I have a collection of (physical) books that I plan on growing. I want to organize them in a way where I can easily find a book, remove it, and replace it in the same spot.

I have books that are many different sizes. Height is a big enough problem by itself, but my books also have varying widths and thicknesses (e.g. large paperbacks that are almost as thin as comic books, hardcover art books that are not only thick but wide, and very small paperbacks).

Most books have their title along the spine, but not all of them do.

Cuurrently, the books are organized loosely by topic on several bookshelves. This means that finding and removing specific books can be difficult if the title is not on the spin or if the book is significantly smaller than the books next to it. Replacing a book (especially if it is one of the smaller books) is also difficult since I can lose the space the book was in. These problems are made worse by the fact that some book series I own do not keep a consistent size throughout the series.

Searching has mostly yielded results about organizing books to look cute or adding decorations. This is not what I want. I want a simple way to display my books so that I can access them and replace them easily; the aesthetic is more or less irrelevant (I can worry about that separately).

I did find this somewhat related question, where the OP asks how to organize a shelf. My shelf is already "organized" (not a mess), but I want to make my books easier to access. I also found questions about storing books without a bookshelf (I'm fine with using a bookshelf) and many posts about preserving books, none of which are relevant.

How can I organize my books for easy access?

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    Hi Klaus, Welcome to lifehacks. Be sure to visit the Tour and Help center to find out how to get the most from our particular site on StackExchange. There is a badge waiting for you to put on your ID for the effort. – Stan Dec 4 '20 at 18:07
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    To make my book collection more usable, I stopped purchasing physical books (with very rare exceptions). Digital books are searchable, don't require paper, don't degrade over time, are not damaged by water, are easily to annotate and highlight, and make it quick to look up definitions/translations of individual words. They don't take up a significant amount of physical space, and when it's time to move, they are almost as light as a feather. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Dec 6 '20 at 13:29

I had a similar problem. I've got a modular bookcase where you can place the shelves at varying heights. To maximize the number of books, I placed the shelves quite close together. That led to issues with keeping books organized: books from the same author with different heights would end up on different shelves.

I ended up increasing the space between shelves a bit for many of the shelves, to make sure I could keep all books by one author together on a shelf (the most prolific ones have more than one shelf: Terry Prattchett's complete works are about 1.2 m of shelf space).

I found I have 2 major categories of books: A4 and similar sizes (mostly informative books), vs. pockets and up to ~A5 (novels). There's a few dedicated A4 shelves, the rest are 20-25 cm high.

Organizing principles:

  • all books by an author on the same shelf
  • books by an author are in chronological order
  • When I remove a book, I rotate the adjacent book through 90º, this makes it easy to find where the book came from.
  • informative books are sorted by topic rather than author. I tend to have a shelf dedicated to a topic.
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    You 'tip' the adjacent book 90° out of position to make the location more obvious? This is a great TIP. +1 – Stan Dec 4 '20 at 18:59
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    I just reorganized this way today and it seems to work great! Tipping the books isn't 100% since I have some books that are nearly square, but it seems to work so far. – Klaus Haukenstein Dec 5 '20 at 17:28
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    when you tip a book, you're no longer looking at the spine but at the stack of pages, which helps you find the book again. You can also leave the book sticking out a bit to make it even more obvious. – Hobbes Dec 5 '20 at 17:32

One option for marking the spot a book has been removed from is to insert a token of some sort: tab made from a manila folder or card stock, plastic tab, bookmark with tassel, etc.

When a related volume must be stored elsewhere, perhaps a reference object (piece of manila folder, card stock, etc.) with the location marked.

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    Hi Technophile, Welcome to Lifehacks. By a token, you must mean a "BOOK MARK." (chuckle, chuckle). – Stan Dec 5 '20 at 5:10
  • +1 as a token of appreciation. – Stan Dec 5 '20 at 5:13
  • Although this answer isn't complete, it does solve a part of the problem quite nicely. I think I'll try this as well as the accepted answer. – Klaus Haukenstein Dec 5 '20 at 17:29

My hack is for part of the question – replacing a book in its original position.

  • Withdraw the adjacent book part way, so that you can see the place.

If that is made awkward because neighbouring books are different sizes, then also

  • Rotate the adjacent book so that you can see its top/bottom instead of the spine.

Having said that, I organise my books primarily by height, because the shelves are of different sizes. This also makes them easier to manage by not having large books next to small ones, and easy to scan the titles.

I also have different types of books on shelves in different rooms. For example fiction and general interest is in the lounge, technical books in the office.

  • You 'tip' the adjacent book 90° out of position to make the location more obvious? This is a great TIP. +1 – Stan Dec 4 '20 at 18:58
  • @Stan I wish I had thought of that pun :-) – Weather Vane Dec 4 '20 at 18:59

Organizing a book collection can be made easier by isolating some exceptions that can be problematic.

Libraries pull large books aside and store them together separately in an "Oversize" section. If most of your books are large then you would pull small books aside to store together.

Most all books made for mass market are very similar in size to accommodate easy handling and storage. Unless you have a special-interest collection (Maps, charts, graphic content, etc.), most books fall into an octavo format (between 8 — 10 inches (200 — 250 mm) tall) with a few in quarto format.

A quantity of subject-related paperback bound books that would take up more space stored vertically can be stacked horizontally on top of each other between two taller vertical hard-bound ones. The titles now show horizontally and easier to read. Note that books in English can be stored face-up to be right-reading while French titles must be face-down to have the spine printing to appear right-reading plus facilement.

Every once in a while, one large volume with a subject topic shared with smaller ones can be stored flat under (and serves as a base for) the smaller publications.

Book cases and shelving tend to easily adjustable and more narrow to conserve space than utility shelving built for boxes and oddly-shaped things to display or store. Excess space in front, on top, and behind publications is wasted.

Good luck.

  • Some of my books are stacked vertically right now, and I find that makes them much harder to replace since I have to also move other books in the stack. It is efficient on space, but makes actually reading the books hard. The "Oversize" idea that libraries use seems helpful though; I might try that. – Klaus Haukenstein Dec 4 '20 at 21:27
  • When stacked, I simply put the last-removed book on the top of the stack. The order is less important to me than the conservation of space. My tallest stack is only 21 books—easy enough to scan quickly and their covers are distinctive enough to tell them apart. Stacked space is 18cm wide; vertically placed space needed is 30cm — a saving of 40%. @KlausHaukenstein – Stan Dec 4 '20 at 23:57
  • If all your books are 20-30 cm high you have a rather limited collection. Mine go from 4 cm to 45 cm, with a few specials which are not as high but very deep, those have to be on the shelf with their spines sticking up. The 'worst' of those now uses a 50 cm high shelf space. – Willeke Dec 6 '20 at 17:34

Put them in a giant building with giant shelves to accommodate ample spacing for all size books. Just do it like barnes and noble. In this way you can have the option to sort by topic and by size and there's enough room to display the book title for any style of book design.

If you don't have a giant building reduce the number of shelves or books. If you don't have giant shelves a bit of light carpentry can modify existing shelves.


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    You can save some space by having only one copy of each book. – Weather Vane Dec 5 '20 at 20:37
  • Yes, brilliant! – ThisClark Dec 6 '20 at 14:53

I also have my books roughly divided by subject and within the subjects by height. Some subjects I have spread over three part shelves, other subjects take several full shelves.
Those books that are roughly the same size from the same author are shelved together and in order. (Mostly in order of the series as I have several writers with several series.)
But if a book does not fit the shelf, it goes to an other shelf where it more or less fits with the other books.

The most important difference with the first two answers, I do not worry too much where a book lands when I re-shelve it. It will be on the shelf it belongs, but it might be a few places over.
When looking for a book I may have to search a bit longer, but if I remember the size of the book it will not be too hard.

I do spend time, every few months, reshelving the books in order, one shelf at a time.

The more you do with your books, the better you remember where they are shelved.
It does not work for me to mark the place on the shelf as mostly the books come out for days or weeks, and often with several in a row, re-reading a series or researching a topic and using several books on the same or similar topics.

In short, if you can be very organized, be it. But if like me you are not, handle the books often enough that you know where it belongs and what it looks like.

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