ECW Weekender: Managing Books

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.)

8 Responses to ECW Weekender: Managing Books

  1. I use, very easy to use to insure no more duplicates. As far as in the shelves, I do mine by branch of service, battles, commanders and in those sections split by Union or Confederate. Then sort the Union or Confederacy internally by state.

  2. My Library used to resemble the Records Room at Minas Truth, a parchment here, a scroll there. During our transition to Florida, we bit the bullet and had built in floor to ceiling bookshelves and entertainment center installed. My books are divided between CW, American history and “other” history.There are four other smaller bookcases scattered around the house, with a mixture of literature, science, religion, fiction, et al.

    Barb has her own system, and probably makes more sense then mine!

  3. Managing a library is a lot like managing a golf bag. Put your clubs wherever you want, it’s your bag. Most of my recent books are kindle version. Easy to use. Highlight important spots for reference. I like the idea of what to do with hard or soft bound books, I have plenty of them as well.

  4. I use an app called Handy Library. It’s saved me from buying a few duplicates. It also allows for adding a value for insurance purposes. My campaign/ battle books are organized chronologically within theaters. Biographies are also sorted by Union and Confederate. Primary sources are another section that is divided into Union/Confederate with the exception of some series that are grouped together such as the Collectors Library and Great Campaigns. Another section is for unit histories. Two other bookcases hold some other series of books including 20 volumes of CWTI hardbound, Battles and Leaders, Images of War and the Official Records. Finally there is a general section that includes other categories such as overall histories, naval works, and analytical books.

  5. I don’t use any apps, but I do have a system! It’s similar to yours where each shelf is sorted by category or subject. I currently have three full bookcases of CW books (five that are non-CW), but I also have a hope chest that is weighted down with the books that don’t have a home yet. We’re building a house and my personal office/library will have three walls of bookcases, so I’m hoping that’ll be enough to cover me for a while, haha. I’m not looking forward to the packing and re-organizing process though.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!

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