How to Make Your Library a Subject of Bookshelf Envy

Do you dream of a home library? What’s your preference? Dark wood paneling and floor to ceiling bookcases? A more modern ladder bookshelf? Or a more decorative library? The lighting? So many pieces go into planning a library, especially when talking about a personal library. But what about the books? Here are ways to organize your books and make your library a subject of bookshelf envy.

Image of stacks in Trinity College Library in Dublin is an example of books arranged by the dewey decimal system a way to make your library a subject of bookshelf envy
Trinity College Library, Dublin

The Library Method

Traditional libraries use the Dewey Decimal System. This system organizes books by ten large general classifications. Each of those have 100 smaller subclassifications. A number represents each of those classifications. 

  • 000-099 general works
  • 100-199 philosophy and psychology
  • 200-299 religion
  • 300-399 social sciences
  • 400-499 language
  • 500–599, natural sciences and mathematics; 
  • 600–699, technology; 
  • 700–799, the arts; 
  • 800–899, literature and rhetoric
  • 900–999, history, biography, and geography. 

This system works well in large nonfiction libraries and can work well in smaller, personal libraries, too. Learn more about the Dewey Decimal System.

But you must know the number system well and or have a card catalog or app in order to find the proper book.


The easiest way to organize your library is alphabetically by Author or Title. 

But what if you don’t remember either? Once again you must have a card catalog or app. Or a friend who remembers. 

Like a Designer

Books arranged on shelves by color like these is one way to Make Your Library a Subject of Bookshelf Envy

You can, if you wish, organize your library by cover colors or the size of the book. It makes for an esthetically pleasing space. And that can definitely Make Your Library a Subject of Bookshelf Envy. But good luck finding a specific title. It also broadcasts that you don’t really read those books.

Usage Method

Often the best way to organize personal books is the way you use them. Mom’s books in her favorite reading space and Dad’s in his. Cookbooks in the kitchen. Do-it-yourself books in the workshop. And baby’s books in their room.

The Stack-It-Any-Way-You Can Method

This is often a method used by creative types who read a lot of books. They have more books than shelf space. You cram books into every corner, every shelf, and every flat surface.

The Impress Your Friends Library

In this library, you’ll find the books everyone says you should read. All the thick, impossible to read books. Sometimes this library also has autographed and rare books. The most impressive titles are at eye level, facing out. Once again, it’s a library that shouts you don’t really read these books.

By Category and/or Genre

This method is akin to the Dewey Decimal System, except it doesn’t use numbers. You organize your books by categories such as fiction or nonfiction. Often within that category you organize your books by the genre or subject. All space stories here and all romances there. All history books here And all philosophy books there. This can be an excellent system unless one of these genres or subjects is very large. Then you might need to organize by subcategories, author, or title. 

Catalog Apps

The days of the old card catalog system are gone. Today you can load you library online on Goodreads Or you can download an app, enter your books into the app and the app can tell you where to locate a book with that title, or author, or even subject.

Haven’t heard of catalog apps? Check out LibraryThing,, Delicious Library 3.


This method organizes your library into two separate libraries. One set of shelves houses books you have already read. Another set house unread books. You know, all those books you bought because you’re going to read it someday.

Your Library A Subject of Bookshelf Envy

Of course, the best way to make your library a subject of bookshelf envy is to have read a lot of books and to have books spilling off shelves, and tables, and any flat surface. You need to organize your library so you can find the books you want, when you want them. If it’s not organized now, perhaps some of these ideas will motivate you to get started. How have you organized your library? Do you use one of these systems or do you have one of your own?

Library Withdrawal

Are you having library withdrawal? I mean, are you missing going to the library? I haven’t been to the library since the beginning of March. And oh, man, do I miss it.

This image of the beautiful Trinity Library in Dublin eases my library withdrawal a little.

I didn’t always check out books when I went. I’d go to write, to research, and to sit and think. My local library is open with limited hours and Cover 19 precautions in place. Still, I stay at home to protect my husband’s fragile health. So I devised a way to visit libraries when I can’t physically visit them.

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of a Library.

—Jorge Luis Borges

What is a Library

Everyone knows what a library is, don’t they? But when you think the word library—what is it you “see?”

Libraries are promoters of literacy, providers of a wide range of reading for all ages, and centers for community information services.

Filled with books, magazine, and oh, so much more, libraries are places of wonder and treasures. 

The First Library

We may never know when or where the first library existed. And for libraries, there are all kinds of firsts. First opened, first publicly funded, first with this or that document and so on. But here are a few “first libraries.”

The world’s oldest known library, the Library of Ashurbanipal, was in the city of Nineveh in modern day Iraq. Created in the 7th century BC for the Assyrian ruler of the same name, it housed 30,000 cuneiform tablets. The materials were mostly archival documents, religious incantations and scholarly texts, but the 4,000-year-old “Epic of Gilgamesh” was part of its collection.

Part of the world’s oldest continually operating university, the al-Qarawiyyin library opened in 850. It is in Fez, Morocco and received a massive remodel from 2012 to 2016. And it’s gorgeous.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, one of the oldest libraries in the world, is at Mount Sinai, Egypt. Second only to the Vatican Library, it holds the largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices in the world.

First Libraries in the U.S.

According to Sturgis Library, the Boston Public Library was the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world.

The Darby Free Library in Darby, Pennsylvania, is “America’s oldest public library, in continuous service since 1743.” 

More than a Building

Image of the library in Prague also eases my library withdrawal

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

–Anne Herbert

Today’s libraries are meeting places, places of technology, places of learning, and having fun, places that support the arts visual, musical, and written. Libraries are for everyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or financial status. They hold histories, both truth and fiction. Their shelves are real and virtual.

Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.

–Ray Bradbury

Libraries Online

Things get tricky when we look for libraries online. There are many reputable ones, but there are as many, perhaps more, that hold stolen books (also known as pirated books). How do you tell if they pirated the book? Be suspicious if an online library is offering free copies of bestsellers. Check copyright dates. Books published before 1924 are in public domain and may be downloaded. If there’s any doubt, ask the author. Help authors track stolen books.

There are also scammers who offer to sell you titles at discount prices. But buyer beware. You may not get the book you thought you were buying. And if you do—it’s stolen property.

You can’t go wrong with The Library of Congress. The LOC holds hundreds of thousands of books, manuscripts, audiobooks, film, music, maps, and more.

Project Gutenberg has over 60,000 free eBooks. According to the site “Project Gutenberg eBooks are mostly older literary works. Most were published before 1924, with some published in the decades after.” Books published prior to 1924 are in public domain. The status of the books published “decades after” is unclear.

The Open Libraries project by the Internet Archive partners with public libraries to lend digital books to patrons. In the past, this system has respected authors’ copyrights by limiting the number of copies lent out at a time and paying for the right to lend the books. Recently, the Internet Archive announced the National Emergency Library would offer “free” books to anyone and everyone. The problem is that this does away with the limited lending and violates the authors’ copyrights.

To be certain you aren’t supporting a pirate, look for community libraries or university libraries that offer digital book lending.

Physical or Digital

The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.

– Albert Einstein

I often prefer physical books but I like digital books, too. However, when it comes to libraries I find I prefer the physical buildings. There’s something special about walking into a building with rows and rows of shelves bulging with books.

Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.

– Neil Gaiman

Are You in Library Withdrawal?

“It was good to walk into a library again; it smelled like home.”

― Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian

I will wait to walk into a library again. But when I do, I’ll agree wholeheartedly with the quote by Elizabeth Kostova above. What about you? Are you in library withdrawal?