How to Organize a Record Collection

By Kathy Adams
records, a pile
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If your record collection is large enough to warrant its own old-school library-style card catalog, your organizational style determines whether you can find any given album in less time than it takes to play Side A. If you enjoy listening to the records, besides just storing them, arrange them using the method that makes the most sense for you to find what you seek, quickly.

Genre Groupings

Whether your collection spans a few genres or many, grouping albums by genre comes in handy if you spend time listening to several similar albums in an afternoon or while entertaining. Alphabetize the genres -- for instance, "ambient" goes on the shelf before "comedy" -- or group the genres based on which you listen to the most, keeping your favorites nearest the record player. Alphabetize the artists within each genre if the collection is sizable, so it takes less time to find what you're looking for. Store records in white sleeves outside of their covers but together in a mylar sleeve to prevent ring wear, especially those with light-colored covers.

Alphabetized Artists

Alphabetizing albums by the artist or band name allows you to find exactly what you want quickly. If you enjoy a particular artist enough to have every album he released, arrange them in chronological order, as you're likely to recall the albums in this manner anyway; otherwise, put all of his records in alphabetical order as well.

Beyond Albums

Some artists release 12-inch singles, featuring versions of singles longer or different than the tracks played on the radio or offered on the original album. If you have a number of 12-inch singles as well as a large record collection, keep the 12-inch records separated by artist or alphabetically to help find them faster.

Keep 45s in a separate area, also arranged by artist -- organizing the records by size makes for a more manageable collection and makes it easier to find the right single. Store the records in plain white sleeves, outside of their picture sleeves but together in a mylar sleeve, to prevent damage to the seams and corners.

For a collection of floppy, clear records, such as the type offered on the back of cereal boxes decades back, store those in clear sleeves, arranged by year or alphabetically. If they are colorful, display them on a wall in a record frame.

Keep 'Em Separated

After you've organized your records based on genre or artist, you need a way to quickly spot the end of one section and the beginning of another. File-folder separators with colored tags slip between records for a visible demarcation between one area and the next, especially if you write on the separators with a thick marker to make each section even more visible. A label maker prints out colored tags for each artist or section if you display your collection on wide bookshelves, for instance. For a playful and decorative way to tell one section from another, mark the areas with toys, knickknacks or postcards that help tell one section from another: Note Beatles or British Invasion albums with a toy British flag, for instance, while the ZZ Top album section might feature a bobblehead toy with a long beard and a guitar.

Organizing Electronically

If you need to organize what you have for insurance purposes, create a spreadsheet or database of your collection. You can purchase software specifically for record collecting, or download a free UPC scanner apps for your smartphone. UPC scanners can record data about each album just by zapping the barcode. The info may still need some cleanup after exporting to your computer, but it sure beats typing each one in. For those artists who span genres, you can also specify in your database where in your physical organization method each album is stored.

About the Author

Kathy Adams won several investigative journalism awards from the Associated Press. Adams has ghostwritten several books and content for A-list musicians' websites. She is equally at home repurposing furniture and found objects into art as she is managing bands and community gardening efforts, running non-profit organizations and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals.