and they are not already clean and in order, don’t stress. Here are some guidelines to help you get them off the floor and out of the boxes. Follow these suggestions to put your volumes in order and arrange them on shelves so you can easily find and enjoy them. 

Supplies – For this project, you will need:

  • Clean bookshelves/bookcases
  • Clean microfiber dust cloths or paper towels
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Face mask (if there is dust or mold)
  • Booklist – This may be a print list in a notebook, but if your list is more than a page long, a computerized Excel-type spreadsheet would be much better. Your booklist should have room for four columns: Author; Title; Genre or Non-Fiction Subject; and Spine Label, or Comment.

Space – You will need to set up six areas:

  1. Magazines
  2. Items with mold or mildew
  3. Giveaways
  4. Sets (books with volume numbers)
  5. Trash/Recycle
  6. Okay Items – This may be a bookshelf.

Step 1 – Unpack

As you unpack, take the books out of the boxes one by one. 

  1. Wipe off the book with a dry dust cloth. Note: DO NOT use water.
  2. Open the book. Ask yourself 
  • Does it have mold, mildew, anything growing, or food inside? If it does, see Step 6, below, to clean when you have time, or consider moving it to the Trash area.
  • Is it a magazine? If yes, then put it in the Magazine area.
  • Do you just not like it, for whatever reason? (Least favorite writing style, wrong age group, makes you sad, too dull or too risque?) Or perhaps you’d like to gift it to someone you know would enjoy it? If so, put it in the Giveaway area.
  • Is it part of a set? If that is the case, put it in the Sets area.
  • Is it okay? Write it down in your Booklist. Place it in the Okay area.

Step 2 – Arrange

Arrange the Okay items on the shelves in the bookcases. If you do not have enough bookshelves or if you have too many okay books, you may want to:

  1. Obtain more bookshelves/bookcases.
  2. Put the books in other rooms. Be sure to protect the books from water, humidity, sunlight, insects, or other damage.
  3. Give away some volumes.

There are several ways to arrange your library:

  1. Alphabetically by Author, the last name first. This works well for fiction.
  2. By subject matter. This is best for non-fiction. 

The most well-known systems are the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress classifications. For descriptions of these, see and 

However, if you have only a few books in a small, personal library, you can simply group like items together. For example, you can place all the climate change books together, all the history books together, and all the health books together. 

     3. By size or by color. This works only if you have just a few books in a personal home library, or if they are mostly for display.

If you have sets of books, keep the volumes of each set together. 

Step 3 – Recycle or throw away the trash books.

Step 4 – Decide what to do with the magazines–keep, trash, or give away. If you choose to keep them, you must then decide how to store or display them. There are lots of suggestions for proper storage and creative display options on the internet. If you choose to give them away to a friend or an organization, contact them first to be sure they can accept them.

Step 5 – Box up the Giveaways. 

Use separate boxes for separate individuals or organizations.

Step 6 – Items with mold, mildew, growing things, insects, dead things, and/or food.

Why is this a problem area? Books with mold or mildew can infect other books, cause you to get sick, and smell bad. Some are just gross. (Imagine opening a book and seeing a slice of bacon used as a bookmark!) Some page materials are more susceptible to these problems than others, but water usually attracts mold and mildew to any book. 

  1. If it is so gross that you cannot bear to touch it, throw it away.
  2. If you so love it, write down the information (author, title, publisher, ISBN) and hope you can find a replacement.
  3. If minor, you may clean the book. Several websites offer suggestions for cleaning mold and mildew, including: Identify, Prevent, and Remove Mold and Mildew from BooksGetting Rid of Mold in House:  Books, and How to Clean Books.
  4. If it is merely a dirty cover, you may be able to wipe off the dirt with a disinfectant wipe. This works well with plastic dust covers. 

Step 7 – Catalog and/or Label

If you have a lot of books, or a lot of people using them, consider cataloging and labeling them. On your booklist, record the assigned number or code that you will type onto the spine label. You can order supplies online from library supply stores such as Demco, Brodart, or The Library Store. Customized spine labels can also be purchased from Etsy.

Step 8 – Enjoy your books! 

Happy Reading!

For more information, see

“How to Start a Small Library” 

and

“Time to Clean Up: Bookshelf Organization”  

Meldon Jenkins-Jones

Meldon Jenkins-Jones is the Law Librarian for the Richmond Public Law Library. She received her Master of Science degree in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.

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