“When I have a house of my own,” said a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “I shall be quite miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

While many of us can’t imagine living without books, housing them can be a problem. Even a small collection takes up space and needs to be organized and stored.

If you’re ready to turn a pile of books into an orderly and beloved library, here are some guidelines for organizing your collection and building it into something really special.

° Take an inventory of the books you currently own.  Do you really want to keep that old college biology book? The forgotten bestseller from 1990?

Your library will serve your needs best when it’s made up of books you truly love. Begin by pruning your collection.

Before you give away books you no longer want, check with family members and friends to see if anyone wants to adopt your castoffs. Box up unwanted titles and sell them to a used bookdealer or donate them to a literacy project or thrift store.

° Organize the books you want to keep.  Group books together by subject and alphabetize them by author within each section.

As your library grows, new acquisitions fit naturally and neatly into existing departments.

 ° While family members may have their personal books housed in their bedrooms, ask them to share favorites with everyone. The bookshelves in your home should reflect the reading tastes of the people who live there, not just the adult readers.

My daughter has introduced me to wonderful books throughout her life that I would have missed without her recommendation. Sharing a passion for reading should not be just an adult-to-child activity.  Sample books that your kids love, too.

° Keep book notes. Your trips to the bookstore will be more fruitful if you have particular titles in mind to investigate. When a friend suggests a book or you read a review or see an author interviewed on television, jot down the title and any other special information about the book  you want to remember.

These lists also come in handy at gift-giving time when a friend or family member asks for suggestions for the perfect gift.

 ° Track down alternative sources of books.  Many bookstores rely heavily on new titles, but don’t stock books that were on the scene a year or so ago.

Library sales, secondhand bookstores, out-of-print search firms and garage sales are all places where you might uncover a treasure.

Of course, there are online sources as well. Thriftbooks is a new favorite of mine.

Many booklovers build visits to great bookstores into their travels, too. If you’re traveling to another part of the country or abroad, investigate the local book scene.

° Make a hobby of acquiring a special collection.  Cookbook libraries are especially popular, but you can have the fun of collecting anything that pleases you. Your friends and family can share in the hunt for new additions.

Of course, a specialized collection acquired over the years can become valuable and be sold or donated to a favorite college or library—or passed on as an heirloom.

° Don’t forget the classics. Those wonderful stories that have thrilled readers for generations deserve a spot in your library, too.

Having the great books on hand will make them accessible to your children.  It will also invite you to reread them. Meeting Silas Marner as an adult isn’t at all like meeting him in junior high school.

 “When you reread a classic,” says Clifton Fadiman, “you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.”

° Design a personal reading project.  When a friend introduced me to British writer Barbara Pym, I decided to sample one of her stories. I was so enchanted by it that I couldn’t stop until I had read every single book she’d written.

Whether it’s a favorite author or a theme or a new subject that interests you, give yourself the gift of a personally created reading project, one that spans several months or, even,  years. It will enrich both you and your library.

Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borge once mused, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you get there to experience the pleasure a library can bring.  Best of all, you  can spend everyday surrounded by the books that you love and cherish most.


Another great idea featured in USA Today: Little Libraries Sprouting Up On Lawns.




















Organizing guru Peter Walsh says, “You can’t have more books than you have bookshelves.” I totally agree with him—in theory. Let’s just say I won’t be inviting him over for tea anytime soon.

Every room in my house except the bathrooms have bookshelves and, still, there are piles of books on the floor of my office, living room and bedroom. I’ve made a serious attempt to weed my collection, but find that most of the books I’m willing to pass along are unsolicited review copies or something I ordered without doing proper research.  The rest refuse to budge.

I look at the English literature textbooks I taught from decades ago and would no more throw them away than I would my daughter’s baby pictures.  Libraries built over time tell stories of their own about where we’ve been and who we were. If we’re doing it right, our libraries also speak about the person we are becoming.

As if to reassure me that holding on to old favorites is a good thing, I recently took two books off the shelf that I hadn’t opened in ages. One of those was Jerry Gilles’ Moneylove .

As I browsed through the pages, I had a strong urge to reread the book that had opened my mind to a more prosperous way of thinking and behaving.  That book has been in my library for about thirty years and has accompanied me on several moves around the country.

Clifton Fadiman, booklover extraordinare, once said, “When you reread a classic and find more in it, it’s not because there’s more in the book. It’s because there’s more in you.”

As I reacquainted myself with Moneylove, I realized that it wasn’t Gilles’ words and ideas that had changed, but I certainly wasn’t the same person I had been when I first encountered the book.

The other old friend that I spent time with was a woman named Faith Addis. I’m not sure if I got her books here or on a visit to London.  At any rate, I do recall that my Aunt Marge had heard about Addis’ book Year of the Cornflake and was so amused by the title that she urged me to track it down.

As I was heading out on a trip, I scanned my bookshelves looking for something to read on my flights. I had wanted to take a novel, but none of my fiction collection seemed right.

Then I spied the Addis books on my business shelf and rather reluctantly grabbed Taking the Biscuit, the final installment of her Down to Earth series.

It turned out to be a perfect choice. I was struck on this reading by something that I hadn’t recognized before: although I’ve read numerous business biographies, I can’t recall any that made me laugh like Addis does.

The series begins after Faith and Brian Addis,  who were bored to tears running a florist shop in London, decided to sell their house and move to the Devon countryside where they embarked on a number of entrepreneurial ventures.

At the time of Taking the Biscuit, Faith had built a booming business as a mobile dog groomer. That might not sound like much of an adventure, but in the hands of this skillful storyteller (and observer of human behavior), it’s fascinating.

This book also includes tales of their start-up project turning several glasshouses into a nursery. Faith also has visions of becoming a worm tycoon.

As I shared these adventures, I kept thinking that more people would jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon if they only knew how much fun people like the Addis couple were having.

Although I had contemplated pruning these books, I decided they were keepers.

So I’m going to continue my attempts to reduce my book collection ever so slightly,  but it could take years as I rediscover old friends I’d forgotten and decide to spend time with them again.

To justify doing so, I’ll stop listening to Peter Walsh and instead remember Anna Quindlen’s  observation: “I would be most happy if my children grew up to be the kind of people whose idea of decorating is to add more bookshelves.”