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How I Organize Our Library Books (From 9 Different Sources)

Karina Glaser

Contributing Editor

Karina Yan Glaser is a full-time writer and illustrator with a varied career teaching and implementing literacy programs in family homeless shelters and recruiting healthcare professionals to volunteer in under-resourced areas around the world. Karina is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade books, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. She lives in Harlem with her husband, two daughters, and an assortment of rescued animals. One of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can't go anywhere without a book. Website:; Twitter: @KarinaYanGlaser; Instagram: @KarinaIsReadingAndWriting

I didn’t always have this dilemma. In the years post-college but pre-marriage/children, I had one solitary library card from the New York Public Library. I checked books out on this card. I read them. Then I returned said books back to the library. It was not complicated. Library books had a special spot on the “end table” (i.e. packing box filled with old textbooks covered by a piece of fabric) at the right side of my couch/futon. I rarely incurred a fine for late books. And I never misplaced a book. Ever.

Fast forward ten years. Our home is a veritable borrowed book disaster. Each human occupant of our apartment (there are four of us) has their own New York Public Library card. My two daughters go to different schools, and we have library cards from each one. Then each daughter visits their school library once a week in which they take out books with their class, bring them home, and get them mixed up with all of our other books. My older daughter also has weekly reading homework and takes home books from her classroom library.

In addition to the library books, we have our own personal book collection that has gotten so out of hand we’ve outgrown all of our shelving space. Annnd…there’s sort of this amazing used book store that has so many good books and I sort of go there a lot and it’s a problem because we need more bookshelves but that also means we need a bigger apartment.

(I refuse to disclose the name and location of this used bookstore because it’s so amazing and I don’t want you to steal all the great deals.)

(Okay, fine. It’s called The Book Cellar and it’s located on York Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets in Manhattan. But don’t tell anyone else about it. Also, call for their hours before you go because there’s nothing worse than making a trip to an amazing used bookstore and finding out they are not open on Mondays.)

Anyways, back to my dilemma. Consider the scenario just presented to you. At any given time in our home we have borrowed books from nine different sources all floating around amidst our own books. How to not go crazy? How to avoid the mad scramble on mornings when books are due?

It’s crazy town in our home, and earlier this year I realized we needed a system. It’s not a perfect system, but it sort of works when the Designated Household Library Manager (i.e. this frazzled author) closely oversees it:

Younger Daughter’s School Library Books: She’s only allowed to borrow two at a time, so we keep those in her backpack. That way she doesn’t lose them and we have reading material for our commutes.

Older Daughter’s School Library Books: On a shelf of its own next to the art bins.

Older Daughter’s Classroom Library Books: Kept in a handy plastic folder that stays on my daughter’s bed where she does her nighttime reading.

New York Public Library Books (for my daughters and I): Kept all together in a plastic bin that slides in and out of our bookshelf. This keeps the library books safe from our house rabbit that enjoys nibbling paper products (yes, you read that right). It also means I have our library accounts bookmarked on my computer so I can keep track of due dates.

New York Public Library Books (for my husband): I take no responsibility for my husband’s library books, even when I find them on his dresser covered with yellowed receipts or perched in an empty fruit bowl. (And yes, it drives me crazy.)

School Library Books Checked Out By Me: My daughters are so lucky to have great libraries in their schools, and I’m lucky too because as a parent I can check out up to ten books at a time. These books go into a tote bag next to our living room bookshelf.

This post is too long already, so I’m not even going to go into my book return procedure, which involves tote bags in various styles for the different institutions we need to return them too and a schedule of school library book return days written on our whiteboard. (By the way, have you seen Book Riot’s collection of tote bags? I want them all.)

So that’s our system, as imperfect as it may be. Long gone are the days of my spotless library record. With so many moving targets, I’ve incurred fines from books I couldn’t locate, only to find them a week later tucked among our own book collection, kicked under the couch, or hidden beneath a bed pillow. We’ve had to pay for at least two books that have somehow disappeared completely, but hey, even the Designated Household Library Manager makes mistakes sometimes.

What about you? Do you share this problem with library books? How do you keep your library books organized?