Organizing Tips for Your Homeschool Library
Homeschoolers come in all varieties, but one thing we all have in common is the tendency to accumulate books. Oh boy, do homeschool families gather books! We pick up books like a snowball rolling down hill gathers snow. Whether its books we think we use for our children’s studies or books we collect for personal reading, homeschooling families tend to amass vast personal libraries.
As a homeschooling mom myself, I collected thousands of books over the 25+ years I homeschooled. Because I also wrote homeschooling articles and books, I had a large collection of books & texts sent to me by various publishers for review. Keeping my bookshelves organized was a job I had to be on top of constantly. Otherwise, I’d spend all day tracking down that DK Eyewitness book on mummies when my 10-year old suddenly wanted to learn everything about Ancient Egypt.
While collecting books is a praiseworthy and rewarding practice, book collections can become stressful when you run into issues with space, storage, and disorganization. In this post, we will review some strategies for organizing your home library.
1. Break Your Task Down By Sorting
The thought of organizing hundreds or perhaps thousands of books can be daunting. Many people fail at book organization simply because the scale of the task is too intimidating. In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II “Be not afraid!” Any large task can be handled more adequately by breaking it down into smaller tasks.
For example, if your book collection is spread throughout multiple rooms, tackle one room at a time. Or just begin with a single shelf.
The first step is to sort which books should be kept, given away, sold, or discarded. While we like to believe that every entry in our library is irreplaceable, the truth is we could stand to part with a good deal of our collection. Make a pile of books on the floor and go through it; I recommend sorting it into four categories: keep, sell, toss, or donate. As you evaluate each book, think “Have I read this already? Is it likely I ever will? Could someone else benefit from this book?” Then sort them accordingly.
Some tips on sorting:
- Many libraries accept donations. This is a good option for general interest titles. Check your local library to see if they accept donations before merely dropping your books there.
- If you have a lot of children’s books, get your kids involved sorting their books as well.
- Textbooks that your children have outgrown can be donated to other homeschool families or sold. There is a large market for used homeschool books.
- Unless they are rare historical titles, toss books that are in very poor condition. These likely will not sell, nor will libraries accept them. It is hard for most of us to put a book into the trash but some really do belong there. Let it go.
2. Make a Storage Plan
Presumably, after sorting, your book collection should be significantly thinned. Now it is time to decide where you are going to store what you have. There’s no right way to do this. Perhaps you have a single room that is dedicated as the library. If not, you may have various rooms where books can be shelved thematically. For example:
- Cookbooks in the kitchen
- Novels near the bed
- Textbooks in the school room
- Picture books in the children’s play area
You may need to reevaluate your shelving situation. You may find that your shelf space is still inadequate even after your initial thinning. This is the time to consider either the creating more shelf space or another purge.
Some storage tips:
- It is okay to shelve larger books horizontally, but don’t stack too many on top of each other. An aesthetically pleasing arrangement is to stack two or three larger books flat and then position several smaller books vertically on top of them.
- It is best not to let books lean; over time, this will warp their covers. Invest in some bookends.
- Make sure you have a solid assessment of your shelving needs before you purchase more furniture.
- Don’t leave book piles on the floor; you will hate seeing them there and they are a pain to move.
- It is okay to store books in boxes if you want to keep them but don’t have space. Make sure the books are stored somewhere with a stable climate (i.e., not in an attic or garage where the climate will fluctuate between extremely cold and very hot seasonally). And mark your calendar to check on the boxes every so often so they’re not completely forgotten.
- If, after all your sorting and shelving has been worked out, you still do not have enough space, you may have to reconcile yourself to the fact that your collection is too much for your space and more culling is needed.
Now comes the fun part: how will you categorize your collection? This can be as simple or intricate or basic as you wish. I recommend beginning by separating children’s books from adult books, then fiction from non-fiction. You may want to sort your “to-do” non-fiction (gardening, art, crafts, etc.) from your standard non-fiction (history, literature, etc.).
Once you have your basic categories determined, you can sort by title, author last name, or any system that makes sense to you. The important thing is that your system is comprehensible and aids you in finding what you need. For example, some may like to sort their history section chronologically, while others may prefer history to be sorted by book title.
There are several places you can go online for help with categorization. The following websites have all sorts of resources for organizing home libraries (some include help for video games and other digital media as well).
American Library Association Guide: https://libguides.ala.org/SettingUpaLibrary/HomeLibrary
If your library requires advanced organization, you can always categorize it according to the Dewey Decimal System utilized in public libraries. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) has a handy online guide for understanding the Dewey system (pages 7-18 are where you want to look).
4. Stay On Top of Things!
Your organization might take many days, trips to the hardware store, and multiple runs to dump off books at the Friends of the Library book collection. You are probably exhausted!
The best way to make sure you never have to do all this again is to stay on top of things! Do a mini-reorganization every year. Think of how state governments thin their deer populations every year by adjusting how many deer hunters can bag during hunting season; you need to do the same thing! Every year, survey your collection, get rid of titles you can part with, and make minor adjustments to your organization. This will ensure that you don’t get backed up again.
Also make sure that you’re training your children to be good stewards of their books. Teach them to shelve their books when their done; show them how to stack them properly; and build respect in the handling of their precious books. These things will help you while at the same time train your children.
When I was done homeschooling, I did a serious purge of my library. I gave away more than fifteen boxes of books. Most went to my children who are now homeschooling or to a local homeschool group. As much as I loved those books, it was a great blessing to be able to share them with families who will love them too.
Collecting books is a wonderful hobby but it can be somewhat of an obsession for homeschoolers (myself included!). With a little planning and organization, you can keep your book collection manageable so that it is a source of pride rather than anxiety.
If you’d like to continue this discussion, I invite you to join us at our Catholic homeschool community.