Organize Your Home Library’s Nonfiction Books the Easy Way

home library books

April 2, 2021

First off, you can arrange your home library any way you want. You can put them together by color, by title, or by rough subject groupings. There is no right way to do it. Do what works best for you. But if you have more than fifty nonfiction books, you may want to group them by subject area.

Record keeping

If you’ve got a lot of books, you might want to keep some sort of searchable records of them. Here are two options.

Make a spreadsheet for your books.

That’s the easiest way to do it, using either Google Sheets or Excel.  Make a column for the author (last name first should work best) and then a column for the title. If you want to really be efficient, place articles (A, An, and The) at the end of the title in your column. For example, Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, The. You can also make a column (or several!) for the book’s subjects.

Create your own card catalog

All it takes is a set of index cards. You make a master card with the author, title, place of publication, publisher, and copyright date. In the upper left-hand corner, you can give it a call number or just put something like “2nd shelf, living room” so you’ll know where to find it. Then you make at least two more copies of the exact same card but put the title on top of one, and a subject on top of one. That way you have a separate card for the author, title, and subject. File them in alphabetical order. This takes a lot of time, but some people like the tactile process.

For more information on keeping records for your books, see my blog post on the topic.

Group them like a library

While working more than three decades in public and school libraries, I became intimately acquainted with  Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). Maybe you, like me, first learned about the DDC in elementary school. While most college and university libraries use the Library of Congress system of classification, most high school and public libraries in the United States still use Dewey.

Dewey Decimal System

The reason the DDC makes book organization easy is simple: it’s flexible and everything can be placed into a category within it.

For a home library, you just need to know the basics. As an aside, you can also get the Dewey number from the Cataloging in Publication on the verso (backside) of the title page in many books, or you can look up the official Dewey numbers on either The Library of Congress catalog or the OCLC Classify site. The OCLC owns the rights to the entire system and to the Dewey trademark and they have kindly granted me permission to use it.

This post covers the basic ten Dewey categories. In later posts, I will go into a little more detail about each section.


Category summaries

000-099     General Knowledge

This section contains books about computer information systems and software, UFOs, encyclopedias, books about books, museums, and journalism in all media forms.

100-199      Philosophy and Psychology

Where did we come from? What do we know about knowledge? What is reality? Books that discuss fundamental questions go here. Psychology and self-help books take a large chunk of space in some libraries. Interestingly, parapsychology books also go in the 100s:  the ghost stories, the witchcraft books, and many New Age books.

200-299      Religion

While there is room for every religion in the world in this section, most of the subcategories are devoted to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This is a holdover from the early days of the system.

300-399      Social Sciences

For many libraries, this section takes up more shelf real estate than any other. It covers human civilizations and our social relationships. Books on race relations, LGBT, feminism, laws, politics, economics, education, transportation, environmental policies, government, education, and even folklore belong here, as do books on fashion and manners.

400-499      Languages

In most libraries, Language is by far the smallest section in terms of the number of books. This section will be home to dictionaries, usage and grammar guides, and any discussions of any language in the world.

500-599      Natural Sciences

In this first of the two major science categories, you’ll find books about anything you can find in nature.  Here we have math, physics, astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences, paleontology, plants, and animals.

600-699     Applied Sciences

Some libraries add “and technology” to this category. Shelved here are practical books on medicine, health, cooking, gardening, animal care, rockets, cars, boats, business, homemaking, sewing, carpentry, and manufacturing.

700-799     Arts and Recreation

The “arts” books are shelved in the first nine sections of this area. Art history, sculpture and ceramics, drawing and painting, graphic art, craft books, knitting and crochet books, photography, movies, and live performances such as dance and music go in these sections. Recreation refers to games, team sports, and outdoor recreation like hiking and fishing, and whatever else people find to do for fun outside.

800-899     Literature

Books that either discuss or are examples of great writing in all languages belong in literature. There is room for poetry, essays, long fiction, short stories, humor, and criticisms.

900-999     Geography, Biography, History

Travel guides and histories of the entire human race are shelved in the 900s. Libraries opt either to shelve biographies in this section or to place them under the subject where they best fit.

The Process

Go through your books one by one. Examine them thoroughly.  Get rid of any that no longer serve you. Of those that are left, ask what is the book primarily about? What purpose does the book serve for you? Put the book in the category that most closely fits how you use it.

Once you have thoughtfully weeded and sorted your books, think about where it makes the most sense to keep them. I have kept all my cookbooks and nutrition books in an empty cabinet in my kitchen for years. It just makes sense to me. And while humidity makes a bathroom a less than ideal place to keep a shelf of books, if you love to read miscellany in the tub, why not keep those books on a shelf outside the bathroom door? Be creative, think about your space and your needs, and see what solutions you can find.

Not feeling it?

If you’ve looked over the categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and you’re thinking to yourself, “That makes absolutely no sense to me,” try to come up with your own subject headings. Make an arrangement that makes sense to you.

What’s your favorite Dewey category from above? Or where do you think most of your books would go in this system?

Do you have a creative way to arrange your nonfiction books? Feel free to share it below!

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1 Comment

  1. Margaret Fey

    I love the fact that UFOs are in the section “General Knowledge.”


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