When you, as a reader, move from having a few dozen books on a topic, to being a collector with a few dozen books on a dozen topics, there comes a problem about where to put them. The last thing one wants is to see their collection warp and become damaged over time. There are lots of considerations to keep track of when displaying your collection, but perhaps the most basic question you should first ask yourself is whether to store your books vertically in the upright position or horizontally on their sides.
Why is that a question to ask? Because most shelving units are not designed to hold books of different sizes and weights. So unless you want to have two cases for each subject (paperbacks and hardcovers) or three (paperbacks, hardcovers and Quality Paperbacks) most of us start to stack the paperbacks horizontally. This saves space, at first, and allows you to groups subjects together, but this can place undue pressure on the spines, causing them to sag and crack over time.
So what to do?
Over the years I have tried many shelving units, from the simple homemade cinder blocks and planks of wood, to solid oak bookcases. All have some issues, so as an “expert” on this here are my suggestions.
When looking for a bookcase
1: MEASURE WHERE YOU WILL BE PUTTING THEM. There is nothing like finding you have misjudged the wall space and now are encroaching on a door way or a stairwell.
2: Look at where your outlets are. If the only plug outlet in the room will be behind the bookcases find an extension cord so that you can have some lights in the room.
3: MEASURE WHERE YOU ARE PUTTING THEM. Yes I said this before. But remember the ceiling. There is nothing like spending good money on a nice 8 foot bookcase to find out that your ceiling is 7 1/2 feet tall.
3a: Also how tall are you? Can you reach the top of an 6 foot bookcase? Do you need to buy a chair or stool to do so? Remember you will have to dust at some point….
4: How many books do you have and how many are you planning to get? Trick question. The only acceptable answer is: this will be my personal library.
When at the store
Congratulations, you have now made it to the store to get your first of many bookshelves. Where is the best place to go? Your local bookstore is the best place to see which types of shelves you can get. So go in and see what they have……
And now that you are leaving with a small selection of new books did you notice the shelves at all?
Most new bookstores use solid wood shelving with permanent shelving. Each shelf is 13 inches (give or take 1 inch) in height and about 10 inches in depth. This allows for all types of books to be placed spine showing. Most hardcovers are approximately 7 inches in width, with QPs being slightly smaller, but oblong books or art books are a bit longer, so extra space is needed. If your collection does not have any oblong books, then this will allow you to push them evenly back against the backing.
Something you might not have noticed is that these shelves tend to have backs. Sounds silly, but it doesn’t matter if a store is calling it a book case, if there is not a back it is a display shelving unit or a knick -knack case. Your books will fall off, or get damaged if they are pushed against the wall. And oddly enough these will not hold your books. Point in case, two decades ago I bought six cases from Ikea. Now I love Ikea. Their products are light colored and designed to go together. But I secured the cases against the wall and placed my collection on them, only to notice that after a few months they were leaning away from the wall and sagging dangerously. I called my local store to see what could be done and they were perplexed. So I took some photos and went to the store. The response was that this was happening because I had too many books on the cases and the metal “x” supports on the backs weren’t designed to hold such weight. I ended up getting a large piece of particleboard and nailing the cases to this. This was now an almost unmovable 8 foot by 12 foot bookcase.
I love Ikeas’ way of having adjustable shelving, which works well in smaller collections, but for my store, and for anyone who wants to have shelving where the pins don’t break, fall out or just vanish, I’d suggest looking for cases that use a more built in method. Now I’m not sure what it is called, but the shelves are designed to fit into grooves on the sides of the case. This allows for an even distribution of weight and, if the shelf breaks, makes it easier to replace. The one problem is that those shelves are permanent and thus you have to make sure it will fit the height of your books.
Now if you decide to go with the pegs https://www.woodcraft.com/blog_entries/all-about-shelf-support can help you decide which one is better for you.
Stay away from press board. I’m sorry this stuff does not last for very long. Okay, yes it does last a for a while, but when it breaks it is a pain to fix, or replace. Any water damage and it will start to swell. And by water damage I mean having your AC up too high.
Now glass and metal shelving is great for the books themselves, but can be problematic depending on your collection and your life. Kids and pets can bump into things and if these fall or break, there may be some issues. These shelves are good due to the non- porous nature of the materials. Wood absorbs water over time no matter how you treat it and that can get into the books. One can delay this by using metal or glass shelving or by keeping the temperature steady in the room. Airing out your collection every so often helps as well. I have found that using contact paper (kitchen shelf lining paper) on wood shelves helps as well- but that stuff needs to be evenly placed and is difficult to remove. So I would recommend spending the cash on a good solid wood case that can stand on its own (without needing to be against a wall).
But wait….what about the storing of the books?
Other Items you Need to have
As a child I never understood why I should ever have them, as any room on the bookshelf was filled with more books. But a decent bookend will help keep the books steady and prevent them from expanding (remember water is in the air)If you place the bookend with a hardcover they will help prevent the paperbacks from losing shape.
Bookends can be made of anything as long as they are the same on each end of the shelf (if using two) as the pressure must be the same. You can get them at any bookstore, or even make them yourself. I’ve known people who have used painted Styrofoam blocks and some who have painted bricks. Others have used jars of marbles. It honestly doesn’t matter.
This is what I use for my paperback books. Since most of my collections include all formats of books, I had some of my shelves measured and wooden risers put in These are shorter than the shelves, and are recessed in. This allows me to put in two rows of paperbacks so that I can see which ones are there. This works better on shelving that has more depth (like for oblong books). Personally I like them to be shorter than the length of the shelf so that I can adjust them if needed, or if I need to put in a bookend.
When setting up your shelves, just remember that you do need to give them some space. You cannot put them too tightly together or you will either remove all of them when taking one out or never get it off the shelf.
So what are your suggestions for storing your collection? Any particular stores, brands or types of shelves that you’d recommend? Send us a reply and let us know.
Until then. Happy Reading.