We get many questions about how I organize books in my home library, and today we’re talking all about it.

I’m going to break down my system and hopefully help spark ideas for how to best organize books at your house.

Here’s the thing: Your home library should serve your family’s reading life. And that might mean organizing it in a different way than you think.

It also means the organization isn’t the goal. (Keep reading to see what I mean.)

I’ll give you a peek at a few of my own bookshelves throughout this post, which are definitely not gorgeous or Instagram-worthy. 😅

But they are useable. And they’re used… a lot!

In this episode:
  • how to focus on your home library’s goal (which may be different than you think!)
  • how to cut down on time searching for books
  • ideas for organizing your family’s books without making it a full-time job
Click the play button below or scroll down to keep reading.

What’s Your Goal?

When it comes to organizing your home library, remember that it should serve your family’s reading goals.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because all of our families are different, our kids are different, we have different personalities, and different propensities for order or disorder. 

My goal is for my own kids to read widely and to always be in the middle of a book. Keeping that goal top of mind helps me remember that the organization of my family’s books is just a tool to help me toward THAT goal.

Our home library is organized enough to help my kids read widely and often, but not so organized that I worry much when other things clutter up the shelves. Artwork often makes it onto our shelves, as you can see. And random holy cards, as well!

The goal is not an organized bookshelf.

The goal is a vibrant reading life. 

Starting with what would make your family’s reading life easier and more enjoyable can help you organize your own space.

Also note: there’s no right or wrong way to do this.

You’re not a library or a bookstore – you’re a family.

Let your home library serve your family in all the shapes and forms it takes as your kids grow.

Remember – start with your goal, and make your library serve your own particular family. There’s no right or wrong way about it.

The bard gets his own shelf at our house.

How I Organize Our Books

First things first, there are books in every room of our house. I never have enough bookshelves to suit me (sorry, honey!), and I’m always begging for more.

I love being able to see and read and reach for books no matter where I am in my house.

We have more kids’ books than any other kind of book. So let’s start there. I divide them into two main categories: Fiction and Non-fiction.

Fiction

  • Fiction books are organized in ABC order by the last name of the author. This always surprises people – yes, I really have all of my books in ABC order. But they aren’t completely specific – I just go by the first letter. So all the A’s are together and all the B’s are together, but the A’s and B’s themselves are not alphabetized.
  • Also, I separate these by picture books and novels. All of the picture books go together (on lower shelves, usually) and all of the novels together.
An example of the fiction shelf, alphabetized to the first letter of the author’s last name

Non-Fiction

  • I tend to group non-fiction books by general category, which has worked its way out to be, roughly:
    • History/Geography/Biography
    • Science/Nature
    • Faith/Religion
    • Craft/Drawing
    • Poetry/Music/Art

I don’t alphabetize these or otherwise sort them. I just have an entire shelf dedicated to a category— Science/Nature books, for example—and they all go there.

An example of our Science/Nature shelf — it’s not organized within that category. Any science or nature nonfiction lives here.

Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

Adult books are shelved together on the same shelf.

I don’t really categorize them, but we have way fewer adult novels than we do kids books.

Like … waaaaay fewer.

So this doesn’t need to be that organized. I can usually (not always) find what I need pretty easily, since it’s a smaller collection.

A glimpse at one of our picture book shelves. Looks like this one is C-G (I alphabetize by the first letter of the author’s last name, but I don’t alphabetize within letters because… that’s just a little overboard for me)

What About Books Kids Own Themselves?

The books that belong to my kids are usually kept on bookshelves in their bedrooms.

I would highly recommend seeing if you can get a bookshelf for each of your kids to keep in their bedroom. Look at garage sales, Craigslist and second-hand stores, if you need to.

Having a bookshelf of their own helps a child really own their own identity as a reader.

Of course, at my house, family books make their way onto those shelves. And shelves get disorganized. (Super disorganized. I was going to post a picture here of my twin 8yo’s shelves, but my pride got the better of me. Picture a horribly disorganized shelf of books reshelved in every which direction.)

I don’t worry about this.

Every so often (maybe once or twice a year), I get a 🐝 in my bonnet and go around and re-sort and reorganize all the shelves while listening to an audio book or binge-listening to a favorite podcast.

But…because I know that my goal is for my kids to read widely always be in the middle of a book, it helps me remember that the organization is just a tool to help me toward THAT goal.

The goal is not an organized bookshelf or an organized library. The goal is a vibrant reading life.

Another picture book shelf. Many of our family’s picture books also live on kids’ bookshelves within their rooms, and I don’t worry too much about which ones live where. Using a basic overall system helps me narrow down where to look when I need to find something, without getting overly drill-sergeanty about it.

Let’s Talk Reshelving

I keep a basket near our fireplace for reshelving.

When a child is done with a book, it goes in the basket.

I don’t really mind re-shelving books (all those years I worked in the library serve me well here, and I’m pretty quick at it, and find it a little cathartic), but my kids hate it.

This works well for me.

When that basket gets really full, I’m almost eager to see which of my kids will talk back next, because they’ll get the re-shelving job, which they detest with all of their heart and soul.

(Look, a mother has to take her wins where she can get them! 😎)

Ah! A portion of one of my favorite shelves. I keep all picture book biographies together. They aren’t alphabetized or sorted in any way. The whole shelf makes me hap-hap-happy.

What About Library Books?

On a day when I just discovered $82 in library fines, I’m maybe not the best person to speak to this. 🙃

But full disclosure: you’re about get ideas from someone who regularly pays library fines and justifies it as a civic contribution to support the library. 😇

  • We have two baskets in our main living room that are for library books. Kids also often read library books in their rooms (which are, coincidentally, almost always the ones that rack up the fines).
  • I was better about library fines when I had a recurring task on Fridays to check in on my library account, renew whatever needed renewing, and then went into the library to pick up holds. I got out of this habit in the last year or two, but should probably reinstate it.

‘Your Library Should Serve Your Family’s Reading Life’

Hopefully something in there helps you. Remember to start with your goal, and use your organizing system to serve your family’s goals – not the other way around!

Books mentioned in the show

Secrets of a Charmed Life
Strega Nona

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