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For any serious book lover or book collector, there is rarely enough room in a residence to store all of the books that have been picked up over the years. Yet, a visit to an estate sale, the bookstore, or the online used, rare, and out-of-print dealer often results in more volumes to find a place to store.
If you have a sizable collection and adequate room, you probably have a more traditional bookshelf space at present. You may even have a full home library room. The challenges of storing books when space is limited requires some ingenuity, cleverness, and willingness to try creative solutions.
Finding ways to store your book collection without giving up all of your living space is sometimes a challenge. Thinking outside of traditional approaches to book placement can help in a spacious mansion, as well as in the smallest of studio apartments. Here are some ideas to help make the most of your existing square footage.
Prerequisites for creating innovative storage spots
No matter how much or how little storage space you have to work with, ignoring the condition of the books in the interests of cramming a few more volumes into the existing available space is not the ideal answer. There are some important basic principles to follow in storing your books, regardless of the age, condition, and appearance.
To keep your books in the best possible condition, there are certain standards which are recommended. General categories under the topic of environment include such elements as relative humidity, temperature, airflow, and excessive fluctuations in any of those areas. Even in the most spacious of homes, meeting all of these standards can be a challenge.
To summarize, books should be stored in a temperature range between 68° F and 72° F, with a preference to the cooler end. Relative humidity should not exceed about 50%, but lower than 30% can cause damage due to the dryness, as well. Just as important as the correct temperature and relative humidity is the maintenance of these elements within a fairly restricted range. In other words, don’t keep the room at a chilly and dry 55° one day and warm it up to 80° with a blast of humidity the next.
The circulation of air around books is important. Leave space between books and the walls so that air can circulate. Shelves should be full, but not packed so tightly that damage is caused when a book is removed. Use bookends to support books when the shelves are not full.
Don’t put your books over a heat vent, a fireplace, or a radiator. It can lead to overheating, as well as the previously-mentioned temperature fluctuations, which are harmful. Areas where there is excessive moisture, such as the bathroom, are also not recommended.
Books should be stored standing upright, with books of about the same height placed together. This will help to support the spines and prevent bending, warping, and creasing. Oversized books can be placed flat, but stacks of more than three books are likely to cause compression of the lower books. You can rotate the arrangement of the bottom books to avoid pressure marks. Again, they should be of a similar size.
No matter how tempting it is to enjoy coffee or food while reading, this is a recipe for damage to the pages, as well as an invitation to insects of all types. Your hands should be clean and dry when handling books. Keep foreign objects away from the pages of the books. Items such as paper clips, food wrappers, pens, or pencils can leave pressure marks on bindings and pages. Rust stains, food stains, and acid-content papers inserted in the book will cause damage over time and can attract insects.
The negative effects of light on books is not always recognized. Both sunlight (containing ultraviolet rays) and some types of artificial light are not good for the condition of your books. Sunlight not only dries out the paper and the bindings, but can fade covers and dust jackets Books do best in dimly lit spaces, but LED lights could be used if needed for better lighting.
Bugs and other organisms
Few people want to find insects and insect feces, eggs, or larvae inhabiting their bookshelves and books. The best way to avoid this experience is to make the environment unappealing to insects. Book lice, silverfish, and firebrats are looking for a warm place with some moisture. Moisture can lead to the presence of mold or other organisms where the insect larvae feed. Termites are attracted to the glue in book bindings.
There are many suggested remedies online for eliminating insect infestations short of using harmful chemicals and drastic solutions. Do keep infected books away from others, if possible, until appropriate prevention or control measures are completed.
Ideas for storing books in small spaces
If you are looking for ideas on storing your books in an accessible way and you don’t have the ability to add a room in your house, it can be interesting and fun to find ways to tuck more books into the space without giving up living space. Some of the following storage ideas are temporary fixes and might be more appropriate for rented space. Others are expensive because of what are essentially remodeling or renovation projects, and would not be suitable for a rental.
Bookshelves in homes are typically placed against walls, but they don’t have to be. In fact some archivists recommend against bookshelves placed along exterior walls, because they can be subject to more variations in temperature than when they are placed against interior walls. If your space is open, think about using a freestanding bookshelf as a room divider.
A double sided bookshelf room divider can be half height if you want to maintain the open feel, or can be full height to separate the room more decisively. In a space that is 12 feet wide, a two-foot deep bookshelf that is six shelves high can hold 96 linear feet of books and still leave a four-foot wide opening. All of this requires 16 square feet of floor space.
A half height bookcase makes an attractive way to suggest a foyer beside your entry door. If you already have a foyer, a low bookshelf room divider can be incorporated beneath a bench for removing shoes. Shelves under the bench add more linear feet of book storage.
Another spot where a half-wall height bookcase may be able to replace some boring existing railings is on an upper landing area for a staircase, though checking building codes in your area before extensive remodeling is wise. Extra wide stairs could also accommodate some book storage at the unused edges of the stairs themselves, depending on the space.
A house or apartment with multiple levels offers some unique and clever places to store your books. Open stairs can incorporate multiple shelves where books are placed. Create stair width shelves under each step, which can be accessed from underneath/behind the staircase. Closets which are fitted under closed stairs could hold numerous levels of shelves. Recessing the shelves into what was a closet or catch-all space is a better utilization of space. Unused closets and cupboards can become library nooks.
Shelving under a sitting bench or bed offers plenty of room for adding to your collection. If you are at all proficient with carpentry tools, using pull out drawers and placing books spine up provides both storage space and organization techniques. In a bedroom, bookshelves can be placed in the headboard and at the foot of the bed, usually without affecting the identified floor space in the room.
Another bedroom-related suggestion takes advantage of a room which is tall enough to accommodate a loft bed. Put your bed on a platform, reached by a narrow stair (with bookshelves underneath) and utilize the space under the bed for creating a cozy study nook or a mini library. This concept is essentially creating a room within a room.
If your residence has tall ceilings, there are some amazing opportunities for adding bookshelves. Attach a shelf at the highest point on the walls which allows for a row of books. You might be able to squeeze in more than a single shelf. This remedy requires no floor space at all, and doesn’t interfere with furniture placement or lighting. You will want to be sure that the shelves are securely affixed to the studs, but this is not a technique which should be done in a rental unit, as it creates permanent effects on the walls.
Corners offer opportunities to add storage space for your book collection. You can either build a corner bookshelf in a corner, or add a revolving lazy susan type arrangement which is free-standing and makes the books easily available. Many older houses offer intriguing alcoves and odd-sized spaces, along with natural ledges to create additional shelf space.
Think about items of furniture which could be repurposed to hold more books. These include end tables, china cabinets, and entertainment centers. The surface of coffee tables, nightstands and similar furniture can hold a few carefully curated volumes and become part of your decor. Wheeled carts can be utilized for your cookbook collection or your garden books perhaps. An advantage of wheeled carts is that they can be used close together and moved apart when access is needed.
In addition to failure to take advantage of the full height of a room, many homeowners let other seldom used spaces go to waste. Check in the dead space behind swinging doors to determine whether there is room to install narrow bookshelves. Hallways are essentially wasted (or at least underutilized) space where shelving could be placed without impacting existing space in a negative way. Hanging racks which fit over the door could be used for some types of books, such as children’s books in the child’s bedroom or play area.
A more ambitious project which can totally transform your bookshelf space is to create pull-out shelves. These shelves are oriented at right angles to the room. They essentially create a whole series of shelves which disappear from sight when they are not in use. Again, this is probably not an option to be used in a rental unit. It is more costly than many of the other units identified above.
Although it is another more significant project in terms of price and building, using the gaps between two-by-four studs within a wall as small insets to hold books is possible. Caution is needed for this approach, since you cannot place such insets in exterior walls, and must carefully avoid electrical wiring and plumbing in interior walls. Looking at this option might require the services of a skilled remodeling contractor.
Inventory management tips
If your shelves are open, use quality bookends or organize stacks of books to prevent toppling books or falling books. A few decorative stacks can add to the color palette of your room as well as giving intentionality to the process of decoration. A few decorative or to-read books can be kept in plain sight without making the entire room look cluttered or disorganized.
Always make sure that your books are carefully cataloged in a way that tells you where a specific volume can be found. A separately housed file will allow you to identify and sort books by specific location, as well as by subjects, authors, acquisition date, or other factors which are important to your collection. When you are preparing additional storage spaces, think of accessibility, as well as categories.
Books that are seldom used can be placed in less accessible places. Safety applies to reaching for these books, as well as in the construction measures that are used to house the books. Care in planning and building shelves needs to take into consideration weight requirements, stability, and construction materials. You may also need to also think about the weight of a bookshelf on the floors and foundation of your residence.
It may be tempting to consider moving in order to manage your book collection, but that can be a frustrating and expensive proposition. Moving books, even relatively few books, can be an unpleasant process. Rather than moving, why not take advantage of any opportunities you can find to better house the books you do have?