I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

How to Organize a Home Library

How to Organize a Home Library

It's no secret that I'm kind of a word nerd. 99.7% of my conversations start with, "I read in a book once..." Books are my drug of choice. And like all addicts, I constantly push them on everyone I know, especially my kids. I've made it my mission to grow a world of readers, starting with the five wee-people I have at home.

As with all passions, a love for books is formed by constant exposure to them.

Sadly, I have to dole out a lot of NOs at the public library. But, a carefully curated home library can be a constant YES. A feast for the taking.

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

How to Organize a Home Library

My husband built a home children's library in our attic a few years ago. Technically, it was a team effort. He created the space and I supplied the books.

I spent a few hours unpacking and organizing hundreds of books to create an inviting feast for my kids.

In all honesty, even after a few years, the library is not complete. No library ever is. The really great ones take a lifetime to build and are constantly evolving to suit the needs of its patrons. My attic library is no exception.

Since then, I've been asked by many blog readers and even a couple of friends to help them tame their book shelves.

The idea of staring down dozens of disorganized titles and trying to coral them all into some kind of peaceful order can be quite paralyzing for some. I completely understand. That's the exact same feeling I get when I'm given a pile of numbers and asked to file them all in neat little columns. Numbers make me want to curl up into the fetal position.

But books? Books I can do!

Here are my best tips for organizing a home library.

(Please note that your library might only consist of one small shelf's worth of books. That's OK. This simple system is applicable for organizing any amount of books--from one box to an entire room's worth.)

How to Organize a Home Library

Organize with Your Home in Mind

I can give you my GO TO blueprint, you could stalk your local library and take notes, you could memorize the Dewy Decimal system--but none of these will be helpful if they don't fit your needs. I'm gonna tell you what works for me, but don't lay any of my ideas over your shelves like a dogma. This is only a template to get you started.

Before you begin the actual process of handling books and organizing them on the shelves, you have to first organize them on paper. Make a list of the major book categories/genres that you think you have. Write them down. On paper. This will act as a directory when you begin to physically sort your books in the library area. 

My initial list looked like this:


Fairy Tale
Early Readers
Picture Books
Board Books


The Arts
School skills

This was only a tentative list of course. It evolved as I began to unpack my books, and yours will too as you find that you have forgotten about one topic or another.

I don't recommend using the Dewey Decimal system when organizing a home library because it can be more overwhelming than it needs to be. But I do occasionally glance at it when I'm trying to brainstorm categories.

How to Organize a Home Library

Unpack and Unshelf Every Single Book

Hear me on this...you have to unpack and unshelf every single book. Don't you dare think that you can get by with just shifting them around a bit. You can't. That's a fool's errand. To do this thing well, you need to physically take every book off its shelf and start from scratch. 

Mentally divide your floor space in half. You will stack piles of fiction books on one half of the floor and stack piles of non-fiction on the other. 

As you unpack/unshelf your books, begin to stack them with intention. Put similar books together, using the "directory" you made as a guide. This is where you can begin to shift your categories a bit if you need to. Should you notice that you have a huge collection of oceanography books, put those in the science "area," but keep them all in their own separate "ocean" stack. 

Cull Unwanted Books

Now it's time to cull your books. Yes, you read that correctly. You have to cull (as in take out) any unwanted books. (I'll pause here for a moment and listen to the collective gasp from readers everywhere.) On the whole, I'm a collector of books, not a discarder of them. That being said, I recognize that not all books are created equal. My library shelves are prime real estate. I don't have time or space for twaddle.

Unless you have deep emotional attachment to them or they are rare/hard to find copies, don't be afraid to get rid of books that are:

  • duplicates to ones you already own
  • in rough shape or are falling apart
  • low quality fluff (Cartoon character books like this one or this one are considered fluff in my house.)
As in all things, saying no to some books will give you room to say yes to others.

How to Organize a Home Library

Arrange Bookshelves

When all of your books are stacked in somewhat organized piles, you'll start to see the beast more clearly--you'll be able to tell at a glance which sections contain the most books, which sections are comprised of the tallest or shortest books, and which sections might need to be further divided.  

If your bookcases have moveable shelves, adjust the height of each shelf to reflect books you'd like to be able to put there. Remember, this is an eye-ball estimate based on the size of the stacks and the height of the books within them. You might end up having to completely re-work a few shelves once you start stacking books onto them. 

The bookcases in my own personal library were custom built by my husband and do not have moveable shelves. I have to always keep that in mind as I move books around. Non-fiction books tend to be wider and taller than fiction. So when I initially organized my library, I made sure to put all the non-fictions on the side of the room that had the taller shelves.

If you want this to be a kid-friendly space that's welcoming to even the tiniest family members, I'd highly recommend putting board books, picture books, and early readers into baskets that sit perpendicular on the lowest shelves of your library space even if that interrupts the natural flow of the space, and here's why:
  • Picture books tend to be kind of floppy, especially paperbacks. They're hard to keep upright on a shelf. 
  • Since they can't read yet, preschoolers choose books based on the covers. Having all the covers face-front in a basket allows a child to sift through every book without having to pull them all off the shelf one-at-a-time.
  • If you expect really young kids to put their books away, then you have to give them a "shelf" they can manage: a basket. Expecting a preschooler to be able to gently slide a book back onto a regular shelf is like asking someone to rake leaves during a tornado. Both can be done, but neither will end well.

Begin Shelving Books

And here's where the magic happens. 

Starting with either fiction or non-fiction books, begin placing your on-the-floor stacks onto the shelf. I prefer to start with fiction books because they are just a little easier to tame, in my opinion. As you see your shelves filling up quickly, you'll be encouraged to keep going. As opposed to starting with non-fiction which can sometimes go laboriously slow.

Assuming you're starting with fiction because you've taken my "time-tested, money-back guaranteed advice," shelf one section of fiction at a time.

For this example, let's start with your fiction "collection" books. At this point, you probably just have a tall stack of "poetry" books sitting next to a taller stack of "fairy tales." As you begin to place the poetry books on the shelf, organize them even further. Maybe you want to organize them by author's last name. Or perhaps you'd prefer to put the titles in ABC order. The choice is up to you. It's your library. 

I always err on the side of "mostly" organized. I've found that imperfect organization that is easy to keep organized from day-to-day is better than perfect organization that takes too much effort to maintain.

My poetry books are only further divided into "anthologies" and "individual collections." Within those two subdivisions, the books are just thrown on the shelf with no further thought to order. While that half-hearted shelving might make some people's eyes cross, it's perfect for me. When I need to find a specific poetry book, I only have to scan through a handful of titles to find the one I'm looking for. And when I'm ready to put it back, I just slide it into the "poetry" section. Wherever it lands, it lands.

How to Organize a Home Library

How to Organize a Home Library

Organize Each Category

Now it's kind of just a lather-rinse-repeat situation as you continue shelving stacks of books. Remember a library is not meant to just look pretty. It is meant to be used. So, organize sections of books in a way that YOU would normally look for them. For instance, while I find it easier to group animal books by class (reptiles, birds, mammals, fish, etc.), you might prefer to put them in alphabetical order (aardvark, ant, ant eater, alligator, etc.) Either way will work. But which one will work best for you? It's YOUR library.

My personal library divisions are as follows:


poetry anthologies
individual collections

Fiction Collections

fairy tales
fiction anthologies
oversized fiction

Fiction Novels

general fiction alphabetized by author's last name
sets of classic books alphabetized by author's last name
classics not in sets alphabetized by author's last name
historical fiction sets in chronological order
historical fiction not in sets in rough chronological order

Art history

general art history
specific artist's works alphabetized by artist's last name


alphabetized by subject's last name




general geography
country books loosely group by continent
state books by alphabetical order


general science encyclopedias
animals loosely organized by class
nature encyclopedias
plants loosely organized by class
earth science loosely organized into groups (water, weather, soil, etc)
physical science loosely organized into groups (magnetism, electricity, machines, etc.)
science project books


Bible story books
Bible reference 
general church history
faith-based topics loosely organized into groups (hymns, Scripture memory, Q&A/Bible trivia, etc.)
character development


general history encylopedias
history books in loose chronological order
national symbol books loosely grouped by topic (Washington D.C., military, landmarks, the flag, etc.)

A few things to keep in mind

I try to keep book sets together even if that means I have to bend my own organizational rules. For instance, my boys were given the entire Discovery Adventures collection for Christmas one year. It's a fantastic series for boys by Usborne that includes books on everything from fighter planes to survival skills. Instead of splitting up the set and shelving each book according to its topic, I kept the set together and placed it on an available non-fiction shelf all by itself.

If a book is too tall to stand upright on the shelf, I usually tip it on its side. This is not ideal since I prefer to have the title/spine showing, but it works. Another alternative is to have a section specifically for oversized books. These can be grouped together on your tallest shelf space or laid horizontally on your shortest shelf.

I strongly recommend keeping kids' books separate from adult titles. Should you have a mix of both, make a separate library space for each--either in a different room or at least on different shelves.

How to Organize a Home Library

Library links I love

Book plates for a home library

Building a Children's Library at Home {with a Video Tour}- learn my system for teaching my kids to re-shelf books correctly

Items on Loan FREE Printable- for keeping track of books that you loan out to friends

5 Library Tracking Apps

I'm not exactly a Book Whisperer. But should you want to call me that, I'll not correct you. It's your call. I'm creating a culture of reading, one library book at a time. 

"When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

-Jane Austen in Pride & Prejudice


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  3. Thank you, we are doing some mid-winter organizing and I am eyeing the bookshelves next. My question is how do you get the kids to put the books back where they belong?!? When they are doing school they may grab specific books and put them back, but often there are piles here and there that accumulate through out the day and get put back every evening...ok, in theory, reality is once a week haha. I thought about color coding the shelves/spines, I am curious your thoughts.

  4. I literally have been researching and brainstorming how to tackle this project for MONTHS. This post is exactly what I was looking for!!! THANK YOU!!!!

  5. Thank you for detailing your organization system! What are the stir sticks used for?