Home Libraries: There’s A Method To The Madness

I’ve always been particular about how my books are organized. In fact, when I was about 12 and had about 12 Civil War books, those slim volumes stacked in a very precise order on the file cabinets that sat beside my research (aka school) desk. One of my brother “stole” a book and wanted to see how long before I knew it was gone; apparently, it was 10 minutes and I tracked him down and recaptured the book about Robert E. Lee. I think a little bit of nerdiness, a little OCD, and a little photographic memory skill has played a part in how I keep track of my home library and why I insist on storing books in a certain order.

Anyway…since my current library is not lined with antique wood shelves or home to a cute kitten, I thought I’d share how the books are currently organized…because there really is a reason. Working left to right and up and down, here goes:

Part of the home library during Christmas 2019…one of the few days that all the books were on the the shelves!

Closest to the research desk are the books I’m currently using. (Right now, cavalry and horse artillery stuff). When I’m finished with that topic, they may be shelved as a “collection” or added to the appropriate shelves for biography, battle, units, etc.

Next is the Shenandoah collection of books, shelved in a semi-sequential order—starting with Jackson and the Valley Campaign, then the New Market Collection, local civilian voices, and the 1864 Campaign/Burning.

There’s are shelves for Confederate biography and primary sources and the same for Union.

Two small shelves hold some volumes of Civil War fiction, memory studies, and books on slavery and emancipation.

Next is the civilian section, which houses all civilian biography and primary sources (except Shenandoah Valley, that to the left in its own regional collection. Confusing, I know…)

The civilian section merges into Civil War medical volumes and memoirs, and there is a little overlap there with the nurses and Sanitary Commission.

Finally! Battle and campaign books and these are organized by sequence of events. The few regimental volumes and some brigade and corps studies, take up another shelf.

There’s a shelf of what I term “general war” – that’s where Battle Cry of Freedom, overview soldier studies, Battles and Leaders, and those type of books live.

Next comes the all ECW shelf which is probably going to need more space pretty soon!

And at the far end are some shelves with Rev War, 19th Century Whaling, 19th Lighthouses, World War II books, a little philosophy, and theory books on warfare. Is that all?

Well, Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote’s volumes and a few others that look especially nice stack on top of the bookcase. And my literary classics (Jane Austen, Laura Ingalls, Sir Walter Scott, etc. ect.) get shelved in my bedroom. That’s all—I think!

How do you organize your books? Do you have a catalog for your home library?

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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6 Responses to Home Libraries: There’s A Method To The Madness

  1. I organize mine by subject matter too. Women/domestic, medical, slave/African American, battles, “general war” with broader topics, biographies, soldier memoirs/diaries, POW camps, Confederate studies, regimentals, Civil War fiction, and I’ve got an ECW section as well. I do break away from this organizational method to group some books by state (Florida and Louisiana specifically). Then I have a section for magazines, maps, and newspaper stuff.

  2. I use the good old fashioned Dewey Decimal Classification and I have all the books in a big spreadsheet.

  3. Meg Groeling says:

    I try. But today two more came in the mail, and they really have no category. That, plus what I am reading for review, what is needing to be reviewed but has been read, and the random book from my childhood (I have been replacing those as I remember them) shows up here & there. I am gonna go pet the kitten now…

  4. bryanac625 says:

    I have a home library in my “mancave” (seven bookcases; three of them Civil War Era) but I never started organizing my books until recently. I love the idea of putting all of my books in alpha by author, and then by title order; or putting everything under the Dewey decimal system. But the issue for me is that I have books in all different sizes. I don’t like ideskinny paperback next to a big, wide coffee-table book that will swallow the smaller book on the shelf. But I finally decided it’s time to organize things (which is how I found this blog post and thread, because I’m looking for some categorizing/shelving ideas).

    First, I separated smaller books from the larger ones

    • Mike Maxwell says:

      Bryanac625
      As a retired Library Worker with experience in a number of libraries of various sizes, may I suggest organizing your Personal Civil War Library in the following manner: chronologically; then biographies/ autobiographies. Your suggestion of “alphabetical, by title or author (depending on which is most significant for that volume)” should work for everything else in your collection. Keep your grossly oversized/ undersized close by on their special storage area, mirroring the organization you select for your main collection; and perhaps select one or two significant volumes for “special display,” where visitors will notice.
      In this way, no index is required: the organization is self-explanatory. And user-friendly.

      • bryanac625 says:

        Hi Mike,
        Thanks for the response (BTW, I hit send before I actually finished my comment). I used to work in a public library as well (which is where I got my shelf organiztional rule from). I appreciate the suggestion; however, I don’t have too much as far as biographies/ autobiographies. I think I’m going to start by breaking things down by putting subject matters together and then work from there. I’ve already started with this and I’ve got a good rythym going with it. But of course, things can always be adjusted.

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