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How to manage books in your personal library


Your library - your problem

I'm happy to live in a world where there are still people who love to collect books and expand their personal libraries. If you're happy owner of 50 or 100 books it's great, but when you pass the magical number of 500 books filling few shelves, you face the problem of managing your collection. I know private collectors who keep 5 000 or more books in their personal libraries. How to manage such large amount of volumes? Or perhaps your task is to manage library of some society, or small company but you have no experience in librarianship?

For all of those who face the problem of managing private collections of books, I came to rescue :). Allow me to share few tips and advices, because I haven't studied librarianship for nothing.

Few terms one must learn

Before we dig into managing our own library, there are few terms you should learn.

Volume - volume is a basic inventory item, it can be single book or a binded set of magazine issues or binded set of other documents. Volumes are showing the real size of our library.

Signature - it's a control number, assigned to specific volume. Some are short, some are long, it depends on the age of book and date it was added to the inventory. In simple words, first book in library should receive number 1 as signature, second book number 2, third book number 3 etc. You might encounter signature that also contains roman digits - I, II, III and IV. Those are representation of the book's size, measured in cm on binding's back. Here's a short list.

  • I - up to 20 cm
  • II - 21-25 cm
  • III - 26-35 cm
  • IV - 36 cm and more

Why are we using roman digits in signature? It's all caused by library magazine. Within it, height of shelves can be adjusted for space saving, so you won't put 15cm book next to 50cm book. Small books can be found in one place, big books in other :). When roman digits are in use, you can notice there will be many books with signature 1, but this time you will find 1I, 1II, 1IV. Isn't is simple?

Location signature - it's a number used for identifying the location of the book, sometimes it's the same as normal signature, sometimes it's different. For example, library magazine can use different signatures than reading room, therefore the difference is used for differing two books.

Accession - it's a number rewritten from inventory book. While signature is a continuing ascending number for new volumes, accession is differing types of volumes: books, audio materials, manuscripts etc. Here are few examples:

  • B23 - this means we're dealing with book (B) that found itself as 23 volume in inventory book.
  • R17 - this is a recording (R), number 17 in inventory book.
  • M17 - manuscript, number 17.

The numbers are ascending, but as you've noticed we have not one but two "number 17" - why is that? It's because bigger libraries use few inventory books, one for new prints, one for manuscripts, one for audio recordings etc. All of this to keep clean papers :). One more thing - there is no specific rules for use of letters in accession, it depends on you if you'll use B for book, or V for book as volume.

Some books worth reading

Marking shelfs

We have to deal with serious problem - how to organise book on shelves? Depending on the size of our library, we can use two ways to do this. We can either organise them in signature order, or in categories order. The first option is used in library magazines when finding book by number is focused on performance, while second option is generally used in reading rooms where free access to shelves applies.

Which one to choose? If this is your personal library, then organising shelves into categories is the best choice. If you manage for example library of some society or club where readers do not have free access to books, and all of them are stored in magazine out of sight, then organising books on shelves using signatures will be better.

Marking shelves

Independing of your choice, there is one way to mark your selves using roman digits. On the top of each shelf in visible place put ascending roman digit, this will organize your shelves. Then each of shelf's rows will be marked as well, this time using arabic digits, again in ascending order. First row on the top of your I shelf will contain numbers from 0 to X, where X is the number of your choice - it depends on how wide the shelf is. My normal shelf hold 100 books, so my first row is marked as 0-100, second row as 101-200, third row as 201-300 etc.

With this simple technique, if I assign location signature for a book, let's say 271II, then I already know I will find it as 71st book from left, on row marked as 201-300, on II shelf. Isn't that simple? Now all you have to do is to assign location signature to all the books you have.

Assigning location signature

It's simple - you have 100 books. You can choose to store them like in magazine, then you will just assign 100 location signature probably based on alphabetical order of these books. But if you prefer, you can assign these books to categories. Some books might be assigned to "history" category, others to "ancient egypt" category. Each category should be assigned to single shelf. This way shelf I will be assigned to history, and shelf II to ancient egypt. The rest is the same, 271II means we're dealing with 271st book in ancient egypt category. And if you have more books that one shelf can hold, just assign two shelves to this category and mark both with roman II :).

Now all you have to do is to create a system to store information about books.

Software and apps - create automate library

It's time to learn how to create a library for performance :). To do so it's important to use some computer apps, because the modern library is automated library. While I was exploring the web I was unable to find any web service that would allow one to mange his library for real. So let's start with simple offline apps to manage book collection, and not whole library.

  • Alexandria (linux) - if you're using Linux with Gnome, then Alexandria is the best choice for simple book collection manager.
  • Tellico (linux) - powerful app for KDE, one that I'm using. It's allowing me to create additional fields where I can put information regarding shelves and book signature (and location signature).
  • Delicious Monster (mac) - probably the best software to manage book collection. But it's shareware so if you like it, you have to buy a license that cost $20. What's cool about it is the bar code scanner and huge capabilities and a lot of features.
  • CollectorZ - another shareware software for Windows, licence cost 24 EUROS and you have to pay for additional features such as bar code scanner. But it's just huge application that will surely help you mange your library.

OnLine Apps

Of course offline apps aren't the only one. Yet online apps are meant mainly for sharing information about books you have, not where you have them :). Still, for small personal libraries the following websites will be good enough.

  • Shelfari -add books and share them with your friends - that's what I can tell about this website. It allows to build virtual collection of books but you can't add information about book location.
  • LibraryThing - my favourite online system for managing book collection. Again, it won't help you with adding information about location, but for small personal libraries it's perfect.
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Open Source ILMS

ILMS stands for Integrated Library Management Systems. If simple web apps doesn't meet your requirements, and instead of book collection you have a real library to manage, then here are some free Open Source apps that you might find helpful.

  • BiblioteQ - This app is meant for KDE, and offline library management, but it doesn't support bar codes and its features are limited.
  • Koha - Probably the most advanced free system currently available. Coded in PERL, it requires its own server to run, but once installed it gives you full control over your library, literally full - it can be compared to paid systems that run Library of Congress or National Libraries on whole world.
  • OpenBiblio - Based on php to be installed on web server, it's the best app for you to choose if you want something to be accessible as website. It support bar codes (it also got bar codes generator as well as Koha) too so you can keep track of your books easily.
  • PhpMyLibrary - Based on php also, it's the second one of this list that doesn't support bar codes. It's simpler than OpenBIblio but it might suit your needs.

With the systems above you can easily run a huge library that can be accessible by public :).

Few more books to read ;)

Getting to work

Use the apps to store information about books, use control numbers and location signature to track book within your library. In reality, there's nothing hard in managing library, there are two important things you should keep in mind.

  • Add each and every book to your database - so you won't miss it.
  • Delete books you don't have from the database - some might get lost, some might get destroyed. Delete them so you won't end up with book gone missing.

4 tips for managing personal library

In the end, I have few tips for you.

  1. Get organised - figure out what you have and what you want. Use another Moleskine or computer software to create a list of books you would like to add to your library. Mark the books you acquire with date, in future it will a be a great resource of knowledge about your personal library.
  2. Invest money - in both books and storage. Don't hesitate to buy proper shelves, never hesitate to pay expert for repairing your books. They're precious because of the knowledge and memories they hold inside the binding.
  3. Monitor what you lend - keep a journal or use computer software to track books you lend to people, and books people lend to you.
  4. Eliminate what you don't need - your library might contain books you don't need. There's no point in keeping them, you might want to sell some of your books or exchange them. It's a great way to get the volumes you want.


What do you think? Is the hub helpful? What other information regarding library management would you like to learn? I'll be happy to share them with you!


Luis G Asuncion from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines on November 21, 2019:

I love to read your article. You know what, I am a Librarian. I am also collecting books not only for my library by that I used to work but also in my personal library at home.

LoxiaKirearen on August 11, 2015:

You’re actually a good webmaster. The site loading pace is amazing. It kind of feels that you’re doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterwork. you have done a excellent activity on this matter!

Jim Sanders on May 27, 2015:

I prefer to organize my library by category. For a while I just kind of had the books throw haphazardly on the shelves, but it became almost impossible to find the book I was looking for. Organizing and then using software to keep track of where everything is is really handy. Thanks for the advice!

LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on March 07, 2013:

Well thought out.

TefJeffleeree on March 07, 2013:

My partner and i accustomed to receive at the top of life although lately I've developed a resistance.

BOMBASA RASUL BOMBASA on March 15, 2012:

perfect article indeed

HR Sudath Hemantha Piyasena from SRI LANKA on May 05, 2011:

Very Good article for librarians.

As my experience, KOHA is the most successfully ILS. But it may be little bit difficult to install..

if any one want to see step by step article about Koha installation follow this.,

Luis Alberto Robledo on February 26, 2011:

A software for personal library:

Spacejock BookDB

-Cataloguing your books database.

-Print labels with a barcode.

-Manage the lends.

-Simple to manage.

Slurpy McNash on April 29, 2010:

BiblioteQ runs smoothly on a variety of operating systems. It's not KDE-based nor KDE-centric. It supports both PostgreSQL and SQLite. So it's not truly offline.

As for features, it provides many:

* Cataloging of Books, DVDs, Journals, Magazines, Music CDs, and Video Games.

* Internationalization (translation) support. BiblioteQ currently supports the Czech, English, and German languages.

* Patron information.

* Rich search capabilities, including custom SQL queries.

* Cover images with drag and drop support.

* PostgreSQL accounts with various privileges.

* Administrator roles.

* Full PostgreSQL and SQLite support.

* Transactional database queries.

* Threaded data retrieval via the standard Z39.50 protocol for Books, Journals, and Magazines.

* Print support.

* Support for requesting unavailable items.

* Item reservation.

* Listings of overdue items, requested items, and reserved items.

* Customizable item data, pricing information, and currencies.

* Item reservation histories for patrons.

* Customizable displays.

* Embedded hyperlinks for localized searches of similar items.

* Front cover image retrieval via Amazon.

* Uniform functionality across various platforms.

* Support for multiple Z39.50 sites.

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