How to Arrange Your Personal Library

You may want to first go and read my previous post in this series, “How to Build Your Personal Library.”

OK, you’re on your way. You’ve decided on your plan. You’ve already got a nice core of 3 or more books on your favorite themes or topics. Now you are considering how you’ll place them in your library.

Good news: it’s totally up to you! You can place them in any order you like, in any arrangement you like. Remember, this is YOUR personal library.

But let me suggest some of the ways I’ve heard of others arranging their personal libraries.


Here are some recommendations to consider:

Read a good book on the subject. Many such exist. But don’t get overwhelmed. If no definitive list exists, create your own.
Define and Prepare a Space – Decide on a size, Big or Small? This depends upon the physical space available to you. And the patience of your spouse or roommate. Determine where your topics will be arranged based on their usage and accessibility. For instance: I’m an author. I read lots of books about books and publishing, and lots of books about my craft—writing. So those books are in an easily accessible place in my center bookshelf; whereas, my poetry section is higher up because I access it only occasionally.

I have a separate space/bookshelf for oversized books. And they are on the TOP shelf. I’m tall and I’d rather take them down, than to bend over and have to lift heavier, bulkier books up. I don’t have to bend at all to deal with my oversized books. (Of course, you can imagine what my wife thinks of this strategy. The fact that I am too sedentary already is just cause for her concern that I bend more, not less.)

My library is arranged in sections. My sections are:

  • History(in order chronologically from ancient forward) with 3 primary sections
    • Early American
    • New England
    • WW II
  • Travel (early, maritime—this includes books about the ocean and seas)
  • Mountaineering—I love to read about mountain climbing and have a nice collection of 5 or 6 including audio books (which I keep in another section with all my books on tape or CD.)
  • Biography and Memoir (probably my largest section. Takes up three shelves)


Some folks just like to arrange their libraries alphabetically. Arranging alphabetically can be very useful. However, if you arrange them alphabetically by Title, you have no idea where to go to find a good novel to read or a work of poetry. If you arrange them alphabetically by Author, that’s better, but what if you don’t remember the author’s name? You’d have to search your whole library. If you were wise enough to place them according to subject or theme, then you might fare best of all. But I don’t like the idea of biographies being mixed in with books on boating.

I arrange alphabetically within some of my genres like biographies, memoirs, early American and British Literature and other topical sections. Chronological works best for histories and contemporary culture.

I heard of arranging by color, but that strikes me as using a library for fashion rather than reading. I could be wrong. But remember, if color is the way you want to arrange your library, it’s YOUR LIBRARY. Go for it!

One last word on the big picture–put in place some rules or guidelines you can live with and make decisions by:

The “Guidelines of Arrangement” I’ve operated under in my personal library:

Catalog all Books I have a database of my books. I happen to use a library program from I have used it for years and enjoy it immensely. I’ve heard of another one which I’d like to try, mainly because it’s cloud-based (stored on internet servers). This has several advantages. If there’s a fire, and my computer melts, I can access the database from any computer in any location. It will print a list and the cost of my library for insurance purposes. The address is:

Collect what you enjoy. You must allow your library to evolve according to your interests and passions. Your interests have probably guided you this far. Your passions will form the core of your collection. I chose the very best three to five books in each field of interest or passion.

I have two main collections. One is my spiritual library and the other is my general library. Each library is made up of a core of several categories which are important to me. For example: I am passionate about my ministry and my walk with Jesus. Naturally the core of my ministry library is made up of several related categories: biblical studies (old and new testaments); church history; theology; and, language study. My walk with Jesus is covered under spiritual autobiography and biography along with devotional literature. These broad categories form the core of my spiritual library.

The categories of my general library are: Classic literature (poetry, novels & short stories), Biography/Memoir, Contemporary Literature (poetry, novels & short stories); Maritime topics; Writing, Faerie, History (WWII & New England); travel; western writings; and, the largest collection–Books about books–reading, bibliophilia, book collecting and selling; and, publishing.

Choose carefully. Own only the books you KNOW you care enough about to read more than once.

Read what you collect. No matter how long it takes, read your books. They will teach you and speak to you. They will inform and expand your thinking and experience.

Share what you read. Let others enjoy what you have enjoyed. Share your library. Blog or journal. Be a lender to the people in your life who you know share your love of books or your core passion. Of course, make sure that those who borrow appreciate some understanding of the care and collecting of books. For example, I usually explain to someone who borrows a book of mine that I NEVER lay the book open. I ask them to likewise use a bookmark. I then explain that the spine can be broken or the glue be cracked by laying a book open, faced down. My watchword is “generosity” in all things. And lose a book before a friend. After all . . . a book is not more important than the people in my life.

QUESTION: What is the core of your personal library? Are you working an “arrangement plan”?

Photo: Tuscarora Resource Center library by David C Alves

©2011, David C Alves

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