Most of us are familiar with the pristine organization of public libraries and archives.

Library books neatly shelved

A few of us have even geeked out and considered shelving our own books with the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system.

WikiHow article on shelving books according to the Dewey Decimal system

I’m not going that far, but I do love organization. Here is my ideal plan.


How to Organize a Personal Library in 8 Easy Steps


Step 1 – Bring all the books in your home into one room.

Gather books from bedrooms, coffee tables, random shelves and countertops, etc and bring them all into one place.

Getting read to scan book titles

Step 2 – Sort the books, by topic, into separate piles.


This is where you might want to refer to the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification systems. Get a feel for how the pros sort books and then figure out what the logical breakdown will be for your collection.

My main piles included:

  • History
  • Genealogy & related resources (atlases, etc were included here)
  • Science
  • Art & Poetry
  • Literature
    • Non-fiction
      • Classics
      • Popular
      • Memoirs
    • Fiction
      • Science Fiction
      • Childrens’ books
      • Popular
  • Self-Help
  • Business
  • Religion/Spirituality

Starting to sort titles into piles

Step 3 – Sort each pile.

In my Art & Poetry pile, I grouped all the art books together and all the poetry books together. In my history pile, I grouped all the books about war in one area and then generalized history books in another pile. You could go even further and sort by author’s last name, etc.


Step 4 – Use a smartphone app to create a digital version of your home library


I used the Goodreads App. I haven’t found an app with better book title recognition capabilities. If you scan your books in ordered piles, by collection type, it simplifies the process because you can digitally scan and shelf History books in one batch, then Art books, etc. If you scan your books in a random order, you’ll waste time looking for & telling the app which digital shelf each book belongs on.

Use a smartphone to scan your home library titles and create a personal library spreadsheet

Step 5 – Manually add any titles not easily scanned into your collection

Set aside (into distinguishable piles) any books the app is unable to scan & manually add these to your digital collection. If you’re using the Goodreads App, the easiest way to manually add titles is:

  • If the book has an ISBN number, type the title name into your “My Books” page at and select the book from the prompts and save it to the appropriate shelf OR create a spreadsheet with ISBN numbers and titles and use the Goodreads Import feature to import all these books.
  • If the book is old and doesn’t have an ISBN number, download a spreadsheet from Goodreads (with all your books), and add these older titles to the spreadsheet. If, at a later date, you add more books to Goodreads and download another spreadsheet, understand this new spreadsheet won’t include the titles you added offline. (I copy and paste my old book titles to each new, updated spreadsheet download because I use the Goodreads app and it won’t accept any books into its digital library that don’t have an ISBN code and my old books don’t have ISBN codes.)


Manually add titles that didn't scan correctly


Step 6 – Put the physical books back onto the shelves.

Mine wouldn’t all fit in one bookcase so all the business books were left in office bookshelves, children’s books we no longer read daily were stored in a bookshelf under the stairs (by old toys), comics and the few books we read regularly were put under our coffee table, a couple of fiction collections our boys enjoy re-reading were stored in their rooms, and everything else went on our main bookshelves. We own a lot of books but I don’t want to feel like I live in a library, so I use baskets on our bookshelves. Some shelves are left for books to be displayed, others have baskets with the books hidden in the basket. On some shelves the books are upright, on others, they are stacked. (This is probably an archivist’s nightmare because of long-term damage to the book. Take that into consideration if you care. I place a higher priority on personal aesthetics and daily happiness than the life of a book, but that’s just me.)

How to Catalog your Home Library

Step 7 – Put the digital titles onto the correct shelves in your app.

Ideally, you shelved them correctly when you scanned them. Realistically, you didn’t and/or some books can be placed on multiple shelves, so now is the time to categorize your collection.

If you use the Goodreads app, because it’s not intended for cataloging a home library, you’ll probably want to create a shelf called “Owned books” and using the “batch edit” feature, “select all” and tell Goodreads to add these books to your “Owned books” shelf.


Shelving books on the Goodreads app


Step 8 – Save & Print your digital collection spreadsheet

Download a copy of your digital library as a spreadsheet from your app. Save the downloaded spreadsheet to your hard drive & backup drives & print the spreadsheet for a master list.  Print pages of your digital spreadsheet to place with the corresponding collections. This allows you to refer to the printed list instead of scanning all the titles on/in a shelf/shelves/basket.


Spreadsheet of Home Library Collection


And voila! You have an organized home library with a digital and printed catalog of all your books.

No more duplicate purchases, no more wasted time wondering if you own such-and-such title, no more wondering which bookcase or shelf the book is on, and you can save a copy of your home library spreadsheet with your insurance papers for good measure.

I tackled this project in two days (6 hours to scan titles, 2 hours to correctly catalog them because I didn’t take the time to scan them by category, 2 hours to manually add 150 book titles that wouldn’t scan because they were old & out of print, and another few hours to gather books & put them back on shelves). I have ~950 scanned book titles and another 150 I entered manually if that helps you judge how long your project may take.

And the next time I’m at a genealogy convention, wondering if I should purchase a resource book, I can quickly open the Goodreads App on my phone and check to see if I already own that book or own a similar title.

Best in your family history work!

Here’s a pin you can use to save this idea for when you have some free time!
How to Organize Your Personal Library in 8 easy steps #OnGenealogy

6 responses to “How to Organize Your Personal Library in 8 Easy Steps”

  1. Just so you know, it’s actually better to store books on their sides (space permitting) as it takes pressure of the spine.

  2. Great little article!

    There’s an app called “bookshelf” that can scan (including batch scan to a shelf) books. I find it much more suited to the home library than Goodreads. If you scan a book you don’t remember if you own or not, it will give you a pop up if you have it on a shelf already.

      1. Thanks for visiting the OnGenealogy blog. Yes, you can print your Goodreads book list from their website. You’ll just login to your Goodreads account on your computer, select My Books, then select Print. Or you can select My Books, then select Import/Export, then Export your list of books as a .csv file that can be imported into Excel or Google Sheets if you want your booklist in a spreadsheet on your home computer.

        Best with your family history!



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