Yesterday, I had to pay for a lost library item for the first time in my life. I could tell the librarian felt a little bad as I dug out $8.22 for a five dollar kid’s magazine from 2016. They were probably ready to take it out of rotation anyway, but I honestly didn’t mind. We’ve benefited from the library a lot!
“Actually,” I laughed, “I’m surprised this is the first time we’ve lost something! We usually have over a hundred items checked out at any given time… my daughter is such a bookworm.”
“Really? How do you ORGANIZE all of your books??” she asked, genuinely impressed.
I paused to see if she wanted to short or long version. I mean, she was a librarian, and they’re kind of all about reading and sharing and organizing books, right?
“Well, we have this big desk or side table kind of thing… it’s super sturdy,” I began.
She nodded, still eagerly listening.
“It came with an office set, I think, but we use it as a side table in the living room, and it has a sort of shelf underneath,” I continued. “I put a bunch of blankets and pillows underneath to make a reading space for my daughter- we call it her ‘nest,’ and she loves to just sit there and read whenever she can.”
“So how do you organize the books? I mean, there are so many!”
She DID want to know, she really did! My bookworm heart soared. I looked back to see if there was a line forming behind me. There was. She didn’t care. Her eyes were still with me, intrigued. There was another librarian at the counter, so I didn’t feel as bad as I went in depth about how we organized it, and why we did it that way.
“Ok so we used to just have a box of books. But then it was just a big pile of books and I think it felt too messy and overwhelming for her to go through. I also tried just lining the books up on the shelves, but she’s a bit too young to just look at spines to pick out what she wants to read. The main thing that really helped were these book bins I had, kind of the shape of magazine file holders but shorter? I used to be a teacher, so I already had them.”
The librarian nodded, she seemed familiar with them.
“So in one bin we have Elephant and Piggie, another one has Henry and Mudge, then Dear Dragon, and then the Biscuit books.”
To anyone else, this might have sounded like gibberish, but I felt a connection with her as I saw her eyes light up with recognition as I listed off these well-loved early readers.
Maybe I should become a librarian.
“Then we have an actual magazine file for the magazines, and then a bigger miscellaneous box for all the other books. The game changer has been this ONE rule, though: home books stay in her room, and library books stay-”
“-IN THE NEST,” she smiled, “Of course! No commingling, so things don’t get mixed up!”
“YES!!! That is the one rule that makes all the difference. I used to have to look all over the house and through a million of the books on her own shelves to find something, it was such a headache, but now I know exactly where to get the ones that are due. So now she sits there and knows where to find what she wants to read. The miscellaneous bin doesn’t get as much love but we’re working on that.”
She followed me all the way to the end, eyes shining, “Wow, that is great! There is a BLOG POST right there!” she said energetically.
Wow, usually Ben was the one telling me that, but if the librarian- who didn’t even know I had a blog- thought so, it must be true!
So I set aside some time today to share this REALLY INTERESTING INFORMATION with you :D.
Here’s the nest:
I regularly have to go through it to remove stuffed animals, fairy wands, play food (sometimes real food- blech), and make sure none of our “home books” are getting mixed up in there. My daughter doesn’t “commingle” the books, but there is evidence that my younger toddler isn’t 100% on board with this policy just yet. You can’t tell, but there are probably six quilts and blankets all folded up underneath the white blanket there, so it’s nice and comfy. We tried different versions of the nest including a sleeping bag and multiple bean bags, but it always felt a little too scrunched up or lumpy, and books would always get buried and lost. This flat, open version has worked the best so far, and she frequently tries to turn it into a fort or tent-like space.
After many iterations, this is the book setup that has worked best so far:
The cushion back there is intentional. Before, the book bins would get pushed back under the shelf. While the spines were visible, it made it hard to take books out and slip them back into their bins. So books would somehow wiggle their way out, but never get put back in place! Now, the cushion keeps everything pushed out and keeps all the books very accessible. We have a system where she’ll take a book out from the right side to read, then return it into the left side of the bin when she’s done. This helps her keep track of which ones she’s already gone through. She gets pretty annoyed when her little brother goes through and mixes things up, but I have to insist that she let him into the space too- I definitely want to encourage a love of reading in both of our kids!
I really like the book bin system because, well, it’s so organized. Here’s a similar version in case you’re interested. When I used to line all the books up along the shelf with just the spines facing out, she didn’t seem to feel as motivated to try new books. I’d see her looking through the same few books that she’d leave on the floor and when it was time to return books to the library, she often hadn’t even looked through most of the ones I pulled off the shelves. As I removed each book, she’d cry out, “This one this one! I want to read this one!”
“Well, you just had three weeks to read it, why didn’t you read it then?” I’d sigh. It would happen with almost all of the books on the shelf, except the ones we had taken out to read to her ourselves. I knew it wasn’t her fault, though- we just needed a system that made everything more accessible to her. So the I tried the book bins for each series and that has worked out really well so far.
When I was setting up the kids’ rooms, I spent hours daydreaming about fluffy reading nooks and cozy hideaways. Before we settled on the nest as it is today, we had made a cute little teepee which was… cute, but pretty impractical as a reading space. I’ve scanned hundreds of images on Pinterest, but at least half of them are not earthquake safe (hello, California) and most of the rest fall in the cute-but-impractical (or uncomfortable) category. I never imagined that her favorite little space would end up under a dark mahogony side table thingy, but it has worked out really well and is cozy enough.
Before yesterday, I had never met anybody in person who cared about organizing books as much as I apparently do! I didn’t even know I loved it until the sweet librarian asked me to talk about it (though now that I think about the hundreds of hours I put into my fourth grade classroom library back in the day, it seems obvious). So that’s what motivated me to settle down tonight and share all about organizing books with you all!
Now, time to go read :).