There’s been some stuff recently about how people organise their bookshelves. (Alexander McCall Smith put out a call on Twitter for advice, and the discussion was picked up by the Guardian.) So I thought I’d put in my two cents as well.
Everyone who has more than a shelf or so of books has to deal with organisation. I’ve gone through several iterations of bookshelf sorting, ranging from your basic by-author to the more adventurous ISBN. (There was a while there where I knew which ISBN numbers were given to which publishers. I am a nerd. I freely admit this.) I’ve done Dewey Decimal numbers for my non-fiction books, as well as LOC categorisations. (I think some of the French study books I had a teenager still have stickers with Dewey Decimal numbers on them.)
As an adult, I’ve been in charge of a couple of libraries. I tried, mostly, to separate fiction and non-fiction, but there was also the trick of keeping age and reading-level texts together, without limiting the students’ access.
I do think, contrary to some of the commenters in the article, that alphabetically-by-author is one of the best ways to organize books. Within categories, of course. As a grad student, I kept my for-fun reading and my course-based reading separate. For-fun reading was mixed between fiction and non-fiction, organised by author. Course-based reading was kept together by which module it was for, generally chronologically by placement in the module.
One of the things I’ve most enjoyed in our current dream house – although because of heating issues I haven’t done a ton with it yet – is setting up a new organisational system. I’ve got categories again: children’s books, fantasy/sci-fi, historical (non-fiction and fiction), general non-fiction, “classics”, Japanese language and manga, folklore and fairytales….. This time, though, I’ve decided to mix up the traditional alphabetical system. For categories that don’t cross genre, I stick with alphabetical. But children’s books are approximately by reading age, with same authors or series grouped together. Classics are in approximate chronological order. And my favourite, historical, is by time period, with all the Robin Hood non-fiction together, followed by the Robin Hood fiction, then general medieval, then historical biography chronologically, then historical fiction chronologically.
This is only a temporary system, of course. No system is ever perfect or permanent. I’ll have a few days between Christmas and New Year’s where my boyfriend isn’t back from his parents yet, so I may play with it some more then.