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 than 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 is right for your own family’s collection, while keeping your study looking neat and beautiful? How will every sefer be easy to find…and still make it back to the right place?
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 which accommodates your tallest sefarim. They’re usually used the most often so should be easily accessible. The rest of the sefarim should be divided up by category: Gemara, Chumash, Navi/Kesuvim, Mussar/Machshava, Halacha, Yomim Tovim, and other categories, depending on what’s in your collection. Machzorim can go with either the siddurim or the sefarim on the Yomim Tovim.
Aleph to Taf
Once your sefarim are divided by category, organize them by name, Aleph to Taf by topic/sefer name. For home libraries, this is the most practical to be able to easily find each sefer.
Here’s a closeup of the top shelf of sefarim on Chumash, beginning with The Alsich, the (Rabbeinu) Bachya, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and D’vrei 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 the authors are known by their acronym, such as Rashi, Rambam, etc.
Here’s the halacha 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. Plus, 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 alphabetical like the rest, because you’ll know to go to a different special spot for your tall sefer.
Here’s one section of a bookcase that’s devoted to Chumash. The sets of Mikraot Gedolot are on the bottom, where the taller sefarim can be accommodated. The taller set of sefarim are also on those shelves, even though they’re out of 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/sections as Hebrew ones if they’re on the same topic. For example, a book on the 39 melachos is also a halacha sefer, just in a different language. But since English books are most often more colorful and look completely different than Hebrew sefarim, many also keep them in a separate section. Like the Hebrew sefarim, separate your English books by categories (halacha, biographies, etc.) and keep 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 simchas.
Finally, Be Practical
If there’s a sefer that you use everyday, even if it’s 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 the most often can have their own convenient spot. The same issue often comes up in shul libraries too, and we devote a separate space for those very heavily used sefarim.
Originally appeared in Nshei HaSiyum