Shelving your books by color: awesome-sauce or recipe for organizational catastrophe?

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How do you arrange your books in your home library? Haphazardly? Dewey Decimal System? Lately, I’ve been seeing more people on the interwebs arrange their books visually — not by type, but by color. In fact, there’s a whole Flickr group dedicated to The Rainbow of Books.

bookshelf spectrum, revisited

While there’s no denying that rainbow bookshelves are visually stunning, I can’t help but think it would be a major literary bummer if you couldn’t remember the spine color of a book when you wanted to find it.

Homies, what do you think? Is shelving your books by color the most gorgeous idea evar, or a book-nerd’s express train to irritation station?

Comments on Shelving your books by color: awesome-sauce or recipe for organizational catastrophe?

  1. Well I’m not the the type to organize my books by color my boy does at his office. it’s only about two shelves so it doesn’t take long to wander though. but the cute thing is that he is color blind and placed them on his own. He’s pretty good till he gets to the purple mixed in with the blue and the pink in with the white.

  2. For me it’d be both.

    I think it would look very pretty, that picture looks stunning. But the vast majority of what I read is sci-fi/fantasy series’ and in many cases, maybe most, each book in a series is a different colour so it would be a nightmare trying to find the next book I want to read.

    If I had less books or more books that don’t go in any particular order I’d definately consider it though because having them in no order bothers me but inventing one just feels somewhat arbitrary. Maybe if they looked organised it wouldn’t bother me so much that they don’t have a ‘real’ order.

  3. Terrible idea – at least for me. I organize my books alphabetically (by author) and chronologically (by date of appearance, for each author). However, I do know a few people with better visual memory than I’ve got, and they seem to do just fine sorting their books by color.

  4. Depends on the way you identify your books, I guess. I have a lot of books, and I’m not so great with names and authors, but I find it very easy to remember the shape of a book and its colours. So for someone like me, organising by colour is a great way to find books easily, but for someone who remembers books by title or author it might not be the best idea.

    • I have the same kind of memory- I remember colors and sizes before names. If you really have a lot of books you can also do groupings of colors- I do this with my clothes- tank tops white-rainbow-black then blouses white-rainbow-black, etc. This could also work for different genres or time periods or something like.

  5. It’s gorgeous but would drive me batty. I have TONS of books so they get organised by type (biography, fantasy, travel etc)and then by author.

  6. I keep mine organized by color, but I also don’t keep many books around anymore so it’s easier to find the ones I need. I don’t like to hoard my collection and it helps conserve storage space, so once a book of mine is read, it gets donated to the library or sold to Half Price Books. Share the love 🙂

  7. I have a friend that organizes her books by height so that they create artistic waves across her bookshelves. It’s lovely to see. Looks like a pain to reference for a book.

  8. This concept only works if you have colourful books, as a goth and an accountant 70% of our books are black or grey.

    I remember books by the cover, but the spine isn’t always the same colour so I’d be lost anyway. Also the OCD in me would freak out about multicoloured fantasy series being out of order, like all 38 books in the Discworld series, the hardback editions of which still haunt me at 3am cos they aren’t all the same height.

    I do like the idea of making custom jackets out of card for all your books then colourcoding by topic and size. But I’d have to be rreeeeeeaaaaallly bored to sit down and recover all 2,500+ books.

    • Books being all different heights (and widths) drives me mad too!

      I don’t think it’s an OCD for me (although I have a few mild OCD traits so you never know) but I do wish there were just one or two standard sizes for books (they can of course be as long/thick as the need to be). It’d not only make them look neater on shelves, it’d make boxing them up for transport infinately easier too.

    • Umm…. Jackets.
      SO jackets.

      Just find interesting scraps of paper and make a jacket for each book. Write the title. That way, they can be alphabetical, sorted by content… whatever you want.

  9. The library nerd in me has watched this organizing-by-color trend with disdain and it wasn’t until I looked at this picture this morning that it dawned on me that it would work brilliantly for me. I remember things visually, so finding a book by color would absolutely work. I would probably subdivide alphabetically within colors, just to appease my inner organization freak as well.

    • See, I’m in grad school for library science, and for me, I LOVE this organizational scheme because….I work with LCC all day at work. It’s sort of nice to have my own classification system at home that’s not the norm….so my home library feels less like my work environment! 😛

      • That’s exactly why I organized mine by color too, since I moved into my current apartment just before my last semester of library school. Yes, it’s a pain when there a multiple colors in a spine, or that some of my series are all spread out. Also, I’ve acquired another bookcase and haven’t yet integrated it into my system. Oh well. I love it!

  10. Every single time I see this I wonder how anyone can actually FIND the books they want. (I guess library work is a calling, hah) My are all categorized alphabetically by author within genre. Pretty, no. Practical? Yes. :]

  11. I have to say, I don’t like it. Is the display visually stunning? Yes. Is it something I would want to live with? Not so much.

    I organize my non-fiction thematically, and within the themes they tend to get placed in one direction or another (usually based on traffic flow in the house) from most to least read/referenced.

    My fiction is organized by “Era” (usually Exes), I use the books I keep in the house as a reminder of times in my life. I also have the habit of keeping trinkets in my books, so it’s nice (usually) when I feel like re-reading a book and find a concert flyer of a band I loved at the time I first read it tucked between the pages.

  12. Visually stunning, totes impractical.
    Currently I group my books by genre then author, and not always alphabetically. Bibliophiles, consider: this harlequin option might just work for someone who has relegated their literary collections to an e-reader.
    But as much as I like the convenience of a slim, backlit, lightweight library, I would love to have my own library even more. 🙂
    Neat concept! Would definitely work in a children’s room, no?

  13. I’ve considered this myself because I love the look. It would work for me, as I remember the color of my book spines, as long as I kept separately the series where each book is a different color (because that would drive me crazy).

    Right now I’ve got my books organized by subject, which is a fun challenge because I like to make each subject flow into the next one with no dead ends and avoiding loops. It’s harder than you think!

    • I used to organize my books like that, too (when I had one wall of nothing but bookshelves), but the two bookcases I have now (since moving over a year ago) are so jam-packed (books on top of books and books in front of books) that it’s hard to keep up with (rearrange the entire shelving system because one book is two millimeters too thick to fit where it should? Not again!).

      I’m getting ready to move, so I’m contemplating other organization methods. I almost don’t want to think about it.

    • I do the same. It is fun (makes one think about books and what would be a good order to have them which makes sense for me) and I remember actually much better where the books are.

  14. There is no denying that that is beautiful, and I have an obsession with rainbows… but that would be an organizational nightmare for me. I’m pretty close to using the Dewy Decimal System for my home library, when I have it. Right now I’m in a transition period of my life and vast majority of my books are in storage.

    • I tried to organize mine by the Dewey Decimal System, but there were way too many books for which I couldn’t find the number. Then I tried to organize them by LoC number, but ran into the same problem. I got so frustrated trying to find all the numbers that I resorted to my own system. Does anyone know of a good resource online where I might find them?

      • In most books, you can actually find the LOC number and sometimes the Dewey number on the publishing information page of the book. It’s usually in the section that looks like a library card. Let me know if that doesn’t make sense. 🙂

        • It makes perfect sense! I did know to look there, and that’s where I found them for most of my books, but there was a surprisingly large number of them that didn’t have this information. I found a few of them by looking online, but there were too many that just had one number or the other, or none at all. My OCD just wouldn’t accept using a method that’s incomplete. 😉

  15. We have at least as many books as the house shown above in that image, probably a few bookcases more, and I can’t even imagine the horror of splitting our books into colors. All the Discworld mixed up! My education reference books scattered! It upsets me just thinking about it.

    That being said, we have a couple shelves of children’s picture books that I HAVE organized by color. I think it makes way more sense for them! Our 1st kid is only 10 months old so we will probably get lots more picture books, but I think we will keep sorting them this way.

    • I love that the Discworld series seems to be a big reason for people disliking this system. (Well, really I just love that so many people care that much about the series.)

      Maybe an advantage to the new black covers? Not enough to make up for how dull they are though.

  16. As much as I may love the rainbow appeal, I’d never be able to find anything. I’d rather get an oddly shaped bookcase (read: that AWESOME spiral bookcase from the Spanish apartment OBH featured last month).

  17. my ocd would not be pleased. i suspect my girlfriend would *love* to organize our books this way. i suspect she would actually keep our books organized if they were shelved visually (of course, she also likes to shuffle the books just to tweak my ocd anyway).

    i need a good system to remember *anything* (mine is: by subject (or country of origin for lit), then chronologically to the best ability without dividing an author’s works).

    but, uh…rainbows kind of squick me out…i totally couldn’t handle this.

  18. I do believe that sorting my books like that would split up every single series of books I own! And what do you do about multicoloured books?

  19. While I LOVE the look of organizing the books by color (yay rainbows!), I think it would turn into an organizational catastrophe for me. I have all my books sorted by type (fiction, non-fiction, reference), then by subject, then by author so that I can find things!

  20. Fiction in one area, non-fiction in another. Fiction is organized alphabetically by author’s last name, then first name, then in series order. Non-fiction is roughly by category. I started doing library of congress, but it was taking far too much time…

  21. I would do this in a heartbeat. Alas, all the books in the house are of different heights and completely takes away from the main point of organizing by color. I tried grouping together by subjects but that got confusing quickly. So for now, they are crammed on the bookshelf. Organizing them by height though….that’s a thought!

  22. I wouldn’t be able to do this. It would drive me crazy. I sort my books in small little categories like “Russian Novelists” or “Trashy beach-reading”. My biggest one is if two books are by each other that don’t belong. Heaven forbid my Edgar Allan Poe Anthologies touch my Twilight series! They would explode in flames!

    • I love weird combinations like that. It’s a bit sad but they amuse me. Like my boyfriends DVD collection which has Finding Nemo stuck between Jet Li’s Fearless and Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima. Serious action/drama, fish comedy, serious action/drama…

      Or possibly stranger is Akira, Disney’s Aladdin, then American Gangster. 😀

  23. What about installing colored led lighting in your bookcase so you can have them organized however makes sense to you, and then have lovely rainbow light washing over them? Might have to show Mr. Bear when he gets home…

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