Your Personal Dukedom: 27 ways to arrange your library

My library Was dukedom large enough.
William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, Act 1 scene 2

As I mentioned earlier, I am devoting April to reading several books about, well, books. One of them is actually a history of bookshelves, and it arrived over the weekend. The appendix of Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf describes twenty-seven ways of arranging a personal library. They are:

  1. By author’s last name
  2. By title
  3. By subject
  4. By size
  5. Horizontally
  6. By color
  7. By hardbacks and paperbacks
  8. By publisher
  9. By read/unread books
  10. By strict order of acquisition
  11. By order of publication
  12. According to the Dewey Decimal Classification System
  13. According to the Library of Congress Classification System
  14. By ISBN
  15. By price
  16. According to new/used
  17. By enjoyment
  18. By sentimental value
  19. By provenance
  20. By author’s first name
  21. By opening sentence
  22. By closing sentence
  23. By third sentence
  24. By antepenultimate sentence
  25. By reverse-order spelling of the last word in the index
  26. By number of words
  27. By number of entries in index

What? Really? “By antepenultimate sentence”? That’s just plain weird.

I tend to arrange by subject, then alphabetical by author within that subject. The subjects are not Dewey or LC, just subject groupings that are helpful to me.

You? Please, I’d like to know, especially if you use a different schema or one of the “more esoteric arrangments” listed above. Come on, leave a comment. You know you want to.

Three questions: How? How many? And for how long?

6 Comments Add yours

  1. spudart says:

    Oh man. I just left a two paragraph comment, but then I got the question wrong, and I went back to fix it to say “true” and my comment was all gone! I’ll try to retype it now…

    I currently use to organize my catalog on my computer. Specifically I’m at So far I have 179 of my books entered. That’s about half-way done, and I still have to tag my books too.

    But you are talking about organizing books on the shelf. I do it very loosely by subject. And then within that, I do it by height of the book. I like to make the display look pretty!

  2. Paul Roberts says:

    Sorry about that. I’ve had so much spam lately, and it seemed a good way to ensure that comments are actually coming from real people. The same thing happened to me on another blog just yesterday – one of those where you have to type a code. I got it wrong and lost a rather involved comment.

    What general subject categories do you find most helpful in the physical arrangement of your library?

  3. Alan Cappella says:

    Unless you’re arranging a very large collection of books, it doesn’t seem worth the trouble to use Dewey Decimal or LC. I also arrange by categories useful to me. Most of my books are in the religion category, so I break that down into several subcategories such as Bible, theology, Christian life, discipleship, social theology, church history, cults. Another helpful way I use to keep track of my nearly 1000 books is to create a Microsoft database. I enter title, author, series, category, publisher, publication date and price (if I purchased it) for each book. This way I have a handy list of my books and can sort them by any of these elements. Since many of my books are still stored in boxes, I also enter the box number that the book is in so I can find it when I want it!

  4. Allen Mickle says:

    I started with Dewey since I started my collection and I’m so thankful that I did. Now that my library is as large as it is, Dewey makes it easy to continue to classify new books and easily put them where they go. Plus, when I move, they’re so easy to set up again!

  5. How about canonical order? That was not included in the list above. My husband’s books were loosely (!) shelved that way. I tightened it up and packed them canonically when we moved, but alas, he did not keep them that way. 🙁 He was in a hurry to just get them on the shelf. (How frustrating!) My own? they’re organized first by room! My craft books in my craft room then by subject; my leisure books in living room, in random order as I only have a handful.

    Ah! I guess “random” could also be added to the above list. So that’s two he didn’t think of.

  6. Bethany says:

    I am in the process of rearranging our books myself. This is rather overwhelming to me, not because we have an especially large library (I would say we have about 300 books, though this number will grow for as long as I’m living), but because my family consists of three very distinct persons with very distinct books. In my child’s corner, of course, are child’s books. Not the sort that an adult can sit and read as well, though, because she is a very young child. My husband has books on handy-man type things, religious books, and books on music. My own tastes are the most erratic and complex: I have fiction novels, nonfiction, books on animals, poetry, and so on. But I recently heard this quote, I think it will help me, and it might help you: “Imagine your books are persons. Then arrange them according to the conversations they could have with their neighbors.”

    That is the general direction in which I plan to go. Good luck!

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