Organized books, organized mind?

Books with many different colored spines organized in small shelves and boxes.

As long as people have had collections, there have been myriad ways to store and/or display them in the way that seemed best to the organizer, and books in particular seem to find new classification systems every other day in personal collections. In the United States, there are two major systems used by libraries: many public and school libraries primarily use the Dewey Decimal Classification system, and many academic libraries use the Library of Congress system. You can dive deep into these systems, which, especially in large collections, can get extremely granular. These systems are not perfect and sometimes reflect an outdated understanding of the world and its peoples, but in broad strokes they are very helpful in keeping things organized. 

Our library has a wonderful Access Services department that manages our catalog and keeps track of classification system updates. For nonfiction, we generally use the Dewey Decimal Classification system in combination with what we call Neighborhoods, such as “Science & Nature,” “Local History,” or “Health & Wellness” – topical groupings that we hope make it easier for browsers or people looking for information about particular subjects to find what they need. Whenever you look up an item in our catalog, the neighborhood will be listed with the call number. Use the shelf map tool to navigate to the correct neighborhood, then follow the number to get to your item.

Within Biography, you’ll see titles listed as Biography B or Biography 920 – the former indicates a memoir or biography of primarily one person, and the latter indicates a group or collective biography. Fiction for adults is organized in a couple ways, first by offering two options – general fiction or suspense. We also pull out the newest in each category (in nonfiction as well), to help you find your latest interest quickly. Books in each of these fiction categories are organized by the author’s last name, and then an author’s books are shelved alphabetically. 

On our third floor, you’ll find even more organizational options, with fiction books grouped by the general age of the reader and/or the format of the book (board books are separate from picture books and chapter books, for example). There are also one or two specialty sections, like “Things that Go,” which is for all those who love learning about trucks, planes, ships, and more (adult readers can find similar items in the Technology neighborhood). 

As evidenced just by our library, some systems work better than others in certain situations or for particular collections. What about your personal library? Readers have long taken to the internet to share their preferences, and the prevalence of Zoom appearances during COVID gave many people a chance to observe and judge the bookshelves of politicians, celebrities, authors, and colleagues. Some organize their shelves by color or size, by genre, by mood, or by books that have or have not been read.

Maybe you keep favorites in one place and books you had to read for school but still hold onto in another. Maybe you’re someone who never revisits books and keeps only books you haven’t read yet. Maybe you don’t stick to shelves and instead work with a pile system. Do you keep half-read books scattered on tables? Do you change organizational methods with the seasons? Do you use an online home cataloging system?

Each system reflects a different way of thinking about books and organization, which is why no system will work perfectly for everyone. For your own collection, your ability to find a specific item in a moment, or to stumble upon something you’ll enjoy in a certain mood, is all that matters. If you’re ever in a reading slump, try reorganizing your books into different categories to get a fresh perspective on them, or browse a library Neighborhood you haven’t visited in a while. Let the organizational scheme do the work for you.

Photo by Paul Melki on Unsplash

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