Bookshelf Organization

Bookshelf Organization | The Reading Mother

When I get a little money, I buy books . . .  ~ Erasmus

Among many other charms and commendations, books provide most welcoming room decor. Here in our little cottage, book-laden shelves truly do welcome us back home at night, surrounding us with cheerful comfort as we gather together in the evening after supper by the fire. What’s more, books promote hospitality. Well-stocked shelves invite guests to grab a book and browse, to sit and stay awhile.

Yes, we have books and books and books here. When we moved into this house several years ago, one of our kind helpers was overheard to mutter quietly: “Note to self: never help a homeschool family move again . . .”

Bibliophile though I am, there is also an obsessive-compulsive neat-o-phile in me as well. Hence, our books, like everything else, must have a home and some kind of rhyme and reason to the way they are shelved so that I can actually find them when I need them.

As our book collection has grown over the years, I’ve tried various systems. Of course, there are some categories that really must be observed. We need our home school books in the schoolroom. I need my literature and grammar and poetry texts in my office cubby. The kids all have bookshelves in their rooms for their personal collections. Cookbooks . . . well, of course, they belong in the kitchen!

When we moved here, I did make one big change to the way I organize our books. Instead of strictly age- and reading-level shelving, I decided to devote large sections of shelves to a category, say Poetry, and then include some children’s books within that category. I like this. Whenever I need to study a particular book or subject, I usually begin my research with a well-written children’s version first. (Well-written generally means it was written in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century by a classical scholar — meeting the Charlotte Mason “person who loves his subject” test. But I digress.) This shelving system makes such research very convenient. I also like what it says to the children in our lives: These books are all accessible to you; some now, some later. Books are not any less important for being “children’s” books.

Here’s a quick tour of our bookshelves:

Bookshelf Organization | The Reading Mother

This is half entry-hall, half edge of family room. Someday, we would love to surround the piano with built-in bookshelves, but for now our Ikea Billys do their duty. The shelf on the left is basically literature, with the top shelf devoted to books ABOUT literature, and the rest devoted to the real thing, roughly in chronological order from ancients to modernity. Since I have an extreme fondness for Brit lit, including large doses of Dickens, that needed its own four shelves on the right, again, roughly arranged in chronological order from top to bottom. The second-from-the-bottom tall shelves are perfect for  the taller art and music books on the left, and nature study  and science books on the right. Both shelves are anchored on the bottom shelf with the 1963 Encyclopedia Britannica which my parents confided to our care many years ago.

We did have built-ins added on either side of the fireplace. On the left, there are history books, with several lovely old sets which were either inherited from parents and grandparents or purchased at yard sales. On the right, we have theology and poetry — a completely appropriate pairing in my mind.

Bookshelf Organization | The Reading Mother

We recently acquired a lovely big china closet for the dining room, and this dear little one was freed up to embrace its true calling — teacups and books — in our bedroom. The books here are a mix of theology that didn’t fit on the shelf next to the fireplace, practical Christian living, and my Mitford books. I think there are a few Michael Phillips edited George MacDonald Scottish novels there too. (I have come to prefer unedited MacDonald, but these were a good start for me.)

Bookshelf Organization | The Reading Mother

On the stair landing, the grandchildrens’ book nook. These are the best of the best children’s storybooks. Charlie and I have spent a lot of time here so far; he also spends a fair amount of time sitting on the step and enjoying “his” books on his own. That beautiful handcrafted bookcase is a treasured gift from Charlie’s dad, circa age 18, when he worked for a local cabinet-maker. He was graciously allowed some nights and weekends in the shop so he could keep it a complete surprise from me. Joy for a reading mother’s heart!

Bookshelf Organization | The Reading Mother

And finally, for now, here is the schoolroom bookcase at the top of the stairs. We’ve had these Ikea bookshelves for many years, and were totally delighted to find that they were almost a perfect fit in the little cubby at the top of the stairs. The middle section houses our Landmark collection. On the left are several vintage series like my Anne of Green Gables and Rick’s Golden Encyclopediae of History and Science, along with some outstanding republications of other vintage series like the Living History books. History and science curriculum is on the bottom left. On the right is language stuff – Latin, Greek, and English. And, oh look, there’s a big stack of Cottage Press Language Arts books in the middle.

So as I bring this monster post to an end, I’ll confess that I’ve actually been composing it for some time in my mind. I kept waiting for the day when I would get those bookshelves in apple-pie order, and could take Pinterest-ready photos.

Yes, well. Two problems with that. One, we LIVE with our books. This is how our bookcases look most of the time. Mom is not the only user or returner of books, and it shows! The missing books are here, there, and everywhere throughout the house. And two, stacks of books accumulate as more books come home to an already groaning shelf. One fine day, an organizing frenzy will hit; books will get shuffled and reshelved. Someday Dickens will probably merit his very own bookcase, with a little space for his dear friend Trollope.

And that explains why you are getting an impromptu dark and snowy day tour with mediocre pictures —I’m a much better reader than photographer! — and messy shelves.

Welcome! We’re glad you stopped by. Why don’t you sit a spell and read?


4 thoughts on “Bookshelf Organization

  1. I am the same way with my books and have tried different approaches. Right now I’m completely out of bookshelf space and my newly inherited Landmarks are waiting for shelf space. A whole bookcase of Landmarks!! What heaven! Mine will have to share with my Childhood of Famous Americans when we get a new spot. I’m glad you share my problem of stacks of books here and there, waiting to be returned to their appropriate spot…but what joy that they are being read.

Leave a Reply