Saturday, August 15, 2009

Organizing Part 2: The Bookshelves

I “finished” this project a few weeks ago, but other pressing projects have kept me from posting about it until now.  As our little collection of living books grew and grew quickly (thanks in part to my friend Donna’s purging of her own homeschool library – used book sale!), I knew that I would need some way to get a handle on organizing what we had. It does no good to have fantastic living books on squirrels or the five senses or Abraham Lincoln if you don’t remember that you have the book when the time comes to study each subject.

Enter the book organization project, Library Thing, and a helper elf.

Library Thing is an online book organizing system that is even used by some schools and smaller libraries to catalog books. You can enter up to 100 books for free (yeah, who has fewer than 100 books?) but a lifetime membership and the ability to add an endless number of tomes is only $25. I also spent $15 on one of their Cue Cat bar code readers to facilitate my book entry process.

There are many wonderful things about Library Thing. First, your catalog is stored off-site and you can access it from anywhere. The technically savvy could even pull it up on their iPhone or Blackberry while in the bookstore to avoid duplicate purchases.  You can also share libraries with others. If there is someone local to you whom you share books with this would be a great way to see what they have on hand (hint, hint local gals). Library Thing also includes a link to WorldCat which will allow you to search for titles and will tell you the closest libraries to your zip code which carry those titles. Love this feature. Finally, the best feature of Library Thing are the unlimited number of tags you can add to a book to help you categorize your home library.

Organizing a home library is not an easy process. In fact, I was quite daunted by it and put it off for a while. One day, though, I called in my Helper Elf (pre-teen from homeschool group out to make some spending money) and decided it could be put off no longer. Since you know I have to do before and after shots, when we started the bookshelves in the school room looked like this:



Umm, yeah, not looking so good, and the likelihood of finding anything was pretty small. So here are the steps we took to remedy the situation:

Step 1: Clear all the shelves and stack books by topic.  I had decided to organize the books by subject and then alphabetically by author. Each subject would get its own colored dot on the spine and be stored together. My subjects included: science and nature, math, language arts (includes literature and reading), social studies (includes history, geography, and civics), the arts, activity books, religion, and educational reference/homeschooling.

Step 2: Add the dots. Once we had huge stacks of books all about the room, Helper Elf stuck the colored dots on the spine of each book.

Step 3: Enter data into Library Thing. I would then take a stack of labeled books and scan the bar code or type in the ISBN or title to enter the book into Library Thing.  Once a books was entered, I would then tag it with the subject (science, math), the color of the dot (peach, green, blue), and then the topics covered in the book (farm, squirrels, American History, Civil War, etc). One note: the barcode scanner worked okay. Honestly it was probably just a quick to type in the ISBN number from the rear of the book, so if you want to save the $15 don’t feel like the scanner is a must. I will say the scanner automatically put the book in your library. Typing the number pulled up a “list” of books (often the only book on the “list” was the one you were after). It then took an extra mouse click to add the book to your library. On the other hand, at least half the time I had to swipe a book more than once to get the bar code to scan, so time saved on the extra click is a toss-up. Also, I had a small stack of books by private publishers that were not in the Library Thing catalog. I was able to enter the information for those books manually to put them in my library.

Step 4: Alphabetize and store. Once an entire section of colored dots were completed, we would alphabetize the section by author and add them to the shelves.

What does this mean for me?

Searching by Theme: Now when I want a book on a particular topic I can click on the descriptive tag (i.e. farm) and see every book I own and where it is stored. Some farm-themed books may be under math, activity, science, or literature, but Library Thing helps me to find them all.

Searching by Subject: I can also simply click on a subject tag like math or science and see my entire library for that subject. Since we are in the younger grades I might as well teach on the topics we already have books for instead of buying new ones and this helps with that process.

Not to mention, my shelves now look much better:


As you can see, I now have room for even more books! My Library Thing Library only has just over 400 right now. (Only homeschool books are entered. I am not even planning on entering personal reading books at this point.)

My next big plans for Library Thing are to add in all the ebooks that I own and to catalog my audio books as well. Most of those will have to be added manually, but it is so important as right now they are just a list of computer files, and I would be hard pressed to find anything relevant to a subject when I wanted it. Once they are sorted and tagged, though, it will be info at my fingertips. Of course I also have to maintain my catalog and I am tagging, entering, and filing new books as they come in to the house.

More info coming soon in other posts about shopping for books and how Library Thing can help you organize the books you don’t own (yes, I really said that).


  1. I like how you are using your LibraryThing catalog. I will have to add additional tags to my catalog once I get everything out of storage and into once place. But for now, I'm just happy to have a listing of most of our homeschool books.

    Thanks for the reminder and idea that I should expand my LibraryThing catalog to include helping me locate where my books are stored!

  2. Where did you get those bookshelves? Are they open face kitchen cabinets?

  3. Mary - The bookshelves were custom built. We had the whole wall-unit done when the room was added to the house.