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Organizing Your Reference Library

By Edited Mar 23, 2016 3 2

Great tips for organizing your research and references.

Especially for authors.

messy desk(122313)

Working in any creative field means you more than likely have a large (and growing) reference library in which you find it continually becoming more and more difficult to keep it properly organized. Your library could be made up of pictures, notes, songs or even objects. This stuff usually piles up on you pretty fast, and if you haven't got it in some kind of order, you'll find that eventually you won't be able to find what you are looking for. You might even give up in desperation.  

Even if you only have a small library at the moment, it will get larger. Creative people can't resist accumulating inspirational ideas, it's just a fact of life. It's a lot easier to organize as you accumulate, but I'm sure there are a lot of people out there where that is not an option.

If you already have a large, unorganized reference library, here are several tips to help you get organized. 

Organizing the Computer Reference Library

The computer and internet has made it very easy to find reference material for a wide range of creative endeavors. Organizing all of this material is difficult, but you have to stay organized to be successful.

Organized Folders
First, sit down and write out what is in your library.  Second, begin to make folders.  Make a main folder to separate large groups of similar material.  Everything in your main folder should go into a subfolder.  This will allow you to quickly access your material and add to it relatively easily.

This system can work for pictures, story ideas, news articles, etc. Below is only an example as everyone is different and saves different things. There is the main folder and then several sub-folders in parenthesis.

Architecture (window, stairs, doorways, interiors, bridges, homes, cityscapes, etc.)
People (male, female, children, couples, crowds, anatomy, etc.)
Animals (wild, domesticated, prehistoric, mythical, etc.)
Graphic Design (business cards, ads, backgrounds and textures, borders, clip art, etc.)
Music (country, rock, alternative, classical, soundtracks, etc.)
Tutorials (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, drawing, painting, writing, etc.)
Info and Ideas (news stories, beliefs and customs, humor, places, etc.)

Organizing Your Paper Reference Library

Keeping ideas organized in this manner takes up a lot more room, but you may like to leisurely go through notebooks and physical examples that you can touch. You may consider a hybrid system of both computer and paper.

Below is a broader review of several methods of organization of your reference library. 

• A filing cabinet is a must for organizing. Label your folders and alphabetize them for easy access. Move all of last year's folders out and archive them with your tax filings.
• Organize your bookshelf by grouping similar topics.
• Place magazines upright in a box so you can easily flip through them and make labeled dividers to separate each topic.
• Tape pictures and art into a notebook. Although it isn't as organized as if in a filing cabinet, it's nice just to flip through them and you can still use a loose table of contents with numbered pages.
• Get some D-Ring binders and some plastic sleeves to go in them. This is a great way to store magazine articles without keeping the magazines (which take up a lot of space over time).
• Written Ideas: Get yourself several notebooks and label them with certain categories. It's better to err on the side of caution and give plenty of room for each category in your reference library. Here are a few examples: quotes and dialogue, story ideas, scenes, occult, survival related, etc.
• Always carry a small notebook to write your ideas on. Ideas are elusive, they can be here one minute and gone the next. I usually try to keep a notebook by my bed, another in my car, and plenty more scattered throughout the house. I also physically try to carry one with me when I go out. Don't forget the pen or pencil. I especially like the Moleskine notebooks for journaling and the Field Notes Collection for carrying in my pocket and daily note-jotting. 

If you don't enjoy keeping paper articles, purchase a ScanSnap from Fuji.  It quickly and easily scans your paper documents and converts them into pdf files.  No more stacks of unused paper lying around.

A reference library is a great idea and can really help you if you ever get in a creative slump, but only if you can find what you need. Keeping it organized will save you time. You'll be glad you did when you have thousands and thousands of pictures and notes.

Feel free to comment and maybe share a few tips that you use yourself.

Archival Storage Of Paper Products



Oct 6, 2010 9:15pm
Another great article and you're so right, organizing helps us see and utilize the references we have and love so much. Keep writing, you're doing great!
Oct 7, 2010 1:33am
Genealogy research = lots and lots of papers to keep organized. I like paper copies of stuff because I tend to break my computers on a regular basis.

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