Saturday, January 11, 2020

Day 11: Organize Your Books

Got books? Silly question. You're a genealogist. Of course you have books. Do you know exactly which books you have? Ever bought a copy of a book and discovered that you already owned it? (Did you ever do this more than once with the same book? Asking for a ... friend.) Clearly, you need a system for your books.

OK, you already know the drill for how to organize. Keep it simple, and keep things needed frequently close to hand. That means that the nearest bookshelf needs to have the books you use most often. And all the rest of your books need to have some sort of order. Now, as a librarian by profession, I suppose I could make some sort of recommendation relating to how to arrange your books. Dewey Decimal? Library of Congress? Let's go simpler than that.

How to proceed also depends on how many books you own. When I moved from South Carolina to Florida in 1990, I had about 40 boxes of books. When I moved 4.5 years later from an apartment to a house, I had 50 boxes. I've downsized since then, but I estimate that I might still have around 6000 books (a lot are genealogy books, but I do own books on lots of different topics). You may have more books than that, but perhaps you have less.

Today, we've all got a new option: Digitized books. Do we really need a print copy if a free digital version is available, let's say at FamilySearch? Probably not. Check your oldest books (those no longer under copyright, usually published before 1925) to see if someone has digitized them and made them available online, and take your unneeded items to a genealogy society meeting to give away. 

For the remaining books, you need to know exactly what you still have, and a way to organize them. Let's start with the cataloging process. I recommend that you use LibraryThing, a website. It's free for up to 200 books (so you can play with it to see if you like it), but it's only $25/lifetime for as many books as you like. Once you have all your books in LibraryThing, you can check it going forward before you buy any additional books.

How hard is it to put your books into LibraryThing? You can scan the bar code (if the book is recent enough to have one) in order to automatically add it to your personal catalog. Or you can type part of the title or the author's name and it will look it up in online catalogs and give you a one-button option to add it to your catalog with all the needed info.

You can tag your books in LibraryThing with such things as surnames, geographic locations, and type of content. But now let's get back to the physical organization. It might seem obvious, but yes, you'll want to organize primarily by geography (countries, states, counties) so that books about the same places are grouped together. Once you get to the appropriate geographic level, feel free to alphabetize by author.

No, you're probably not going to finish this task all in one day. But you could probably do one bookshelf a week. In a few months, you're done!


  1. I actually know that "friend" you mentioned. Before LibraryThink, he actually had bought three copies of the same book! (Gift time!)

  2. I've used Goodreads for years, but also download from Goodreads and save on my PC in an Excel spreadsheet, so I can organize any way I choose. My physical books - 2,500 - are in very good order. All the genealogy books are in a basket near my desk.

  3. So enjoying your posts, I can see my physical desktop for the first time in ages. I have shared the links in my President's report to our local group downunder, THANKYOU.

    I love Librarything I joined in 2006. What I am finding hopeful is that a number of genealogy societies are moving into the 21st Century and using Librarything's companion product TinyCat to organise their physical libraries rather than homegrown options.

    The other thing I like about Librarything are the search functions. Very often I can't remember the details of a book I want to recommend to someone and a search of my tags on Librarything finds the book details for me.

    Being able to follow genimates and browse their collection on Librarything is another beaut feture.