Books
7:59 am
Sat December 21, 2013

How To Organize A Bookshelf

Originally published on Sat December 21, 2013 11:12 am

Chances are, many of us will own a few more books after the holidays. But even if the books you have are carefully stored and cataloged, where do you put new ones?

We asked a few listeners how they organize their book collections. And there is no one we turn to more for wise advice than our Librarian Emerita Kee Malesky, author of All Facts Considered and Learn Something New Every Day.


Our Listeners

Tyler Tankersly of Kansas City, Mo.

In third grade, I was made to memorize the order of the presidents. I remember it. I can still sing it: "George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson" ... When I buy a presidential biography, I am singing that song to myself as I place it on the shelf. All of my presidential biographies — and I have about 20 now — they are all in the order that the presidents served.

Kate McDermott of Port Angeles, Wash.

I have my books arranged on my bookshelf by color, which works for me. It's a way that I can see them and find them easily. I guess that's just how my brain works ... I found that a majority of the books on my shelf have to do with my love of pie making. The red books tend to be baking, my older books seem to be browns and tan, and many of the cooking books — like The Greens books — are actually green ... The first thing that people say when they see them is how it's beautiful art. There have been people who have said this is actually inspiring for them — that they're going to do this, too.

Karen Alea Ford of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

I was sucked into the Pinterest craze for sure ... There were a few in rainbow order and I was just taken with this. I got sucked into this whole idea of the color coordination ... The other day someone wanted to borrow, Of Mice and Men, and I was saying, "Is it white? Is it white?" No, its ecru. I could never find Of Mice and Men, and I've done that for three books now, and I'm so frustrated ...

It's sort of like having a child and you go through labor, and think, "Oh my gosh, I'm not going to do that again." You have to wait and forget that experience before you do it again. And that's what I'm trying to do before I reorganize it. I have to get rid of that pain before I reorganize it into something that makes sense.

David May of Massachusetts

David's interest in cataloging books started when he got a job in his college library 60 years ago. He "became so enamored by the Dewey Decimal system that I decided I would arrange my own books that way. So, I sneaked the library's copy of An Introduction to Cataloging and the Classification of Books back to my room and puzzled out simplified Dewey numbers and taped them onto the spines of my books.

"It was a pointless thing to do because I only had 20 books, most of which were textbooks. And after a year or two, of course, I gave it up because I was embarrassed by it ... [but] the sense of order that created was very gratifying and I dreamed about a day when I would have a personal library of 10,000 books, all organized by Dewey's wonderfully precise system of organizing human knowledge."


NPR Librarian Kee Malesky

Is there a right way to store books so that you can find them?

Not in your home. There's no library SWAT police that's going to show up and tell you you have mis-arranged your books and you must use a different system. Obviously, it's whatever works for you. If you only have a few books, you probably don't need a system. If you have thousands, you might want to use Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress. Or even arranging by size or color.

What about Karen and her library of many colored books?

If she can find the books she wants, then it's a workable system.

How do you do it?

I'm probably not the only librarian in the world who's much more organized on the job than at home. We do have lots and lots of books. We have one room designated as the library, which is just shelves of books and chairs and a desk. But unfortunately, there are also stacks of books on the floor all over the house.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Chances are many of us will own a few more books in a few days. But if you're getting books as gifts, it's probably because friends have already seen them in your place. And even if the books you have are carefully stored and catalogued, where do you put new ones? We asked a few people how they organize their book collections:

TYLER TANKERSLY: My name is Tyler Tankersly in Kansas City. In third grade, I was made to memorize the order of the presidents. It was a song - I remember it. I could still sing it: (Singing) George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson...and so that has stuck with me. And so when I buy a presidential biography, I am singing...(Singing) James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor...that song to myself as I place it on the shelf. (Singing) Dear Grover Cleveland...All of my presidential biographies - and I have about 20 now - (Singing) McKinley...they are all in the order that the presidents served. (Singing) Abraham Lincoln....

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAREN ALEA FORD: It's Karen Alea Ford from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I thought I wanted to get creative when the Pinterest craze started. There was a few in rainbow order and I was taken with this. I just thought, oh, look at that rainbow of words. And the other day someone wanted to borrow "Of Mice and Men," and I was saying, you know, is it white? Is it white? No, it's ecru. You know, and I was just going through and I could never find "Of Mice and Men." I've done that for three books now, and I'm so frustrated that I think why did it do this?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FORD: And it's sort of like having a child and you go through labor, and you're, like, oh my gosh, I'm not going to do that again. You have to wait till you forget that experience before you do it again. And that's what I'm trying to do before I reorganize it. I have to get rid of that pain before I reorganize it into something that makes sense.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: It's clear that we need professional advice. And there's no one we turn to more for wise advice than our librarian emerita Kee Malesky, who joins us is in our studios. Kee, thanks so much for being with us.

KEE MALESKY, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Is there a right way to store books so that you can find them?

MALESKY: Not in your home. There's no library SWAT police that's going to show up and tell you you have misarranged your books and you must use a different system. Obviously, it's whatever works for you. If you have only a few books, you probably don't need a system. If you have thousands, you might want to use Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress, or even arranging by size or color.

SIMON: Well, I wanted to follow up on that, 'cause Karen and her library of many colored books - now, that's the sort of thing where I can imagine some book lovers hearing that and thinking that makes no sense.

MALESKY: If she can find the books she wants, then it's a workable system.

SIMON: Can I ask how you do it?

MALESKY: No. I'm probably not the only librarian in the world who's much more organized on the job than at home. And we do have lots and lots of books. We have one room designated as the library, which is just shelves of books and chairs and a desk. But unfortunately, there are also stacks of books on the floor all over the house.

SIMON: Kee, this is a rough week for us, and for our listeners, who are soon going to lose the benefit of having your advice and precision, which is audible in each and every segment on this program.

MALESKY: Yes, I'm sort of retiring. I decided to do so while I'm sort of young enough to enjoy it. It's the hardest decision I've ever made in my life because I love this job and I love almost all the people that we employ.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah.

MALESKY: But it just seems like the right time.

SIMON: You know, thanks to you, there are millions of people who don't know what a doofus I am about pronunciations, but they're going to learn pretty soon, aren't they?

MALESKY: You still make a lot of mistakes even when we practice, we write it out phonetically. But, you know, it's the excitement of the moment.

SIMON: Kee Ma- Malesky, is that it?

MALESKY: What is that?

SIMON: Kee, Kee Malusky, Kee Malesky, our librarian emerita. Thanks so much.

MALESKY: Thank you, Scott. It's been fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.