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Organizing Your Home Library

With the Charlotte Mason method, let’s be honest, we collect a lot of books, and they’re great books that we want to keep around forever and ever. But the thing is, how do we organize them all? We’ve received questions about that and so here to discuss that with me is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, someone specifically asked the two of us to explain how we organize our home libraries. Now in a future episode, I want to get Karen [Smith] in on this too, because I think she has more books than you and I put together, so we’ll talk about that another time. But for today, let’s share how we organize our home libraries.

Laura: All right, who wants to go first?

Sonya: I don’t know. We might just jump in, but go ahead.

Laura: Sure. We have an office that my husband uses (he works from home), so we have a set of built-in bookshelves. We have a section that is dedicated to my husband’s books. He’s also a preacher and he has lots of commentaries and study books. Those are in a specific area, and usually the kids don’t even head over that way. It’s kind of off limits.

Sonya: That’s Dad’s.

Laura: Yes, that kind of thing. I have a section that is books that they can pull off the shelf anytime. It’s accessible, right in the middle, three feet high, just right there where it would be easy for my variety of ages and heights of children to get to. Some of those are seasonal books; some of them are just fun reads that we’ve enjoyed over the years: “I’ll pull them out for nostalgia’s sake” books that they remember reading when they were kids. I have a section for all of our science books and for geography. I organize it by topic.

Sonya: Now, when you say for geography and for science, are these books that you’ve already read with them or that you’re going to be reading with them?

Laura: I just have it all together. They don’t usually care about those until I tell them they have to read it for school, for the most part. So I’ll organize it more for my sake, being able to find what I’m looking for. All of my living books that are paired with our history time periods, I have color coordinated with washi tape on the spines.

Sonya: Look at you. [laughs]

Laura: I don’t know how helpful this is, but all my ancient history books have a little plaid washi tape on the spine. All of them each have their own designated tape. If the kids were to pull those out, they would know where to put them back. But also, I lend my books out a lot. I share them.

Sonya: You are brave.

Laura: I know. I don’t even know where half my stuff is at the moment, but that’s okay.

Sonya: Give me a minute to recover from that. [laughs]

Laura: So when people return my books, it’s easy cleanup because I can just look at the color tape that’s on the spine and then I know where it goes. Usually it’s the history stuff that I’ll lend out. I do have certain places on my shelves for the washi tape coding, if you will. At the very top of our shelves, I have a lot of our literature, family-read-aloud type books. We usually have maybe one or two of those going at a time, so I don’t need to get to those as often. So those are just up at the top. Any time the kids want a book, I’m more than willing to give it to them. But for peace of mind, I like to know where the things are. So I tend to group it by category.

And then the kids have favorite books. At first, I didn’t want to give them up, I wanted to keep them on my bookshelf so I knew where they were. But over the years the kids have either collected their own or purchased their own, because they want to keep it for themselves. They don’t want to have to share; they don’t want to have to lend it out. Whenever they move out of the house or get married or go to college, whatever that is, they want to be able to take their favorites with them. So each one of my kids has a small bookshelf in their room that they keep their favorites on. My oldest has a secret reading nook in her closet that has a little reading chair and some lights and a little fan. She has all her favorite books around the top of the closet. So it’s like her little safe haven where she can just go curl up in her chair and read. So I’ve had to let go of the control, because I wanted them all to where I knew they were all safe and taken care of, but the kids have loved their books and I don’t want to tell them they can’t have it. So we’ve either gotten duplicates or gifted them their own sets of things.

Sonya: Yes, that was one thing that we did a lot with four kids, four girls who all loved to read. We were giving books a lot as gifts, especially for birthdays and Christmas. And I love what you do. What’s your saying for Christmas?

Laura: We do something that they want, something that they need, and something to read. Those are our boundaries for giving gifts at Christmas time. It should be three presents, and that’s usually what we stick to. But “something to read” they get really excited about.

Sonya: And being able to keep those books in their own rooms is huge, because now that mine have moved out, I’ve seen the boxes of books they take with them, and we had some moments when we were divvying up the books, and it was like, “Is this one yours or is this one mine?”

Laura: Did some claws come out?

Sonya: No, not too bad. But some of them, I had to put on my mommy hat and say, “You can take it. I’ll replace it for myself,” because that’s what we’re doing: we’re all building our own home libraries. Each child is building a home library for the future. So that’s exciting.

Well, I do somewhat the same thing, but I’ve got three different libraries, if you will, in the house. I’ve got one in my office, and I’ve got the ones that the kids keep in their own rooms (when they were here), and then I also now have one in my school room. I did not have a separate school room when the kids were all here, but now that I have room for it, I do. Mostly they’re divided up by section too. I have a history section in chronological order. No washi tape, but I know which books go with ancient Rome and which ones go with Middle Ages. Sometimes I have to think about Early Modern or Modern, but it’s there, it’s in chronological order more or less. My science books are in a separate place, and a section for geography and that’s usually organized by region. I have a separate one for Bible. If it’s specifically about a Bible book, I have a couple of shelves that way that are arranged in Bible book order. Below that it’s topical. I have a whole bookcase of Bible books.

I’ve got a shelf for reference books, like dictionaries, the thesaurus, and the wonderful little book Write Right that helps you with grammar and punctuation stuff. I have a separate shelf of Charlotte Mason research books, one or two shelves of those. In my office, I have my special books, mostly literature, but some of them are just mommy-growing type books and those have special place in my office. Then in the school room, I’ve got the same sections, but I also have one separate shelf that stores and protects my Landmark collection and below that, the All About science collection. So the old vintage books that may require a little extra care, rather than all of the newer ones, are on a separate book case. Then I also have a little tiny bookshelf that has antique books that are even older than those. And those are hands-off. Wear gloves when you’re handling these puppies.

It’s mainly what works for you and your family. When we were doing school with all four kids at home, I also had bins that I would keep the history, geography, and Bible books for each of the six time periods in those six bins. All the family-combined subject resources would go in those bins, but then the individual studies would go on a shelf and I would arrange them by subject, not by grade level. That way I wouldn’t get stuck mentally in, “Oh, well she’s in fifth grade, she has to be using this book.” Rather it would be, “Here are the books I want to use” for whatever the subject is, science, let’s say, for that particular age group, “Where is she in that process? And let’s teach the child.” So that was done. Another thing that I have currently in our school room is two book shelves full of preschool books. I’ve got grandkids now, and my youngest still loves her preschool books, and that’s mainly what’s in her room still, but I have those for when the grandkids come. That’s Grandma’s Library. I love that. Another thing I did when the kids were growing up is I had a dedicated shelf for library books.

Laura: That’s a great idea.

Sonya: It helped us all keep them in one place and so they didn’t get scattered all over the house. If they were, then when it’s time to return them, we were on the hunt mission. With the shelf, you can take them off and read them, but they needed to be put back on the shelf when you were done with them. And that just seemed to make it a little more efficient when library day came.

Laura: You know I’m all about the baskets and bins, so I have a friend who keeps a basket on her fireplace hearth that is the library books.

Sonya: Oh, nice.

Laura: So that way it’s the same idea.

Sonya: That is the pretty way of doing it.

Laura: Well, the shelf looks good too, but the designated spot for it is the key. Over the years we’ve had different bins. The thing we’re currently using is more accessible, so it may not necessarily be in the library or in the office. It will be wherever we do school. Find whatever works in your own family, but you just need to know where the things are. That way you can be more efficient when you’re trying to pull resources. For example, we were doing a science lesson the other day, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I have this field guide that would be perfect for this.” I knew where it was, because it was on my shelf. Being able to find the things when you need them is the goal, however it functions. My organization is going to look different than your organization, but the goal is accessibility and being able to find it and use it.

Find whatever works in your own family, but you just need to know where the things are. That way you can be more efficient when you’re trying to pull resources.

Sonya: Yes, I will clarify, we had the six bins for the six time periods, and then whatever we were studying that year, I would empty the bin and put it on one particular shelf, like you said, so we had it handy, so I wasn’t looking and digging through a bin every time. Then at the end of that year, I would replace that bin, pull out the next one, put it up.

Laura: It’s a great system. I also had this custom stamp made that said, “This Belongs to the Pitney Family,” and I would make sure I would stamp the inside of all the books I was lending out in hopes that the people would remember that they were mine. And then I started thinking, “When I lend them out, I should take a picture of that person with the book so that I can remember who I gave the books to.” The stamp is a really gentle reminder that it belongs to me. I also liked it because it was kind of vintage. And so it was fun to add that stamp to our collection of books.

Sonya: Looking back, it might’ve been wise to make one of those for each kid.

Laura: Which, I have that too.

Sonya: Do you?

Laura: Like “This Belongs to Emma Pitney.”

Sonya: So when it comes time to divvy them up when they’re moving out, there won’t be those “That’s mine,” “No, that’s mine.”

Laura: That helped organize things too: putting in it who it belongs to, especially when you have big families.

Sonya: Yes. And we don’t use software to keep track of ours. I think Karen does. There are some wonderful software apps that can help you organize your library and keep track of who checked things out of your library.

Laura: That might be a worthy investment.

Sonya: But I like the picture idea too.

Laura: I just have to remember to do the picture.

Sonya: You can put them all in a folder and keep track of them that way.

Laura: I usually send out a generic text to the world that just says, “Hey, if you have any of my books, will you tell me? Because I don’t remember.” [laughs]

Sonya: Or when it comes time to use one, then I text my friend. It’s like, “Did I loan you this one?”

Laura: It happens a lot.

Sonya: So no matter how efficient we try to be and organized we try to be, there’s always going to be—

Laura: Glitches.

Sonya: Yes, adjustments. But it’s good to keep trying and keep updating it. The riches that have come to our family through those books is just priceless. I don’t want to think about how much money has been invested in the books. Little by little, over the years, I’m sure it adds up, but what we get back out of them is worth so much more. It’s great to hear how we take care of them and teach our children how to take care of them. I’ll just throw this in for you. My oldest daughter just rearranged her bookshelves in her house and she rearranged them by color.

Laura: Oh, that is such a thing. Yes, ma’am.

Sonya: I’m sorry, but I just was like [groans]. How do you know where anything is? Because I don’t remember the colors of the covers. My husband does; he’s like, “It has an orange cover,” and I’m like, “Just tell me the words on it.” So make it work for you. I mean, for some people maybe by color is going to be a great idea. Thanks.

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4 Responses to “Organizing Your Home Library”

  1. Lauren Sheridan January 2, 2022 at 6:36 pm #

    Great ideas! Currently, my school library is organized by subject. Any books I need I can just pull from the master shelf and place them in a bin near the table where we do most of our school.

  2. Michelle Davis January 5, 2022 at 7:38 pm #

    This was very helpful, as I was just thinking about needing to better organize my growing home library. I heard Sonya mention her vintage “All About Science” books. This piqued my interest. Can anyone let me know what these are, or provide a few titles of these so I can look into them more. Thank you!

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