How To Catalog Your Books Like a Librarian

Creating an Organized Inventory of Your Home Library

Having a home library can be a source of tremendous pride and satisfaction. It displays your interests, provides easily accessible reference materials, and shows both what you have read and what you may hope to read in the future. However, as your personal collection of books grows, it may become difficult to recall each and every book on your shelves. Creating an inventory, or library catalog, will allow you to survey your collection and intellectually organize your materials. The following steps will guide you through that process:

Step 1

1. Be aware of which pieces of information should be included in a catalog entry.

  • The full name of the author (or authors), as printed on the piece
  • The names of the editor or other contributors, if applicable
  • The full title of the book, including subtitle (if there is one)
  • The edition statement (e.g., "3rd ed." or "New ed.")
  • The city where the book was published (Note: If there are multiple cities of publication, you may use the first one listed.)
  • The name of the publishing company
  • Date of publication or copyright date
  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number), the 10- or 13-digit identification number printed on most books
  • The subjects of the book (Note: For a home library catalog, the "subject headings" will likely be the keywords that you assign to describe the topics of each book.)

Step 2

2. Know where to find the information you need.

  • Rather than focusing on a book's cover, turn to the title page, which will serve as your principle source of information. Here you should find the title, subtitle, author, edition statement, publisher, and city (or cities) of publication.
  • On the reverse side of the title page, which is referred to as the "title page verso" or "copyright page," you will find copyright information, dates, the ISBN, and special notes or credits related to the publication. In many books, the title page verso also contains CIP, or Cataloging in Publication, data. This is the type of structured catalog entry that you would see in a good old fashioned card catalog. You may wish to use this as a template. (Note: The pre-publication information may not exactly match the finished product. Sometimes minor changes are made prior to a book's release. Be sure to double-check the title page for accurate information.)

Step 3

3. Apply subject headings to describe the content of each book.

  • Chances are, you don't have a personal copy of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Dewey Decimal Classification, or similar professional cataloging resources (nor are you likely to have the licenses to use such products.) However, it is possible for you to develop your own headings or "tags." Tagging is fairly common on blogs, social networking sites, and even some public online catalogs for libraries. For your collection, choose headings that are logical for you. For instance, if you have a book about military strategy in the Revolutionary War, you may choose headings such as "American Revolution" and "Warfare." Whatever tags to decide, be sure to apply them consistently!

Step 4

4. Set up a format for your records and stick with it. 

  • A typical catalog entry looks like this:
    Author's last name, Author's first name.
    Title of the book / Author's full name. - City of publication : Publisher, Year of publication and/or copyright date.
    Number of pages; Height of the book measured in centimeters.
    1. Subject heading.
  • For example, your catalog entry for Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" published by Warner Books in 1982 may appear as follows:
    Lee, Harper.
    To kill a mockingbird / by Harper Lee. - New York : Warner Books, 1982, c1960.
    281 p. ; 19 cm.
    ISBN 0-446-31078-6
    1. Race relations, Fiction.
    2. Legal stories.

Step 5

5. Choose a place to store your catalog records.

  • If you prefer hard copies of your home library catalog, you may want to take the old school approach: a card catalog. Write or type an entry for each book on an index card and arrange the cards alphabetically.
  • Another option would be to store your catalog records electronically using a software program on your home computer. You may create a simple, structured list in Microsoft Word (or other word processing program) and add to the list as you acquire new books. If you want to create a more complex database, try setting up your catalog in a database program, such as Microsoft Access.
  • There are now online services that allow individuals to catalog their books electronically at no cost or for a small fee. (One such service is You simply register and then begin adding your books, either by entering the title, author, or ISBN of each book. One benefit of this approach is that the online services often include social networking features, reading recommendations based on user preferences, and book discussion forums. As a result, you can inventory and organize your home library while interacting with other readers and discovering new materials that you may wish to explore.

Once you begin cataloging your books, the required information and formatting will become like second nature. In short, you will discover that the process becomes easier and easier with practice. If you regularly catalog your new materials, you will always have a good idea of what books you currently own and, perhaps, what other books you wish to acquire in the future. Your home library will be intellectually organized, which may help you design a physical organization scheme in the future.


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