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17 Stylish Ways to Display Bookshelves with a Lot of Books

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Contrary to what Pinterest and interior design magazines would have us believe, bookshelves were actually originally made to store books (the name sort of gives it away).

Shocker, I know!

More often than not, what you see in interior photos are a couple of lone color-coordinated stacks of books amongst a selection of carefully curated tchotchkes.

Watch the video instead!

Stacking books for decoration is great, but what about all the people that have a lot of actual physical books?

Surely there are a few of us out there!

epic library
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I used to get really anxious over how to make my bookshelf decor look pretty since I own a ton of books.

But here’s the thing: in terms of DISPLAY, I realized that having a lot of books is like having any other collection. And generally, collections look best when they’re displayed together.

The challenging thing about having a large collection of books is that you ideally want to be able to know what you have and easily access things. When you add to the equation the problem of also making it look nice, it’s where things can get challenging.

Fortunately, books have been around for awhile, so people have been dealing with this problem and coming up with great solutions for almost just as long.

Let’s take a look at some of them!

How to display a bookshelf with a lot of books

Here’s a WARNING! A few of the book organization ideas below are super controversial in the book lovers community, as they favor form over function. Breeze over those ones if they make your inner librarian rage a little inside – or just go ahead and leave me an angry comment 🤪.

I’m just sayin’: not all of these ideas for organizing books will be for everyone!

There’s no “right or wrong” way to display and organize a book collection. If you can find what you need and you’re happy with how it looks, then that’s all that matters!

What I do hope though, is that everyone can find something that will work for them. It may also be a combination of a few of the methods. Don’t be afraid to try things out until you’re happy.

Before you start organizing and beautifying your collection of books, assess your collection! I suggest you:

  • Empty your bookcase. If you really want to take this book organization bull by the horns, then just do it. Empty it all out, give your bookshelves a good clean, blow the dust off your books and look at the space you have with fresh eyes.
  • Edit your collection. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and ask yourself if you really want each book you have. It’s totally fine if you do, but it’s helpful to look through everything you have and decide if it’s worth keeping. Ask yourself why you’re keeping the book. Are you going to read it again? Does it have sentimental value? Is it outdated? Does it have pretty pictures? If you can’t think of a single reason why you should keep a book, then it might be best to put it in a temporary “donate” pile. You can go through the donate pile later on and re-evaluate if you’re feeling unsure. Remember, there’s no such thing as too many books, so if you want to keep them all, then by all means, DO IT!
  • Decide where to keep your collection. Are you going to keep your home library all in the same room? Do you have enough space? Do you need to purchase any additional shelving? Do you need to protect any of your books from dust? (A bookcase with glass cabinets would be a great choice.)

1. Remove the dust jackets

books without dust jackets
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If you have books with less than stellar looking dust jackets, try removing them. You might be surprised at how appealing your “naked” book will look. Usually, the hardcovers are wrapped in cotton in a solid color and look quite smart.

BUT! There are things to take into consideration if you remove the dust jackets! What are you going to do with them all? Will you keep them or toss them? Will you change your mind 6 months down the road and want to put them all back on? (In that case, don’t throw them out!)

Personally, I much prefer the look of my books *without* the dust jackets, but I’m too afraid to throw them out (what if the book gets damaged/scuffed/I drop peanut butter on it?! 😮). My little pea brain can’t handle it.

So in the end, I keep them on, secretly always longing to remove them. It’s a genuine struggle. 😆

2. Play with horizontal book stacks

stacks of books stacked books
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I think it’s strangely satisfying when I see a neat row of books that fills up an entire shelf. But if that’s not your cup of tea, then try breaking up your row by adding stacks of books in horizontal piles. This helps add some visual interest as you can create different heights, and then place decor items on top of your stacks.

Stacking is also a great way to store your magazine collections.

3. Separate hardcover books from paperbacks

paperbacks separated from hardcover books
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Hardcover books display differently from paperbacks on the shelf. Hardcover books just look neater on the shelf, whereas paperbacks look a little messier. Try grouping your paperbacks and hardcovers on different shelves for a cohesive look.

4. Organize books by a certain category

beautiful bookshelves in a small office with plants
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This can be organizing by author, by genre, by fiction vs non-fiction, by classics vs modern literature, cookbooks, travel books, art books. Etcetera. Do whatever your internal librarian desires!

5. Use baskets and pretty storage boxes

baskets in bookshelves
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For books that you to need to be semi-accessible, store them in large matching baskets on the bottom shelf. You can do this with any books that are ugly, tattered, or for whatever reason you just don’t want on display.

Make sure you choose a color palette for your storage! If you have a bunch of mismatched baskets and boxes, it’s not going to help you out in your quest for a beautiful and organized bookshelf.

 

 

6. Add 2 rows of books per shelf

bookcase display
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Adding 2 rows of books per shelf will really maximize your shelf space and can create a beautiful layered look. The obvious drawback is that the books in the back row will be a lot more difficult to see and access.

7. Organize your books in alphabetical order

alphabetical books in a library
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If you are someone that remembers titles and authors better than colors, this method will probably work better for you. You can do alphabetical by author or alphabetical by title.

Want to know how to sort your books FAST? This video shows you how to alphabetically sort almost 1300 books in just 3.5 hours!

8. Introduce tchotchkes, plants and artwork

introducing decor in bookshelves
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But do this only once you’ve placed all your books out. After you’ve organized everything to your liking, try introducing decor items amongst your books wherever there is an empty space.

A good rule of thumb is to never add any items that are smaller than an orange. Anything too small will just make the shelf look cluttered.

9. Place larger books on the bottom

large books on bottom
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It’s usually a good idea to place heavier things at the bottom of bookshelves. Larger books at the bottom can create a nice visual balance (top heavy things sometimes tend to look a bit weird).

10. Only use the top shelf for decor

low bookcases
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Fill up your bookcases entirely with books, but reserve the top surface of the shelf for decor like artwork, plants, and interesting vessels. This can look beautiful with lower bookshelves lined up against a wall or under a window.

11. Align books by height

books grouped by height
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If you have a lot of books that are all the same size and height, group those together. Try to create a row of books that are all the same height – it will look seriously uncluttered and really clean!

12. Group together books you haven’t read yet

books stored in rolling cart
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If you have several books lined up that you are planning on reading, but struggle to locate them in your collection, this is a great idea. You could have a dedicated section where you group all your future reads, new purchases, or anything you’re planning on reading in the near future.

A nice way to do this is by placing them in a rolling cart, like in the photo above!

13. Visit your favorite bookstore

cozy bookstore exterior
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Do you have a favorite bookstore that you return to time after time? What is it about that particular store that appeals to you? Go back and take a look at how they display their collection. Make note of how it’s organized and if they display books in a certain way that you like.

It might not just be about the books themselves – maybe the type of shelves they use speaks to you. Or perhaps they created a cozy reading nook somewhere in the store that you could also try to recreate. Maybe they have plants and succulents mixed in among their books.

Analyze what you like, and see if you can translate some of that back into your space.

14. Don’t push your books all the way back

pastel books grouped by color
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If you have deep bookshelves, you might be tempted to push your books all the way back until they touch the back of the shelf. Don’t do this! Instead, keep the spines close to the edge of the outside edge of the shelf.

By doing this more light will hit the spines and it will be much easier to see what you have. Your books will also be easier to access.

15. Arrange by color

books organized by color
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(controversial!)

You don’t have to create a literal rainbow of books (although that can look amazing). You can simply opt for arranging your books in groups of hues that look nice together. For example, you could keep pastel-colored books in a group, keep warm-toned covers in a group, and keep black, whites and grays in another group.

Whatever color combination you choose to display your books, you can be sure that it will create a lovely statement bookshelf that is visually very pleasing. Now, whether or not it’s easy to quickly find the titles you want … is another matter. 😬

16. Turn the pages outwards for a more uniform look

books turned outwards for uniform look
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(really controversial)

Look away if you’re a diehard bibliophile who needs to see every title in your collection! The “backwards books” method, ie with the book spines facing the wall, is purely for aesthetic purposes but can really help tie a bookshelf together. Especially when you have a collection of mismatched book colors, sizes and thicknesses.

17. Recover your books with paper

books recovered in craft paper
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(SUPER controversial!)

If you choose to go with this painfully lengthy, but visually cohesive method, you can use any kind of paper or fabric: whatever has a look that you find attractive. You might also have to create homemade labels for each book. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to grab some avery labels and a thin sharpie, write the title on the label and slap it on the spine (it’s hard to see, but that’s what was done in the photo above).

I prefer the handwritten look, but you could also grab a free binder label template and print them out. There are 40 free binder spine label templates here with a bunch of different designs. The article says they are formatted to use in Microsoft Word, but you can download any one you like and just open and modify in Google Docs. I tested them and they work fine using Google Docs!

You could also just recover a portion of books if you don’t have the patience, time or willpower to recover all of them.

 

 

What about organizing my children’s books?

Though your child may have fewer books than you, it’s surprising how quickly kids books can accumulate!

Inspire your kids to grow up with a love and appreciation of reading by creating a mini library in their own bedroom.

One thing I love about kids books is that they usually have really fun book covers. Don’t be afraid to put those bright colors and quirky designs on display!

childrens book display
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If you’re wondering how to store children’s books, there are many creative ways to arrange them besides using a standard bookshelf.

You will want to make sure your child can actually access his or her books. Opt for lower storage solutions so that their book treasures are always readily accessible!

You can use:

  1. floating shelves (these $25 wood shelves from Amazon are super cool!)
  2. picture ledges (the white ones from IKEA are only $10 each!)
  3. a vintage steamer trunk
  4. baskets
  5. a rolling cart (this IKEA utility cart would be a great option)
  6. plastic bins
  7. spice racks
  8. cube storage units (this awesome one from Amazon comes with 9 cubes and is only $32! Comes in gray, blue and pink)
  9. over the door fabric organizers
Pssst – want a 30 day free trial to Audible *and* 2 free audiobooks?? Use this link 🙂 

The best free book cataloging apps

If physically organizing your books wasn’t enough, you can also use a number of totally free apps to make a true catalog of your library. Here are some of the best book catalog apps you can use to maintain your personal library.

*hint – scan all your books into your catalog app when you’re putting them back on the shelf during the reorganization process!

If you own hundreds of books, you will probably have experienced the frustration of buying a duplicate book before.

That will never happen again if you use one of these apps. Just make sure you always have your phone handy and check your virtual catalog before you buy your next book!

You really only need one app, since they all do pretty much the same things.

Goodreads

FREE, CONTAINS ADS.

This app is a classic, and for good reason. Goodreads is highly rated, it’s free, allows you to scan the barcodes on your books to quickly catalog them. Goodreads is social as well, so you can see what all your fellow bookworm friends are reading at the moment! Contains ads.

Download for Android / iOS.

Libib

FREE FOR UP TO 5000 ITEMS. NO ADS.

Libib doesn’t just catalog your books – it takes it one step further since it can also catalog your movies, music, and video games. It’s free for a catalog of up to 5000 items, which will cover most people. After that, you would have to upgrade to their paid plan which is targeted more towards small organizations and small libraries ($9/month or $99/year). The free version doesn’t have ads, so that’s a nice bonus.

Download for Android / iOS.

My Library

FREE, NO ADS.

This is also an ad-free book cataloging app, which is free to download and use. Very highly rated and straightforward even for those who aren’t super tech-savvy.

Download for Android.

Book Library

FREE, CONTAINS ADS.

Totally free but does contain ads. Doesn’t have the prettiest UI (user interface); it kind of looks like it was made using clip art images. 😶

Download for Android


So my fellow bookworms, I really hope you’ve found some inspirational ways to display and organize your book collection! would love to see your bookcases, so tag me with your shelfies on Instagram @poshpennies!

If you’re also into audiobooks, I 100% recommend trying out Amazon’s Audible if you haven’t already! Use this link to get a free month of audible and 2 *FREE* audio books! Woot woot!

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26 Comments

  1. This article was really helpful, there was one problem. I have many series so I would usually organise them by author, but it just looks messy. Some hardbacks, loads of different colours, I didn’t like it. I like the look of coloured organisation but it’s impractical because of how many series I own. What do you think I should do?

    1. if you want to keep the series together, you could go the wrapping paper/labeling route! because it’s quite a bit of work to wrap several books, you could stick to wrapping only the most “offensive” series first (the ones that look most chaotic visually) and see how that helps with the overall look of your collection. keep wrapping one series at a time until you reach a level where you’re happy with how it looks as a whole.

  2. Thank you very very much for this post! I love the effort you put to give as many ideas as possibile, I was so curious scrolling down to see the next idea.
    I love books and I have plenty, but I also don’t like their messy look on my bookcase and your article gave me a lot of support to improve. I think I’ll go with the paper recover, I love how neat and tidy they look when are all similar, especially my mismatched-look series!
    Thank you
    Monica

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article. I love organizing by bookshelf. I searched this out on Pinterest as I contemplated reorganizing again, and came across your page.
    Didn’t know about the apps to help keep track k of the book. Really cool. Thanks.