The Fault in Our Rainbow Bookshelves

When I go to the library to find a new novel to read, I expect the books to be alphabetical by author then by title. I don’t like this system only because it breaks up the order of a series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes before Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Twilight comes after New Moon. I understand, though, that it makes it easier for patrons to find books, especially if they don’t know the book they’re seeking is part of a series.

For my personal library, I can organize them how ever I want. I would love to follow the path of alphabetical by author, then title with exception to series (they must remain in chronological or publication order). However, my shelves need heavy books at the bottom to keep them stable.

Lately, I keep seeing rainbow bookshelves on the Internet. I thought it was a cute, once-in-a-while organization technique that BookTubers did. More and more rainbow bookshelves popping up in my news feed. Again.

It’s annoying to me when people organize by color solely for aesthetics—with no intention to ever read the books. An article I read talked about interior designers and hotels purchasing a certain number of books in each color with no regard to which books are chosen. On the hotels’ part, some glue those books to the shelves so no one can take them or read them. What is the point of providing these books if you’re not going to allow anyone to read them?

I would like to try this organization method for fun some day, but I don’t see that being practical for me. Here are the pros and cons of rainbow shelves:


  • They’re beautiful.
  • They allow creativity.
  • They’re talking points.
  • It can help with figuring out where to put books that don’t fit a defined topic, such as travel memoirs with recipes (borrowed from Apartment Therapy).
  • Mid-series cover changes are less noticeable. Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade trilogy changed cover style with the first book, and the new style stuck for the rest of the trilogy.
  • If you move in with your boyfriend or anyone else, all books could be subject to the color-coding law.
  • If stability of shelves is a problem (e.g. milk crate shelves), you can creative by stacking the books in a puzzle pattern in each color zone.


  • If you have shelves that require stability with heavier books, you can’t follow this scheme with all of your books. That’s assuming you like having your books stand up like library books.
  • What do you do with books with multiple colors? What about books that are white, grey, or black?
  • How can you find anything? I suck at remembering what some books look like, especially if the spine is a different color.
  • What if the spine is a different color from the front cover? Here are a few examples:

Covers with different colored spines

  • It can break up series or a collection of books by an author. Looking at Kerstin Gier’s Precious Stone trilogy (a.k.a. Ruby Red trilogy), Ruby Red with its red cover has to go with reds, Sapphire Blue with blues, and the Emerald Green with greens.
  • If you collect editions and translations of books, they could easily end up in different sections. I have a copy of the German translation of Fifty Shades of Grey and an English translation. The German translation has a hot pink spine while the English translation is black and blue.

What do you think of rainbow shelves? If you have them, do you have any pros or cons that I’m missing? Do you have suggestions to resolve problems like the “different spine, different front” books?


12 thoughts on “The Fault in Our Rainbow Bookshelves

  1. This is why I have never understood rainbow bookshelves. Though I suppose you might have your personal collection memorized and know where the book is even if it is organized by color?

    1. I think you’re right. It probably works very well if you have a good memory of the covers and their spines.

      1. Maybe people do and that is why so many library patrons go to the desk asking for a the “small blue book” they liked, as if that means something to the librarians! 😅 I couldn’t make a rainbow shelf if I wanted to, however–my books aren’t the right colors– so I guess I will have to remain in ignorance about how they work.

  2. I will never understand why people organize things like that. I mean, currently I don’t have any sort of organizational system, but if I did, it would never be by color. When I was younger, I had things organized by genre and then alphabetically by author (though I kept series in order, not alphabetically by title; I’ve never seen a library that keeps series out of order!). Now I’ve just got too many books and too little time to do anything with them.

    1. I also have a relatively inconsistent way of organizing by subject and author. The public library systems I’ve seen organize fiction alphabetically by title then author. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets comes before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (even the original British title) in that system. I’m less certain about how that works with the Library of Congress system because I don’t know the nuances of it that well.

    1. If I had a bunch books on the same subject or books by the same author (and not in a series), I think I would try it for fun. Practicality is a must for me right now.

  3. I’ve seen those pictures of rainbow shelves, and they’re definitely pretty. The one reason I can’t bring myself to do that is, as you pointed out, because it would break up series. My bookshelves are generally organized in a very eclectic manner, by whatever similarities make sense to me at the time; but series are ALWAYS together, and usually everything by one author.

    1. I do an eclectic style too. Right now I have a vampire section that morphs into a section on demons and Hell. I also have a section for royalty and fairy tales, and I try hard to keep series and authors together. Like you, that changes when I go to reorganize the shelves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s