Monday, August 20, 2012

Living With Living Books Part 2: A Space for Books

Dreams and reality can coexist. The dream of providing a home library for your family to enjoy does not  need to evaporate because the practical problems of where to put them all seem insurmountable. Following are some of the most common questions or objections I receive and my briefest responses.

1. I don't have room for books. 

I have to be honest and admit up front that I am not sympathetic to space concerns. For a year-and-a-half our family of six (four adults) lived in 900 square feet with all the normal furnishings, including a piano, and eight thousand books. This was in the early days of our lending library. Where there's a will there's a way. Yes, it was tight, but it was neat and orderly. Back to back bookshelves served as room dividers, every free wall was lined with bookshelves. The typical response of frequent visitors was admiration and comments on its beauty. The books and the people in the home made the beauty part. This temporary home was truly not the least lovely - a cement-floored building. It provided shelter, and was the place where I learned some of the tips I will share here. May I remind you that the average American family lives in a home three to four times larger than their grandparents did?

2. I'm out of bookshelves. 

Cheer up and get used to it. If you collect books, you will always be out of bookshelves. Here's where good old American ingenuity and creativity shine. My teenaged son bought  cheap slats at the local building supply box store, screwed them together and varnished them and still uses these stacked in different configurations wherever he lives. Glass-doored built-ins, hand-built free standing cases, European style streamlined shelving units, unfinished wood bookcases are lovely additions to a home with books, but prohibitive for most families on a tight budget. Don't give up. fiber board cheap ones, fruit crates, even planks and bricks will expand your shelving requirements inexpensively. The impact of rows of orderly books lining shelf upon shelf with their multicolored bindings produce an impressive eye pleasing effect. The bookcases are overlooked because the aesthetic appeal of the books themselves is what holds the attention. Books exude warmth and friendliness.

3. But cheap bookcases don't hold up. 

Our mass produced bookcases are hanging right in their with the solid oak ones my husband built. Flip the shelves over once in awhile and forestall the sagging issue. For that matter, we have some expensive wood bookcases that sag more. Actually, we have few shelves that sag, and I challenge anyone to get more books on one of those five-shelf units; we even build two-shelf extensions to set on top of them.

4. But I have no place for ANY bookcases. 

I have been in homes where a shelf was mounted a few inches below the ceiling, running around the whole room. Find furniture that can function as an end table or coffee table with shelves below, or a bench for a seat with a shelf underneath, or remove all nonessential furniture that you can to make room for shelves, which take up less floor space. Build narrow shelves to tuck into  unused spaces, line one side of a hallway. I have a friend who used bookcases to form a foyer in a walk-in living room. Bookcases can help define a room within a room or make cozy reading nooks of especial use to homeschool families.

5. I can't handle the clutter and have to store books away in boxes to clear space. 

Nothing saves more space than well-ordered books. Books in boxes are never used. Books higglety-pigglety scattered  throughout the house don't get used either. The whole point of a home library is that it is accessible to  everyone for the purpose of actually being used. I agree that you need to get a handle on the books. If you  love to read, they will find their way to you and may threaten to bury you. I remind yet again, one of the  reasons for building a home library is to encourage those who don't enjoy reading to begin doing so. This  requires some organization on your part to prevent potential mayhem. It necessitates selectivity. I agree that you probably need to get rid of some books.

7. It's so overwhelming, where should I begin? 

Take a deep breath and prepare yourself to become ruthless.  Begin shelf by shelf or box by box to de-twaddle, declutter, dispose of or donate books. Immediately load the unwanted books up to haul away. Maybe the reason your books aren't serving much purpose is that you have too many purposeless books. Keep the best. Give away your worthy duplicates to help others build their libraries.

8. What's the best way to organize what I keep? 

That, my friends, necessitates a more involved answer and will have to wait till next time.

To summarize, if you have the desire to build a library and are willing to work to make it happen, there is no obstacle to prevent you. Many of these questions are legitimate concerns that need consideration. Hopefully the solutions offered will spur you on to make your library a reality. If you continue to consider the hindrances insurmountable, it's possible you are just making excuses. When my family moved into that little structure, I saw no way it could work to have a library; it was the most unlikely space I could have dreamed up. We determined to work it out and a few months later, when a friend who lived in a beautiful custom built home entered our humble living quarters, surrounded by books on all walls, she welled up in tears. "It's  beautiful," she exclaimed and to explain her emotion further went on, "I want to live here. I love all the books."

For the joy of reading,



  1. I just lost what I wrote ~~
    here goes again! I agree with your friend! Your library is cozy and so warm to bring life to those who enter. Each of my children has many book shelves in their rooms for building their own library to take with them. I felt like the preface to The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon!

    Also from Shelf Life by George Grant on Winston Churchill's Chartwell: " He often read contemporary journalism and political dispatches in his study.... he read history and biographies in the library, where the atmosphere was much more appropriately antiquarian. He read hymns , ballads, and verse in the bright morning room downstairs ~~ in the domain of his beloved wife, Clemnentine. He generally read great oratory aloud by the fish pond. And he read thrillers and mysteries in his studio. There were great open hearths to read by in the winter and little window niches to read by in the spring. There were great leather club chairs to curl up in besides the library stacks and soft overstuffed divans int he living areas on which to stretch out. Everywhere, there were bright lamps so that every corner invited reading, reflections, conversation, and contemplation."

  2. Here is another quote about Eleanor Farjeon:

    In her childhood, she was "home schooled" and she loved books, perhaps her frequent headaches and colds were contributed to by the dust of the "little bookroom" - an attic space piled with books.

  3. We have six people (and two cats!) living in 800 square feet, and I feel so crowded sometimes that I keep getting rid of stuff. I have shelves full of books, and several boxes more in the (unfinished) basement. You've inspired me to get those books up here somehow, so we can use and enjoy them. Thank you for the many ideas for increasing shelf space in a small living situation!