For me, the answer has been to integrate technology with an eye toward changing the way I think about books. I've always been a book hoarder- I still have my entire childhood library on shelves in my mom's apartment. On the few occasions in the past that I donated books, I inevitably came to regret it when for some reason dimly remembered plot details would come to mind for books whose titles I could not recall. I tend to remember covers so when the books are on the shelf, I can always track them down, but once they leave the house, all bets are off.
The solution? Online book cataloging. There are several programs and sites out there that allow users to catalog your books. My personal favorite is LibraryThing but I also have an account on Goodreads, and I've heard marvelous things about Delicious Library, sadly (for me at least) only available for Mac owners. I will confess that the initial work to enter the books is time consuming, but the result is well worth the effort. I made use of the tag feature in Library Thing to virtually organize my books, a system I am now in the process of translating to my physical bookshelves.
I have discovered that knowing a permanent record exists that a book was once a part of my collection makes it easier to let go of the books that I no longer need (non-fiction) or didn't really enjoy (fiction). I now maintain a book outbox, and either donate those books to my local library sale or list them on BookMooch or Paperback Swap to be sent out to readers who do want them. Slowly but surely my shelves are being purged and organized; by the end of the season, I hope to organized enough to justify purchasing the bookshelf labels pictured above as a reward for all my hard work. When I'm all done, I'll certainly share a picture of my newly organized library.
I would love to hear from other bibliophiles about alternative ways to impose order on the book chaos. For the record, my old solution was just to buy another bookcase, but now that I'm out of available wall space, I'm on the hunt for better ways to address the problem!
Image: Colleen Quinn.