A few months ago my partner and I moved to a new apartment, for the first time since I began living in New York full-time. The best part of moving to me, for purely selfish reasons, was it created an opportunity to fully reorganize my library for the first time in three years. Our old apartment was much smaller than our current place which left my ever-growing doctoral candidate’s library relegated to one and a half bookshelves. This led to all kinds of organizational chaos and housecleaning headaches – with books tucked away in closets, stacked on desks, piled in corners. Many times while writing I found myself looking for a book for a reference or citation say, for example, my copy of Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor (which always seems to vanish) and I knew, for the life of me, that I had the book somewhere in the apartment, but had no way to even begin to find it without tearing the place apart. At the new apartment I have, thanks to my partner’s beneficence, the space to fully store my library in real bookcases and in some sort of proper organizational scheme.
But the question was: what sort of organizational scheme? There were so many options to choose from – chronological, thematic, by title, by author. The world of library organization was my oyster! I took about two weeks to plot the whole thing out, step by step.
The approach I went with is relatively idiosyncratic.
I have a bottomless disdain for organizing things alphabetically, by either title or author, so I decided to take a thematic and chronological approach. I also wanted to make the books I would be using for my dissertation research and writing the most easily accessible. The first thing I did, then, was create three sections – “Religion,” “Revolution/Early Republic,” and “Chesapeake” – and put them in the far right side of my bookcase. This has really worked out. It is great, for example, having my copy of Rhys Isaac’s The Transformation of Virginia right next to John Nelson’s A Blessed Company.
After this I proceeded to organize the rest of my monographs and other histories into their own thematic categories – “Colonial,” “Slavery and Freedom,” “Progressivism,” etc. – in descending order of importance to my research. This system worked out well but left a couple of nagging issues.
First among these were what to do with the various published primary sources and readers that I use for teaching. Over the last three years of teaching I’d acquired a whole variety of these sorts of teaching aids. I could, of course, sort them under their thematic header. My copy, for example, of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France could go with my books on the Enlightenment, conservatism, or the French Revolution. That choice, however, didn’t make sense to me. I decided, instead, to sort all of my primary sources together for I seldom just needed one of these books at a time.
All in all my idiosyncratic library organization has worked out well so far. There is one problem, however, which should be familiar to any academic and/or book lover. I keep acquiring more and more damn books. These books, of course, need to be sorted and added into my library. Inertia and a hatred of shifting books, born out of years and year working at bookstores, always delays this process for months. This is a minor problem, of course.
I want, in the end, to ask a question of The Junto readership. How do you, friends and colleagues, organize your library, either in your office and/or your home?
 Yes it was.
 You can see the chaos that was the process of unloading and sorting my books here.
 My disdain for alphabetical—or for that matter numerical—organization is drawn from a late-teenage summer spent working for a comic book store where I helped organize, in an un-air conditioned Virginia warehouse, over two thousand long boxes of comics into alphanumeric order.
 This means books on the 20th century are on the far left of my bookshelf.
 I have a book buying problem.