Simple Record Keeping for Your Home Library

April 29, 2021

Why should you bother with keeping records of the books in your home library?

So you can keep up with your precious books. Whether you can’t remember where you shelved one or if you’ve loaned one out and can’t remember to whom, it’s aggravating to lose track of the title when you want it. For any book lover, there’s a lot to be gained from having your home library organized and accessible

Three formats for book records

Keeping a notebook is the simplest, but least effective method. Card catalogs can be fun if you are into the old-school library format and they are very practical if you don’t have an internet connection. But the easiest method to set up and use is a spreadsheet.

  • Notebook
  • Card catalog
  • Spreadsheet


Notebooks are cheap, quick, and easy to set up.

You’ll need a three-sectioned notebook. Label one section “Authors”, one “Titles”, and one “Subjects.” For each section, label the pages in alphabetical order. You’ll have an “A” page, a “B” page, and so on. Enter every book you own or purchase, enter once into the first two sections.

For the Subject section, I recommend using the ten Dewey categories for nonfiction and then having a separate section for novels and short story collections.

By now, you probably understand why this method is not recommended. Once you have a list created, it’s difficult to add a book that fits alphabetically between two books on your list. Still, this is not a bad place to start if you don’t have the equipment or desire to use the next two methods.

Card catalog

All you need to make a card catalog are index cards, a box to place them in, and alphabetical dividers which can be purchased at office supply stores. Sometimes it’s possible to pick up old card catalogs from libraries and you can also purchase new ones. Sometimes, though, regular index cards won’t fit the drawers correctly. If you’re planning on turning this into an unusual hobby, blank catalog cards can still be purchased from library supply companies.

First, for every book, write IN PENCIL the general category (also called the call number) in the upper left-hand corner with the first three letters of the author’s last name underneath.  This notation tells you where your book is shelved. For more information see my previous post on the Dewey Decimal Classification system or you can create your own.

Put the author’s name on the top line in this order: last name, first name, followed by the middle name or initial. The next line should be the title of the book. At the bottom of the card write whatever subject(s) you filed the book under.

That’s really all you need on your cards. But if you want, you could include the publisher, copyright date, editors, translators, edition, the price of the book, or anything else you think you might need access to. This base card is called the Author card.

Second, use a new index card to make a Title card. For this card, make a card identical to the Author card. Then put the title over the author’s name. That’s all that’s necessary but add anything else you wish.

Last, you’re ready to make Subject cards. On new index cards (one for each subject you chose), place the call number in the upper left-hand corner, one subject on the top line, followed by the author and the title.

Now simply file all the cards under the first letter of the first word on the top line of the card. A set of alphabetical filing tabs will make this much easier. At this point, you can look up the book by its author, title, or by any of the subjects you made to see where you shelved it.


If you have access to a computer and the internet, this is the method I recommend. It’s quick, simple, and saves a lot of steps.

Simply open a sheet on Excel, Google sheets, or whatever spreadsheet application you choose, and make column headings across the top for all these categories:

  1. Call Number
  2. Author (last name first).
  3. Title (beginning articles a, an, the should be at the end. Example Fall of the House of Usher, The).
  4. Subject(s)

If you want, you can also make columns for the publisher, copyright dates, editors, editions, and/or price.

For each book, fill in the categories as you see fit.

The advantage of using spreadsheets is that there is no need to alphabetize anything. All you need to do is search. You can rearrange categories in whichever way you wish.

Sources for cataloging and call number information

There are four ways to determine the Dewey Decimal Classification number for a nonfiction book:

  1. My previous blog posts. I explain the ten major disciplines in the DDC. I also have separate posts of each of those ten to help you sort your books further. A side benefit of this approach is that going through the process gives you a new appreciation for the books you own.
  2. Use the CIP information in the book (on the verso-side of the title page or sometimes at the end of the book).
  3. Use the Library of Congress Catalog.
  4. Look it up on OCLC experimental classify.

Once you’re done

If you actually go through with any of the methods above, my hat’s off to you. You are dedicated to your book collection in a way few others are. You can keep tabs on your collection, find what you want when you need it, and not accidentally have more than one copy of the same book.  All you need is to remove and add books when they enter or leave your collection.

Are you the type of person who thinks this seems like a good investment of time or is it complete overkill? Let me know what you think!



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