How to Manage & Organize Your iBooks Library

| How-To

Many of us don't care much for organizing our digital "assets." Some even think too much organization is a disease. I believe that most of us would like to have some order to all this madness. Organizing your purchased iBooks is a sure way to not only know what you have purchased - and how much you've spent - but also to help you quickly peruse your library based on your own interests.

Please note that in this article, I make use of illustrations via screenshots from an iPhone 5 running iOS 6. All the functions covered are the same on iPad and iPod touch running iOS 6 but may appear slightly different. iOS 6 introduced several enhancements to iBooks. If you are using an older version, most of the organization features discussed here will also be applicable.

When you launch iBooks, if you see an empty set of bookshelves, and you know you have purchased books, you can now download just the titles you need at the moment. iCloud knows what you have purchased, and titles can be downloaded to any of your devices at any time as long as they share the same AppleID for purchases. Let's dive in.

As you start accumulating titles in iBooks, they are all tossed into the catch-all "Books" category. If organization is important to you, you can move the books into categories – called Collections – that you create and name to your liking.

When you first open iBooks, you are presented with your library securely ensconced in a lovely virtual wooden bookcase.

Your entire collection of titles is simply called your iBooks Library. The main, or home page, of your Library is your general default collection named Books. You know which collection you are viewing by glancing at the tool bar at the top. Tapping the center button – "Books" in this case – allows you to create and organize other collections of your choosing. We'll examine this shortly.

Two iPhone screenshots showing the two different views of the iBooks Library.

Two types of views are available when perusing your books.

While studying the tool bar, notice the Edit button on the left, and the Store button on the right. Tapping the Edit button, allows you to do a few things: you can delete the copies of your books residing on your device, change the listed order of your books, and move books to other collections.

The Store button on the right, takes you directly to the Apple iBooks Store. When on the Store page, to come back to your iBooks app, simply click on the Library button.

While on your Library home page, as with other apps, swipe the page down a bit to reveal a Search bar and View selectors (list view and thumbnail view). Stretch the page downward even more, and you are treated to a nice Apple logo in faux-wood. How awesome is that?

When looking at your books, there are some icons you need to be familiar with. These are directly on the book thumbnails themselves. There is a cloud-with-down-arrow icon on the top-right of the thumbnail to indicate that this title is available for you to download. You either purchased it, or it's a free book or sample that Apple is making available to you. If there is no cloud icon, this means that the book has already been downloaded onto your device. If you see a blue "New" banner across the top-right corner of your book's thumbnail, this means that you have purchased the book, but have not yet opened it.

Book thumbnails showing various status icons.

Little icons on the book thumbnails indicate their status.

Okay, let's organize.

Tap on the center button in the tool bar at the top. This is the "Collection" button. Again, the default collection is "Books." When you tap it, you are shown your Collections List. If you're new to all this, you will just see the three built-in collections: "Books," "Purchased Books," and "PDFs." Pretty much self-explanatory.

Just a word or two about PDFs. You can import any PDF into your iBooks app by using the traditional iTunes file transfer mechanism (via the File > Add to Library command). Of course, you need to have your device selected in iTunes. Click on the Books tab to complete the transfer. And remember, you can now do the file transfers either tethered or wirelessly.

Tapping on the collection name at the top of the iBooks screen will display the complete list of the collections in your Library.

The Collections List lets you create and manage your custom collections.

When looking at your Collections List within the iBooks app, there are a few things to notice. A check mark will indicate which collection is selected for you to open or edit. Editing is done via the Edit button at the bottom. Notice also the New button. You guessed it: this is where you create your collections for eventual book organization.

As you click the New button, simply type in the name of the collection you want to create. Tap Done when finished. Tap on the Edit button to rearrange your collections as desired as well as to delete collections. Rearranging is accomplished by simply tap-and-dragging, up or down, the little grab handles to the right of the collection names. To delete a collection, tap the red minus-sign icon on the left of the collection name. When deleting collections you are given the choice of either deleting any books within that collection from the device or having the books returned to their original collections.

To assign one or more books to your various collections, first locate the book, tap the Edit button, and tap on the book's thumbnail. A blue checkmark appears on the thumbnail. You can select more than one book while in this mode. By the way, notice that a red Delete button lights up at the top of the page. By tapping it, you will initiate the deletion of the selected book or books, and you are prompted whether to delete it from the device in hand or all your devices.

How you are presented with choices here depends on whether the book is actually residing on the device or is in your iCloud account. Never fear; once you purchase a book, you can always re-download it later, no matter what. Keep this in mind when you need to free up some space.

The iBooks screen showing checked and selected books ready to be moved to other Collections or deleted.

When in Edit mode, select books to move or delete by tapping on their thumbnails.

With the book selection made, you can then tap the Move button at the top. This will present you the list of your existing collections. The collection you select will be your book's new home. Notice that you also have the opportunity here to create a new collection. Tap Done when finished.

Finally, it's important that you check your iBooks Settings on your device. Go to the Settings app and scroll towards the bottom to locate the listing for iBooks. The iBooks Settings pane is where you can turn certain app behaviors on and off. These mostly have to do with syncing characteristics, and are all enabled by default. They include the syncing of collections as well as allowing your book purchases to be shown in the iBooks app.

The iBooks Settings pane.

The iBooks Settings pane has several important controls that allow you to manage the syncing of your books.

If you're like me, and you also use the Kindle app on your device, by digging around the app you'll discover that it allows you to categorize and organize your Kindle library in ways very similar to what we've seen in iBooks.

In conclusion, organizing your iBooks library will certainly give you a sense of accomplishment. As a side benefit – at least for me – it helps reduce e-book expenses in the long-run. For example, good organization can help avoid purchasing duplicate titles between iBooks and Kindle.

So, take your penchant for organization to the next level. By keeping your iBooks and Kindle libraries in good order you will find you have a better overall experience with e-book reading.

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I wish Apple had provided us with tags to label our books as well as collections. It’s so convenient! I regularly use tags in iDocument to organise all my documents on my Mac and it’s a life saver!

Lee Dronick

Yes, don’t put it off and don’t let it clutter up after you first organize it. Same with your photos and iTunes.


Thanks! One question: I’ve added some new collections and reorganized iBooks on my iPod Touch. Then synched to iTunes on my computer. Then synched my iPhone to iTunes. The changes (from the iPod Touch) didn’t show up on the iPhone. Is that expected behavior?


I have a computer science degree but i always wanted to do the creative work and developing a media library for a phone is one of the coolest things ever. I hope that i could do something like this one day.


When moving PDFs and Books into a named collection they still show in the main “books” and “PDFs” page.  There needs to be a way to display items what have NOT been moved to a named collection.

After moving 600 PDF articles on a variety of subjects into my iPad for use overseas away from internet access I’m finding it nearly impossible to effectively re-organize the collection to mirror the way I had them organized on my PC.

As another person posted, tagging the items would be a great boon as well.


Why not just use Calibre?  Granted, the one thing it doesn’t do is add things to Collections like your article says.  However if you have a series of multiple books Calibre lets you number order them, then will upload the PDF or ePub (it can convert to ePub) directly into your iTunes library.  You can then use the Categories selection on the sort menu on the bottom of the screen to see your Categories/Collections.

The biggest problem is that I’ve been building my collection up since the beginning, and have about 2GB worth of books to organize and load.  I wish iTunes had a built in sorter/tagger that I could use for putting my books into the Collections section.  There are way too many for me to go back and start sorting it out, especially if I have to do it on the phone itself.

John Smith 2

Why can’t you just search for a book like a file?

What’s the search function for in the top right hand side of iBooks if it’s not to add a book title and narrow down my search?

I continuously have to scroll through all the thumbnails looking for the book I want because the search function is useless - It’s absolutely ridiculous.

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