Wish your bookcases looked neat and orderly? And that every sefer had a specific place to return to?
Organizing a home library is very different from organizing the library of a shul or yeshiva. In your own library, you can do without those colorful stickers on the spine that make it easy for the myriad people using the sefarim to put things back in the right place. So what system will work for your own family’s collection, while keeping your study looking neat and beautiful? How can you make sure every sefer will be easy to find…and will still make it back to its designated spot?
Organize by Category First
Your sets of sefarim – your Shas, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnayos, Tur – will have the first places on the shelves on the main level that accommodate your tallest sefarim. They’re usually used the most often, so they should be easily accessible. The rest of the sefarim should be divided up by category: Gemara, Chumash, Navi/Kesuvim, Mussar/Machshavah, Halachah, Yomim Tovim, and other categories, depending on what’s in your collection. Machzorim can go with either the siddurim or the sefarim on Yomim Tovim.
Aleph to Taf
Once your sefarim are divided by category, organize them from aleph to taf by topic/sefer name. For home libraries, this is the most practical way to be able to easily find each sefer. Here’s a close-up of the top shelf of sefarim on Chumash, beginning with the Alsich, (Rabbeinu) Bachya, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and Divrei Yechezkel. I don’t include the “Rabbeinu” titles when organizing, otherwise almost every sefer would end up in the “reish” section, and that would get confusing. The exception would be when an author is known by an acronym, such as Rashi, Rambam, etc.
Here’s the halachah section, with the Shulchan Aruch set along the bottom. The sefarim at the top begin with the “aleph” sefer of Urim V’Tumim.
Tall Sefarim: The Exception
Often it can look funny when there’s a tall sefer in the middle of shorter ones. Furthermore, it’s a waste of space, as the rest of the sefarim on that shelf don’t need as much height. Make a separate spot for the “tall sefarim,” and don’t be concerned that they’re not in the right “section.” You won’t have trouble finding them, even if they’re not alphabetically arranged like the rest because you’ll know to go to a different special spot for these sefarim.
Here’s one section of a bookcase that’s devoted to Chumash. The sets of Mikraos Gedolos are on the bottom, where the taller sefarim can be accommodated. The taller sets of sefarim are also on those shelves, even though they’re not in alphabetical order.
Don’t have space for an entire set in one section? Continue it in the adjacent section.
What About the English Books?
Some people keep English books in the same category as Hebrew ones if they’re on the same topic. For example, a book on the 39 melachos is also a halachah sefer, just in a different language. But since English books are most often more colorful and look completely different from Hebrew sefarim, many choose to keep them in a separate section. Like the Hebrew sefarim, separate your English books by categories (halachah, biographies, etc.), and keep them alphabetized within the sections.
Siddurim, Chumashim, and Benchers
As a family grows, so does a collection of different chumashim and siddurim that children have used throughout their school years. Very often, those sefarim are not in the best shape. If you have sefarim shranks with doors, use the closed compartments for those sefarim, along with the benchers that your family has collected at different simchahs.
Finally, Be Practical If there’s a sefer that you use every day, even if its official spot is on a top shelf, it’s not really practical to keep it there. Some bookshelves are really tall. The sefarim that are pulled out most often can have their own convenient spot. The same issue often comes up in shul libraries, and we devote a separate space for those very heavily used sefarim.
Originally appeared in Nshei HaSiyum Magazine