How I Organize my Home Library Book Shelves

When you become a Charlotte Mason Educator you also become a home librarian!-which is the funnest part! I began purchasing the books my children needed for their studies many years ago. I also became a frequent visitor of garage sales, library sales, and in general, anyone who was getting rid of books. Needless to say, the books began to stack up. One day I brought home a book that I already owned which was either a sign that I had too many books —but since that couldn’t be the case— I took it as a sign that I needed a system for keeping track of my books.  Over the years I have perfected a system that works for me.

The first thing I had to decide was HOW to organize things – either by author, by reading level, by aesthetics,or by topic. I decided by topic. This gave me the ability to easily find a book when one was needed —on a particular topic. I decided to shelve science by major topics and then break it down further to more specific categories. History I decided to shelve in chronological order. Geography is by country in general with other categories for maps or world geography.

This is helpful for me and the approach I use for scheduling and learning flow in general. When I need a book on birds I can go to the science shelf and to the bird section. When I need a book on the Revolutionary War, I can go to the history shelf and find one, taking a brief minute to search for one that suits the particular student’s reading level.  

On the edge of the shelf I have taped a little tag with the major categories or the historical year. Because there are some major topics for which I have many books, I have given those sections a name, such as World War II. Also for history, I use a 3 inch strip of cardstock that sticks out slightly from the books.  On this is written the year of the section preceding it. This tells me, for example, where the section for 1915 ends and where World War II begins which helps in reshelving. Below you can see the categories that fit the books I have, along with a few of my notes to remind myself of things. You might have different categories and notes….

Literature books are the exception. I decided to shelve them by author in alphabetical order.

As for reading level, I have a separate shelf for beginning reading and very early readers. These are in order from easiest to hardest and I just pull them off the shelf in order as they are needed for reading lesson time. These books are ones that will be read with help, because the reader is not quite reading on their own yet.  All other books are found on the shelves under the appropriate topic. For example, the category on Egypt might have a book that is for a high schooler and also a early reader chapter book. As I need a book, I go to the topic and I find one that will work for the student’s reading level.

This has worked very well for me when I want to find books quickly. But everything has a down side. The down side to this system is the books are not arranged aesthetically. I have a friend with the most beautifully arranged book shelves. The down side to the system I use is that there are books of all sizes and colors together on a shelf – which kind-of drives me nuts. It would look better to have them arranged either by color or shape and size. If I figure out a way to combine aesthetics and functionally I’ll repost! But for now my system is strictly function over form. Since they are not in a visible place in my house, it is tolerable. So to satisfy my aesthetic side, I have a small sampling of books in our main living space which are arranged with aesthetics in mind.

A small library nearby where I volunteer, (I love to be around good books!) uses some similarities to my system along with some other arrangements that might give you some organizing inspiration for arranging your shelves. This library uses the Dewey Decimal system. Here, specific topics are assigned specific numbers in a similar way that I do with categories. This would include topics and subjects such as history, science, schooling helps, and character. Literature is shelved by author and another section is strictly for biographies. A couple other helpful details this library uses – books which are Christian are marked as such though they are shelved in the general category in which they fall – usually literature. Book sets, such as Boxcar Children or CM’s Volumes are housed in a custom handmade holder (made from a small, cut off, painted cardboard box) which can be moved around to display the books anywhere.

One other somewhat unrelated thing I’ve found helpful. When I take a book off the shelf, I put a marker in the spot where the book came from. Then it is easily and quickly reshelved.

In another post I’ll talk about the book side of things — how I label the books and make sure I don’t bring home a book I already have!


Natural Science  = NS
Put lessons at end of shelf with a note in the book that I have a lesson for this book.

1 How things work
3. Experiment -build
4. Nature Experiment  -experiment & observe
5. Nature Notebook –    how to
6. Nature Notebook –  supplies
7. Nature Study Teacher – how to, walks, lessons
8. Nature Journals & personal experiences
9. Multi  topic
10 . Eco systems  =  Desert , Forest,  Prairie,  Pond,  Sea Ocean , Swamp, Tundra
11. Birds
12. Insects
13. Insects – Butterflies
14. Animals  -Reptiles, Fish
15. Animals – Mammals
17. Botany
18. Geology
21. Astronomy

Traditional Science = TS
22. Chemistry    
23. Physics   
24. Electricity Magnetism
25. Body
26.  Machines/Technology /Computers          
27. Inventions/Inventor

Science Divisions within each Category
Narrative Stories     
Varied Topics    
Specific Topics   
Experiment & Activities      
Nature Journal

Put lessons at end of shelf with a note in the book that I have lesson.

1. Chronological          Inside the Cover  include :        
History division date   –  list below
Date specific to book  in ( )  if applicable
Name if not on cover in ( )  if applicable
Geographical location (  ) if applicable

Old Testament   
New Testament  
100 AD           
500 (King Arthur)                
1300   (Marco Polo)
1500   (Columbus)  
Pilgrim 1620    
1750    (colonial)
Rev War  1775-1783 inc 4th of July       
Declaration & Constitution story, not study of docs       
1800( Frch Rev ,Boone,Lewis&Clark
1825 (Jackson)( Crockett) 
Lincoln 1809-1865     
Civil War 1861-1865        
1875  (pioneer, cowboy)
Native American 
WW I (1914-1918)     
1925  (G Depression)  
WW II (1939-1945)    

          For Religious  History –shelve chronological adding religious history in the inside cover include info as above
2. Various World = Spines/Text /Varied topics or persons, or Multi topics
3. Various US = Spines/Text /Varied topics or persons, or Multi topics
4.  Specific Topic = one theme/subject matter/people across time, or at one point in time.                    
5.  Source = Historical documents and speeches, compilations
6.  Military = various war, branches, soldier
7. Time Keeping = actual timelines and supplies for charts, BoC
8.  BoC  = Artifacts and Way of Life , text for finding pics for BoC

Put lessons at end of shelf with a note in the book that I have lesson.
1. Location  Country, state,
Inside the Cover  include :               
country  –  list below
 date specific to book  in ( )  if applicable
 name if not on cover in ( )  if applicable
geographical location (  ) if applicable
-United States
East Coast /  states – Maryland
Southern /  states – Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, SC, NC, Virginia, Louisiana…
Northern /  states – Minnesota, Wis, Mich ND, SD, Great Lakes…
Central Mid West  / states – Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois….
Rocky Mts  / states   Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah
South west /  states   -New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona
Pacific Coast / states –California, Oregon, Washington

-Central America
-South America
-Middle East
-Australia, Indonesia
-West Indies
-World  -multiplecountries/places, someone travelling to places,
-Sailing –  sailing explorers, travels by boat

2. Text   text book
3. Terms  – concepts, physical geography terms
4 Maps

Bible Study
2.Reading Plan
3. Devotion – as a study help, structured, daily plan
4.Saviour of the World
5.JP Smyth

1.Bible Story – actual Bible story
2. Biography – missionary stories
3. Religious Story – strong Bible/God influence/themes
4. Teaching –Bible lesson materials, object lessons, Bible crafts
5. Meditation–prayers, virtues, not based around specific references or a structured devotion,
6. Theology
7. Religious Topic- origin of Bible, other’s views of Bible topics
8. Religious Self Help – lots of Scripture, otherwise in Character Etiquette

Religious Celebrations

Character  – self improvement not religious

Etiquette & Manners 

Family  -parenting , raising children, special needs


Home Management

Homeschool –how to, styles
Teaching – classroom techniques, education philosophy
Books about Books – finding books, lists

Books about a literary author  PUT BY THE famous AUTHOR
1. General literature,    A-Z by author
2. US Legend & Folk Story
3. Folk & Fairy tale
4. Ancient Tales = Myths Greek /Roman gods  (Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, Aesop…)
5. Elementary Story Collection
6. High School Story Collection and Essay
7. Literature Helps
8. Play  (also see literature under author)
9. Holiday, Seasonal = Christmas, Easter, Fall…
10. Mom’s Book Stop



Reading lessons  
Chalk boards, letters, lessons
Books for learning sounds/sight words

Beginning  Readers
1. a new reader to go with lessons
2. a reader needing help

Current Events

1. Anthologies
2. By one author 
3. Books on poets
4. Writing and Reading Poetry
5. Poetry Lessons

Foreign Language
1. French
2. Spanish
3. Chinese
4. Other
5. Latin

Language Arts

1. Text
2. Helps



Dictation, Spelling

Vocabulary, Words, Dictionaries


Musical History
1. Composer
2. Opera
3. Stories of people or songs
4. Lessons –put note in book if applicable

Music Singing
1. Hymn
2. Folk
3. Patriotic
4. Music books w words for singing

Music Training
2. Solfa

Music Instrument
1. Learn-how to play
2. Practice -Sheet music/books
3. About instruments

1. Buildings – exterior
2. Interior  – furniture

1. Teacher resource – picture study lessons, teacher helps
2. Artists – about artists life and work
3. Biographies
4. Pictoral Art Artist
5. Pictoral Art History
6. Drawing, Experiment & Activities
7. Art Technique  books about technique/media     
8.  Art Journal

2. Stories –  picture and reading books
3. Terms  -a topic/concept, not story like, texty, solving problems, not a full curriculum
4. Story Problems & reasoning
5.Games   -puzzles, hands on activities, math reasoning
6. Teaching resource
7. Financial –money management, daily application of money


Entrepreneur / Business

Government , Citizenship

1. Constitutional Studies (may possibly contain some historical story)
See also History Constitution Story

Law& Philosophy–  logic, thinking, reasoning (other than math)

Recitation – public speaking, memory



1. Paper  = Sloyd, origami,
2. Yarn, Rope
3. Needlework
4. Sewing –material, quilt, English PP
5. Wood working Whittling
6. Painting
7. Clay, dough
8. Jewelry
9. Home Arts
10. Cooking
11. Various

PE & Games
1. Sports
2. Active play
3. Magic
4. Jokes and Riddles
5. Cartoons

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