It’s a little different than the usual weekender feature, but it’s winter and apparently quite a few of the regular weekender writers have been super busy or staying home during winter storms… Let’s talk about managing book collections! Because that is a good and indoor activity to occupy some minutes, hours, or days — depending on the size of your book collection.
Some in the ECW gang are in the stages of giving away books, and Meg Groeling has shared a delightful post in the past about her little library. Donating volumes to libraries for their bookshops can also be a nice gesture if you’re in that process of “minimalizing” the library. And to be honest, I’m doing a little of that too. Mostly to make room for new acquisitions later this month.
But what about all the books that must stay? The ones that — as Thomas Jefferson would say — you “cannot live” without? How do you keep tabs on those? I love seeing how other book collectors and historians organize their shelves and getting new ideas. Let’s get a conversation going in the comment section!
My own system is a little haphazard by real library standards, but it works for me at this time. My history shelves are long and low and, starting at the corner of my writing desk, are organized mostly by category. The first shelves hold the books that I’m currently using so that they are an easy reach from the desk. This also means the first shelves’ contents occasionally change. Next, I have all my Shenandoah Valley books, including a few related biographies. Then Confederate biographies and primary sources, followed by Union biographies and primary sources. Civilian biographies and primary sources, which sort of morph into nurses, doctors, and then medical history. I like to group battle and campaign books in timeline order, with a few exceptions — all the Valley books are previously together and all the ECW books have their own shelves. After battles come the categories for regimental studies, religion in the 1860s, and 19th Century maritime. The End!
Over the next weekend or two, I’m slowly working on updating the app that I use for library organization. There are multiple options, but I like the one that is simply called “My Library.” You can scan the book’s barcodes or enter the information manually to create a catalog which is so helpful when shopping! I prefer the app over the spreadsheet that I had been using. What do you prefer? Paper lists, GoodReads, another app, or good ol’ memory?
Over the years, I’ve had some people insist on one particular way to sort a library and give me a list of reason that their way is “the best.” When my collection was smaller and I was a more easily influenced, I tried to change the organizing based on these experts’ opinions. Finally, I gave that up.
Ultimately, organize that personal library in a way that makes you happy and makes sense to you. Maybe that’s with a very neatly printed number system. Or maybe it’s in the order that you purchase/read books. Or alphabetically. Or even by the color of the book’s spine. It’s perfectly fine to have different and personalized methods to the book madness.
If you’re in the process or organizing or cataloging this winter, good luck…and I’d love to hear about your methods! It really can be a fun way to spend a winter weekend.
(And if you really love stories from home libraries, there’s an entire series in the ECW archives.)