Category Archives: Library organization

Organizing a library: Addendum

tss-baseball.jpgYesterday morning I realized my post on organizing a library was incomplete. I answered Noah’s question about books, but without explaining the bigger picture of my organizational method I left out key pieces. So today I hope to complete the puzzle.

When I initially set out to organize my library, I was thinking only of printed books. And because I was only thinking of printed books, I invested in an electronic book organization software called Booxter (Mac only). Loved it! I hooked up my webcam and the webcam read the barcode off most books, automatically retrieving the book information from Amazon. It was fun. I scanned about 10 books per minute. All my books were added into the database and I felt all organized.

But then reality hit.

First, I realized I have 3,000 original Puritan and Reformed electronic books on my computer. How do I organize those on Booxter? Then I realized I had a massive mp3 sermon collection on my hard drive, and I had no idea what content I actually possessed. Then I came across great quotes on blogs and websites. How do I catalogue them? And what about my file folders of magazine clippings? And what about my personal sermon notes? And what about favorite quotes? I realized printed books comprised less than half of my library!

Which is why I eventually scrapped Booxter and returned to the Microsoft Excel database (explained last time).

Although it seems a bit archaic, in a customized database I can equally categorize books, chapters of books, single quotes from books, magazine articles, blog posts, websites, mp3 audio sermons, DVDs, personal sermon notes, online videos and any other form of media.

Here’s what I mean.

Using the same format I proposed in the last post, I will to add to my database.

1. Blog posts or websites

Spreadsheets allow me to hyperlink text to the web or an electronic file on my computer. Sometimes I forget the rich quotes I posted in the TSS archives! I never want to forget the quote by John Piper on “What is sin?” But I don’t want to print this quote out and stuff it into some forgettable file folder. Here are two examples of how I index blog posts in my database:

  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > rebellion towards God > John Piper > TSS post 2/19/07 [hyperlinked]
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > woven into heart > David Powlison > TSS post 6/25/07 [hyperlinked]

2. Audio and video

Audio sermons and videos, either on your hard drive or on the Web, are easily organized, too. Even your DVD collection will fit. Let me give you some examples:

  • Biographical > 18th century > Jonathan Edwards > John Piper > online video [hyperlinked]
  • Christian life > Perseverance > Don’t waste your life > John Piper > mp3 on HD
  • Parenting > Cross Centered > overview > C.J. Mahaney > mp3 on HD
  • Theology > Calvinism > overview > R.C. Sproul > What is Reformed Theology? DVD series

3. Personal sermon notes

I take a lot of sermon notes because I sit under excellent biblical preaching! I write in a Moleskin notebook I fill annually. Once the notebook is stuffed, I write in my own page numbers so I can index. As of today I’m over half done with volume three. Here are my recent sermon notes …

  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > Rick Gamache > 7/1/07 sermon, MS 3:75-76
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Bound by love > Rick Gamache > 7/8/07 sermon, MS 3:77-78
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Humility > Rick Gamache > 7/15/07 sermon, MS 3:79-80
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Confession > Mark Alderton > 7/22/07 sermon, MS 3:85-86
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Correction > Mark Alderton > 7/29/07 sermon, MS 3:87-88
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Speech that gives grace > Rick Gamache > 8/19/07 sermon, MS 3:95-96
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Maintaining unity of > Rick Gamache > 8/26/07 sermon, MS 3:97-98

Putting it all together

So let’s assemble the entire database from today and last time:

  • Biographical > 18th century > Jonathan Edwards > John Piper > online video [hyperlink]
  • Biographical > 19th century > Robert Murray M’Cheyne > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
  • Christian life > Evangelism > [undefined] > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Bound by love > Rick Gamache > 7/8/07 sermon, MS 3:77-78
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Humility > Rick Gamache > 7/15/07 sermon, MS 3:79-80
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Confession > Mark Alderton > 7/22/07 sermon, MS 3:85-86
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Correction > Mark Alderton > 7/29/07 sermon, MS 3:87-88
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Speech that gives grace > Rick Gamache > 8/19/07 sermon, MS 3:95-96
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Maintaining unity of > Rick Gamache > 8/26/07 sermon, MS 3:97-98
  • Christian life > Perseverance > Don’t waste your life > John Piper > mp3 on HD
  • Christian life > Prayer > call to diligence > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
  • Ecclesiology > Outreach > Evangelism > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > rebellion towards God > John Piper > TSS post 2/19/07 [hyperlink]
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > woven into heart > David Powlison > TSS post 6/25/07 [hyperlink]
  • Parenting > Cross Centered > overview > C.J. Mahaney > mp3 on HD
  • Soteriology > Union with Christ > [undefined] > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
  • Theology > Calvinism > Defense of > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
  • Theology > Calvinism > overview > R.C. Sproul > What is Reformed Theology DVD series
  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > Rick Gamache > 7/1/07 sermon, MS 3:75-76
  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (pages)

As you can see, my system provides great flexibility to organize any type of media as specifically as you prefer, a limitation of Booxter and Library Thing.

All these categories are customizable. Change and modify as needed and then simply sort the data alphabetically (Excel does this with one click of a button).

Added benefits

There are three great benefits to creating your own categories on a spreadsheet (besides an organized library).

1. Mental organization. In essence you are forced to organize your thoughts systematically. If you have trouble seeing the big picture (as I do) a list of categories will help you organize your thoughts systematically.

2. Prioritizing the small. Small bits of information and precious short quotes are easily forgotten between all the books in your library shelves. In my system it doesn’t matter how wide the spine is, because it places importance not on the size of the work, but its value to you.

3. Strengths/weaknesses. Being forced to categorize all your media will reveal your interests and strengths but also your library’s weaknesses that should be more thoroughly studied.

LibraryThing

I get a lot of questions about LibraryThing, an online book organizing system. I guess this is a good place for some thoughts…

Part of my occupation is online marketing and I can spot online money-making techniques fairly quickly. I noticed LibraryThing is affiliated with Amazon and makes commissions on all Amazon purchases through LT links. This is why book recommendations and Amazon are both prominent themes of the website. LT is essentially a brilliant marketing tool that uses your public library information to unite readers with similar interests to convince them to buy books through Amazon and make an affiliate profit though these sales (on top of payment for LT services).

I’m not against LibraryThing and see great social benefits to using it. But please remember they can use your library to sell similar books to readers of similar interests. I cannot find where this is disclosed on the website.

Please, always consider buying from a reformed bookseller (like Monergism Books) to support them in their valuable ministry.

Does this post help clarify my organizational system? Let me know and thanks for reading TSS!

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UPDATE: Augustine’s Confessions is a personal favorite (Vintage Spiritual Classics edition). Augustine covers several diverse topics and gives great examples of various life situations. To help give you a better understanding of the value of indexing quotes and ideas, I post a pdf edition of my personal notes. The index is old and detailed and my system has since changed in some ways but it illustrates the important freedom needed to categorize single books in various categories and point to specific pages/chapters. See for yourself and download my personal index.

QA: Organizing a library

tssqa.jpgNoah 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!

Tony

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ADDENDUM: A second post was added to answer some common questions raised in the comments of this post. Click here.

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Have a question of your own? Pass it along via email (tony AT takeupandread DOT com). Thanks for reading! Tony

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