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Organizing a Large Home Library
Today, I’m talking with Karen Smith about how she organizes her home library. In a previous post, I talked with Laura Pitney about how we organize our home libraries. And I mentioned in that post that I also wanted to talk to Karen Smith because she has a larger library than Laura or I do. So, today, that’s what we’re going to do.
Sonya: Welcome, Karen. Thanks so much for being willing to share with us about your library. I think yours is probably… if you put Laura’s and mine together, it might be close to your size library. How many books do you have now?
Karen: Over 3,000.
Sonya: Okay, and your house is not huge.
Karen: No, but not tiny either.
Sonya: Last time I was there, you had bookshelves on pretty much any empty wall space there was and you had it around the railing of the stairs to your basement. Where else have you tucked these bookshelves?
Karen: They’re in the living room, the kitchen, the front room, and in all the bedrooms. So, none in the bathrooms—
Sonya: Yet. (laughs)
Karen: It’s a little moist in there. I don’t want to ruin the books.
Sonya: That is true, you have to be careful of it. And you don’t have those double stacked at all?
Karen: No, I do not.
Sonya: Okay. How do you organize it? How do you keep track? I assume you know what books you have, and when you want to find one, you know right where to go to get it.
Karen: Mostly. If I don’t know if I have it or where to get it, then I check my app that has all of my library on it.
Sonya: All right, give. What’s this magic app?
Karen: It’s called Bookpedia, is the software and then the app for your phone or something like it is called Pocketpedia. It keeps a record of all the books I have. Thankfully, my daughter has taken the time to enter every single one and the condition and the description of each and that type of thing. But this software also has a feature that if a friend borrows a book, you can check it out in his or her name, and then you have a record of who has your books.
Sonya: Bless her. Oh, that is so helpful.
Karen: It is helpful.
Sonya: Then you can track it down if it doesn’t come back—in a nice way.
Karen: Yes, and you know who has them so you know who to ask. You know where that book went. It also keeps me from buying duplicates of what I already have at home.
Sonya: Well, we’re not going to talk about that, because we’ve all done that and we probably still do. (laughs) But because you can access this information then on your phone, you’ve got it at all the used book sales everywhere you go.
Sonya: Oh, how nice. All right, so that’s how you keep track of what you have. I assume you don’t have any shelf locations in that software, right?
Karen: I don’t think so, no.
Sonya: Okay, so how do you keep track of where it is? How do you organize the shelves?
Karen: I have some more broad categories. I have picture books and then books that would be longer picture books or short stories that would be for young children have a section. Science materials, nature type things, have a section.
Sonya: I assume that’s a large section for you.
Karen: Yes and growing.
Sonya: Good. We appreciate all the books that you review in science for us.
Karen: Yes. History has more than one section. I have sections for series of history books, like the Landmark books, and there are others out there. So those books are grouped together and they’re in chronological order. General history books are put together in chronological order. So, all my Ancient Egypt books are together, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and so forth, through history. I have a biography section, and then, of course, fiction is the other section I have. One of my sons really likes fairy tales, so we have a fairy tale section, too, because we have many fairy tale books.
Sonya: The biography section, is that chronological or the last name of person being told about? Is it in alphabetical order?
Karen: That’s by person. Science is done by topic. So, any books on insects are together. And if I have books on bees and ants, and things like that, those are all grouped together also within the insect category. Weather books are together; geology books are together. So it’s easy to go to a section and I can find what I need.
Sonya: Now, when your kids were younger and you had certain books you were doing for school, did you keep those in a separate place where the kids would not have access to them? Or how did you work that with your shelves? Was everything on the shelves fair game for them? How did that go?
Karen: Yes. Everything on the shelves was fair game. When we were doing a certain time period for history, I would pull the books that we wanted to read for school time, and those went on a shelf that was accessible to our school area. Then we just worked our way through those. The kids didn’t read those outside of school time, at that time, but any other book on the shelf was free for them to read whenever they wanted to.
Sonya: So, you had pre-read all of those books before you put them on the shelf?
Karen: No. Many of them, we got at library book sales and they looked like good books. When the books are costing you 25 or 50 cents, you take a chance on them. And later, you read them and sometimes you find good gems, and sometimes you find ones that you no longer want in your library and you get rid of them.
Sonya: How did you handle, then, making those available to the kids when you weren’t sure what was in there? I realize we’re getting off the topic of organizing now, but these are questions we all ask each other.
Karen: I trusted my children to tell me if there was something that was inappropriate or if the story was not as well-written as we would have liked, and I trusted their judgment. They would come to me and say, “Mom, there’s a problem with this book.” And I made sure that there wasn’t anything that was very inappropriate in the books. It’s that relationship you have with your children that you know they’re going to come to you when there’s something that isn’t right. So, we had that.
Sonya: Now, you also gave books to the kids as gifts over the years, right? How did you keep track of which ones belonged to them and which ones belonged to you now that the kids are out of the house?
Karen: I actually have no idea. There are certain authors that I know, as they got into the teen years, those are ones that they desired and we bought for them. But within a series, one child might own one book and another child might own another book. And I figured they can work that out on their own if they want to take those out of my library.
Sonya: And that will just free up more room on the shelf for you to do more. Now, where all do you go to collect these gems, the books that you have?
Karen: Well, there’s always bookstores where you buy them new, and sometimes that’s what I do if there’s one that I really want. Library book sales are a great place to go. Usually, libraries are clearing their shelves of books that you want and they no longer want.
Sonya: Yes, sadly.
Karen: And they’re willing to let them go. For children’s books, even chapter books, you can get them for 25, 50 cents, maybe a dollar each, which are good prices. And they’re usually hardcover books. Used booksellers are another place to go. That’s a lot of where I get mine now because now I’m no longer building my library where I’m just finding anything I can. Now I’m buying books by certain authors or to fill out certain series of books where I’m missing some. Or maybe I’m upgrading from paperback copies to hardcover copies. Used book sellers are good for that.
Sonya: Yes, and we see them often at homeschool conventions in the exhibit hall. In fact, we often sneak out of our booth and say, “We’ll be back later. We’re going to the used book booth.”
Karen: “I’ll be in the used book booth if you need me!”
Sonya: That’s right, yes. It’s a great place to go. What advice would you have for parents who are collecting books or are trying to decide whether it’s worth the investment of purchasing books and keeping them on hand? Any words of encouragement to them?
Karen: I know some have very small houses or they live in apartments, and they don’t really have room for the bookshelves, but you can still buy some books that are favorites, those old friends that you like to keep visiting, especially your children. I remember as a child really liking certain books, and I would reread those over and over and over again because they had become my friends and I wanted to go and visit those characters again. I still do that as an adult, just not as much as I did as a kid, but there are still books that I want those on my shelf because someday I want to revisit those friends.
Sonya: And I want to introduce them to my grandchildren and have that privilege. So, that’s a whole extension of the homeschooling world now that we are in the grandparent stage.
Karen: In the case of picture books, I have many picture books and my kids are all adults, but a good picture book is good at any age. And when the grandkids do come visit, they have books available to them. But we also have young families over and having those picture books has been a lifesaver sometimes. The kids are drawn to those and they like to take the books off the shelf. And if they can’t read, they like to look at the pictures or they’ll sit down and read them, too.
Sonya: I know you and Doug do a lot of mentoring of other families who want to get into homeschooling, and having them over to your home and being able to pull a living book off the shelf and say, “This is a living book,” I’m sure that has been so convenient.
Karen: Yes, and even families that are just getting started with homeschooling, I freely lend my books to them so that they don’t have to hunt them down on their own. Mostly, they’re just taking up shelf space right now in my home, and so I like to help other families in that way too.
Sonya: And you can use your app to keep track of who has it. That’s wonderful, great. Thanks so much for sharing with everybody about your library, Karen.
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Loved this podcast ladies! Would love to see some PICTURES for inspiration and visual ideas! Blessings!
We all have a large library after a few years, right? Mine was out of control (in bins) at the beginning of 2021 and I vowed to get it under control — and I mostly have. We bought some more bookshelves and donated the outgrown picture books (honestly, they were the books that *I* liked but the boys never were drawn to – so they aren’t in my memory bank, either) – I also organized them by subject but I don’t have so vast of a library. My science shelves is pictures/reader and the other shelf is experiments. Great blog post.
This was really helpful! During a recent move I pruned my collection considerably. I was a literature major in college and had a “more the merrier” approach to my book purchasing habits, resulting in an obscene number of books. When a cross country move loomed on the horizon, I used the “will I reread it” or “are we done (thinking and loving) this book” to cull. I found that even using that criteria to liberally prune I still had a vast amount of books making the move. But I feel happy knowing that those that made the trek did so for a reason – they are part of our family story. And that is now the bar for adding more. Everything else can be obtained from our library.
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