Where to put our shelves

Quantity. Light and Atmosphere. Space.


This will be in feet and inches. For those who can only see in metric – 25.4mm to an inch. I can do both, but it gets confusing. Look at your books – all your books. For some of us it means getting them from the four corners of the house. It’s no bad thing – we all meet old forgotten friends from time to time. Your book is an inch. None of them are, but it averages out at about that, time after time. So a count of your books will give you most of the shelf space you need. I say most because we all need more space for future books. Do not over-estimate your ability to divest yourself of your books if you are anything like me. It hurts. So plan for more space – about 5 feet or 60 inches usually works for the average house. In the meantime the space can be used for ornaments or shuffle space (books yet to read, books taken out for ongoing study, books read but not put back properly yet – all real life stuff). As previously posted a “shelf” is a length of PAO pine or red deal an inch thick between two supports. We now know how many shelves we need for what we have got. Say its 2240 books so that’s 200 feet of books when you add in the 5 extra feet. That’s 67 shelves. Give room for tall books and people my height and its an average of 6 shelves high so its 11 bookcases running 33 feet. Whatever it is for your house – they are better on the shelf and ready to use (and look well too).

Light and Atmosphere

Books don’t need light, we do. Direct sunlight bleaches books – not good. As for acid, well please have a look at this link, which is better put and more helpful than I could put together (please remember to come back).


Damp is not good at all. Of all the thousands of papyrus scrolls found in Egypt, none were in Alexandria. There was a fire, but the figure is none was because Alexandria was built in a march. We may think it’s not an issue, but damp books are bad for our health, as well as damp places. So, dim places that are dry. Don’t panic, all is not lost, we will get to how they look in a while.


On average shelves are against walls and are about 9 inches deep (that caters for most books without missing smaller books at the back). It can add up to quite a bit of space, but it tidies the rest of the house up. If you have enough books and a cold room it can also insulate a wall in the nicest possible way. Now the big question, where do we put them? First we must ask ourselves three questions.

Where do we read them?

Where do we use them?

Where do we want them?

Where do we read them? It is different for all of us. The bedroom, the kitchen (but remember the damp?), the living room, the study, (does anyone have a library at home now?), the hallway, the attic. There have been some good online photos of books on staircases but its awkward to attempt to use this on a daily basis, so unless all we have is stairs, we should put it somewhere else. Just imagine collecting six books to work with,  moving up and down the stairs. It could be a good workout, but you need very good balance. Anywhere else? Someone who can fit a small set of neat shelves in an ordinary car will make a million in my humble opinion.

Where do we use them? Reading habits are hard to change so it might be easier to put the shelves (or a portion of them) close to where we read our books. It’s a place of comfort or a place of work, either way it is a place where we can concentrate on the subject at hand. Some books need tables, travel books to refer to maps, cookery books to refer to while trying recipes (please try buying cookery books without pictures – that way everything usually works out fine), gardening books, mechanic shop books, etcetera. We need the light to read them, under an oil lamp, candle light, a window, a book light, lovely warm sunlight, very clear moonlight, flashlight, bedside light, kitchen spotlights ordinary room light, flourescent tubes – it is far more of a choice than people have had for the vast majority of the existence of books.

Where do we want them? Everywhere? A shelf in each room (including the garden shed) is an answer with a main bank of shelves in one location in the house. The shelf in each room then becomes the shuffle space. It is also an idea to have a shelf in the guest room where you can leave a selection of books for guests to browse if they wish to – poetry, light fiction, local history, a favourite of theirs if you know one, and so on. Maybe that’s just me. Sometimes we want them (books) to be more a part of our lives than just for reading. It is a very personal thing but some of us wish to include friends and visitors in our reading habits. I have to admit – full bookcases are inviting when visiting someone. If you are lining a room with bookcases look to their shape first. The young (see it as a ladder) and the elderly (reaching and bending) force the shelves off the ground (possibly on cabinets with doors) and down from the ceiling. That is unless you want to use something such as a library ladder like – http://www.rollinglibraryladderkits.com/about . If you do, remember the floor will be a victim of you rolling around on the ladder recreating the Rex Harrison song in My Fair Lady. By all means sing your head off, but use hardwood floors or stone/heavy tiles. Do remember the rolling and singing can be heard an amazing distance if the library room is upstairs. No unsupervised young visitors. The shelves should be 9 inches or slightly more deep to look after your books. Remember previous posts that mention looking after the weight of your books, or rather can your poor floor stand them, and finishing shelves to look after both your books and yourself. The coating should be safe for you and the books. IMHO they should look well to you first, and impress others second. Previous suggestions for coatings were things like wrapping paper. If you like it, do it. How you explain it to others is up to you – blame me if you like! Paint them in a brilliant gloss white. Red? Why not. I like the look of the natural timber. Do not have shelves over the door, or if you do – don’t put any books on them you want to read again. The door opening always happens at an awkward moment. Traffic lights may be a drastic solution if you insist on using shelves over doors. Remove skirting from the wall before shelves are put there and fasten the shelves to the wall near the ceiling. Do not put shelves right up beside windows if you are in the Northern latitudes – we need all the light we can get. Remember to paint the wall before you case over it and leave electrical sockets exposed – NEVER among books. Think of the heat of the average phone charger. No books over a fire-place. Do not case over wall vents – they help reduce humidity and regulate temperature. The rest of the room is yours to case and shelve. Note on Kitchens – I do believe the best cook books are ones without pictures (I have always been happier with the results as there is no comparing with the photoshoped, professionally taken, professionally cooked (possibly plastic) food. However its the books with pictures that use glossed paper – these do last longer if kept in the kitchen as they are a wee bit resistant to moisture damage. Anyone know of a gloss paper cookbook with no pictures – please let me know. If you have a large number of books – leave room for a writing desk and a Dewey cabinet – now that would impress the bejaysus out of a visiting book lover. I do beg pardon for the random air of this and other postings but I didn’t learn this in an organised fashion! I also am sorry for leaving the posting so long. Why is this blog sometimes reduced to advice and instructing? I see shelves as the desperate poor relation of furniture and think its unfair. Our books deserve better and it does me good to try to help people.



Filed under Books and their home.

2 responses to “Where to put our shelves

  1. caitin flower

    wow thats lots of advice. I never thought about it. everything you say makes sense whenI read it but I STILL never thought of it before. Oh I’d love to do this to my house. big plans in my head 🙂

    • Would be glad to help with anything specific. Drop a comment anywhere – I will pick it up and help as best I can. Thank you for reading. Just a thought – have a look at your home insurance if its BIG plans – just in case.

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