Saturday, February 7, 2009

How Do You Organize Your Library?


Over at Brainstorm, Gina Barecca has a great post on her struggle to organize her library. I read her post with much sympathy. I have been struggling for years with how to bring some order to my books. First of all, half of them are in my office at the college and the other half are in my home study. Of course whenever I need a book in my office it is at home and vice-versa. A few years ago I made a half-hearted attempt at organizing my history books by time period, but as my reading interest expanded to novels, cultural criticism, theology, local history, historiography, etc... my shelves have lost all sense of rhyme or reason. Now half of my shelves are classified by genre or subject matter and the other half are organized by time period. Help! I spent fifteen minutes this morning trying to track down a biography of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Any advice would be most appreciated. How do you bring order to your library?

8 comments:

historiann said...

John, this is a timely post, because I've been thinking about reorganizing my shelves...but how? This all has to do with the seismic shift in our field in the past fifteen years away from a very Anglocentric, regionally-organized field to one that is broadly comparative and few people write books any more that can fit neatly into "New England," "Middle Colonies," "Chesapeake," or the "Lower South" categories any longer. Women's history too has become so much more expansive, with the history of sexuality and the history of the body stuff growing out of it, too. Besides that, who writes books any more than can be categorized in just one sub-field?

I think I'll have to do a whole post on this myself--stay tuned.

Brian said...

History - chronologically, for the most part. When things overlap in years, I tend to put books that are about the same subject together. So, I've got American Revolutionary era books together, and books about slavery in that era right next to it. It ends up loosely chronological, AND it's by subject. Anything that covers a vast amount of time just gets put in the chronological place I most easily associate it with. For example, Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone" goes with other books on slavery in the 18th century.

Then, I've got sections for fiction, theology, philosophy, science and nature, U.S.-History-non-fiction (chronological), and other non-fiction.

But

John Fea said...

Historiann: Yes, I think my library is still organized based upon those older regional categories. To be honest, I have no clue where to put my own book. Should I put it in the "Middle Colonies" section or in my general "religion in early America" (non-region specific) section, or in my "American Revolution" section or in my cultural history section? And what about "Atlantic world" stuff? How we order our library is perhaps the best indicator of how we think about our field.

John Fea said...

Brian: Thanks for sharing this. I often wonder whether I should put books about slavery in with other books in a particular chronological era or region, or else have a separate section on slavery which includes books on the subject that run chronologically from 1492 to 1863.

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mommysquared said...

Good topic to think on! I have history and french left from my undergrad days, education and linguistics from grad school, and now more education/anthropology/sociology from my doctoral studies, and anticipate many more additions.

My big system challenge, though, is organizing journal articles. I have a 4 drawer file cabinet full of articles, organized by pretty tightly focused categories (i.e., "multicultural education," "teacher training/development," "social justice in education"). I find, though, that many can fit into multiple categories. I guess that's the benefit to everything being electronic, though; if I've forgotten where I filed an article, I can always just look it up again.

Maia Dobson said...

What I do in order to be more organized with my books, I try to download the new ones.Instead of piling another set of books, it would just be readily available on my computer.

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Grace Johnson said...

Every time I needed to buy some extra pieces for my house, especially when it comes to organizing my books, I always visit daniels home center to pick out modernly designed but cheap furniture. Organizing the increasing number of my books has been my problem ever since, I'm studying up until now good thing you make post about it. I appreciate the hard work.