QA: Organizing a library
Noah writes: Tony, I know you read LOTS of books and probably have lots of books. I have somewhere around 2,500 to 3,500 books in my personal library. It has gotten so big I can’t use it effectively. I am trying to organize it but don’t know how. How would you suggest organizing a library? I don’t want something as detailed as the Dewey Decimal system, but I need something more than ‘Commentaries’ and ‘Christian Living’ as categories. Also, how do you know which category a book belongs in? For example, R.C. Sproul’s stuff is written on a popular level and could be classified as ‘Christian Living’ or as ‘Theology’ as in the case of The Last Days According to Jesus. Thanks for your help. Noah
TSS says: Hello, Noah! This is a great question I get a lot. First, scrap the idea that your books are best organized physically on shelves. This is a big mental hindrance, as you know. Sadly a number of computer and online programs are better suited for book collectors rather than detail-minded Christian readers.
The physical location is important only so far as is makes each title (not each topic) easy to find. I arrange my topical and theological books by author, and commentaries by the biblical book covered (i.e. all commentaries on Romans are grouped together). Commentaries are easy, topical and theological books are tricky. Let’s talk about theose tricky topical books.
The key to organizing topical and theological books is electronic. I find electronic databases critical because (as you mentioned) most books fit multiple categories.
It’s very easy. Here’s what I do…
I start with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I run five columns across (A-E). The first three are topical (A-C) and grow increasingly specific as you move to the right. The fourth column (D) is the author and the final column (E) is the book title and page number where the specific subject is addressed. Once I input my data for each subject on a horizontal line, I sort the data into alphabetical order.
Here is one example. For our purposes I have taken 3 books and begun my spreadsheet. It looks like this:
- Biography > 19th century > Robert Murray M’Cheyne > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
- Christian living > Prayer > Call to diligence > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
- Christian living > Evangelism > [undefined] > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
- Ecclesiology > Outreach > Evangelism > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
- Theology > Calvinism > Defense of > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
- Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (pages)
- Theology > Soteriology > Union with Christ > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
I hope this makes sense, Noah. The key is to use electronic tagging system like this that allows you unlimited breakdowns of each book. Establishing this system takes some work on the front but will be worth it in the end. Feel free to modify the system to your own preferences!
Blessings to you, Noah! May God bless your reading and thank you for reading The Shepherd’s Scrapbook!
ADDENDUM: A second post was added to answer some common questions raised in the comments of this post. Click here.
Have a question of your own? Pass it along via email (tony AT takeupandread DOT com). Thanks for reading! Tony