by Ivy Rutledge

The arrival of spring and summer has traditionally been a time to prepare the home for a new season or year. While it’s easy to overlook your books and bookshelves during this process, consider giving your library some extra love. Here are five steps toward a cleaner, more organized collection.


Parting with books can be difficult, but if you think of your library as a garden that needs to stay active, pruning out what you don’t need becomes easier. Decide what your criteria are for your home library. How do you need or want it to function? How much space do you have? Here are some suggestions to help you decide what to keep and what to donate.

These are the types of books to consider keeping:
  • Heirloom-quality books with beautiful hardcover bindings and classic design
  • Books that have been read and enjoyed many times over
  • Unusual or hard-to-replace books, such as obscure or out-of-print titles and autographed works
  • Hardcover copies rather than paperbacks when you have duplicates
  • Books that have useful annotations
  • Textbooks or professional references that will retain their accuracy and relevance
 [pullquote]Decide what your criteria are for your home library. How do you need or want it to function? How much space do you have?[/pullquote]
Consider donating the following types of books:
  • Easily replaced books and classics that can be found in digital form for free
  • Damaged and ugly books, or books that have unpleasant associations
  • Reference books that contain info that is readily available from digital sources
  • Anything based on outdated information, such as old atlases with obsolete political boundaries and cookbooks based on outdated nutrition guidelines
  • Books your children have outgrown that don’t rise to the level of an heirloom or favorite
  • Any book you haven’t thought about or used in 2 years
  • Books that were gifts that you otherwise don’t want, need, or use
 [pullquote]Keeping your books clean will extend the life of your library.[/pullquote]


Keeping your books clean will extend the life of your library. You’ll need a vacuum with a hose attachment, microfiber cloths, and furniture polish to clean the shelves.

Use caution with antique books: these are best taken to a professional for cleaning.

  • Begin with a clean floor that has been freshly mopped or vacuumed. Plan your space so there is an area designated for the books that will be returned to the shelves and a box handy for books that will be either stored or donated.
  • If the books are covered with a thick layer of dust, vacuum the books on the shelf first to remove most of the dirt. Use a brush attachment and gently vacuum the pages of the book (called the text block) away from the spine.
  • Remove books from the shelves one at a time, cleaning the books as you go.
    • Start with the top shelf and work your way down.
    • Use a clean microfiber cloth rather than a regular cleaning rag, and do not use any chemical cleaners.
    • Wipe the books outward from the spine, working from top to bottom.
    • Change the microfiber cloth frequently to avoid working more dirt into the book surfaces.
    • Sort books as you clean them, placing them carefully in piles or in boxes.
  • For certain books, vacuuming is preferable to wiping:
    • Books with deckled (untrimmed) edges
    • Books that have been covered with soot or mold
  • Once all of the books have been removed and individually cleaned, use your usual methods to clean the bookshelves and prepare them for the books’ return. Adjust the shelves if necessary, once you’ve planned what will go where.


For many bibliophiles, this is the most fun part of the process. So many options exist, so you’ll need to consider how you want your shelves to look and function. Here are some possible organizational schemes you can use:

  • Organize by topic, putting history and historical fiction together in one spot, reference books in another, and so on.
  • Organize by genre, strategically placing them where they’ll be used most. For example, consider putting anthologies in your guest room, for shorter reading experiences, and reference books in your home office.
  • Organize by size or color, creating a visual complement to your decor.


Take a day or two to let your choices settle, then find a worthy organization to donate your box of books to. Check to see what their requirements are, and be prepared to work with more than one organization.

  • Check with local schools to see if the books you have could be useful in the school library.
  • For outdated books that will likely not be useful to anyone, consider donating them to an art teacher. Art teachers are usually eager for free materials to work with, and there are a multitude of ways an old book can be culled for pictures or substrate material.
  • Thrift stores and used books stores are a convenient choice.
  • Your local library likely has a Friends of the Library society, and they may take your used books for a book sale.
  • Donate to soldiers serving overseas through Books for Soldiers.
  • Donate to prisoners through Books to Prisoners.

[pullquote]Take a day or two to let your choices settle, then find a worthy organization to donate your box of books to. [/pullquote]


Whether you are downsizing, decluttering or simply making room for more books, you can follow these easy steps to make sure that you are left with a library that you love.

About Ivy RutledgeIvy Rutledge Headshot

Originally from Rhode Island, Ivy Rutledge lives in the Piedmont of North Carolina. She works as a freelance writer and editor, and she teaches workshops on commonplace books, creative writing, and nature journaling. Her writing has appeared in The Sun, Home Education, Mom Egg Review, The New Southerner, and Ruminate. Read more at 

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