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Is It OK To Stack Books On Top Of Each Other?

Stacking books is one easy way to place many books in a small space. Deciding whether the alignment should be horizontal or vertical can impact the condition of the book. The preferred alignment of books on a shelf is vertical, with books of the same general size next to each other. The vertical alignment helps the books to support each other. 

Books are usually placed in vertical alignment, but not just any books should be placed together. They should be close in size so they support each other. They should not be placed too tightly together, as they need to be able to breathe. 

There are some exceptions to the suggested book alignment, but they are only used when there are certain guidelines which are used to ensure that the book is protected from a bowed spine, pressure marks, or other wear. Here are some details that will guide you in book placement.

Why book placement is important 

While books may seem like solid objects with plenty of flat surfaces which can make a tower of books when stacked flat, in fact, stacking books in a horizontal orientation is hard on the books, and can cause damage. Here are some of the reasons why the orientation of your books is important. 

Books need to be able to breathe

Good air circulation in and around your books is necessary to keep the books free of moisture. When the books are stacked, air cannot reach most of the surfaces of the books. Only the book on top has good airflow on the upper surface. When stored books are oriented in a vertical position, they are arranged in a way that they are not tightly packed. The air movement helps to limit moisture, mildew, and insects from moving from one book to the next. When books are vertically aligned, they are also easy to move from the shelf for reading or cleaning purposes.

Horizontally stacked books can lead to pressure marks

Unless the horizontally stacked books are precisely the same size, they can leave pressure marks on the front and rear bindings. A small book placed on a larger one can leave an indentation on the lower book’s cover. Conversely, a larger volume placed flat on a smaller one can cause bowing and cocked bindings in addition to the pressure marks. 

Uneven wear and rubbing on the stacked books

With the heavier and heavier weight on the bottom books as more are stacked on the growing tower of books, even the slightest movement will not only apply pressure, but will cause friction to wear the covers and degrade their original condition. Uneven pressure can create books which have the covers pulled loose from the pages, as bindings fail under the strain.

Spinal support

Because of the uneven distribution of weight on horizontally stacked books, spine damage can be the result. The downward force on the spine over time can cause the book to bow, or to roll. Each of these conditions means that there can be permanent damage over time. The spine may break or pull loose from the binding.

Falling tower of books

Access to the books lower in the stack can be a challenge which leads to a messy disaster. Pulling out one book from low in the tower means rearranging the layering as you lift books off the target volume. If you try to pull a single book without disturbing the ones above or below it, chances are good that you will cause damage to the spine ends of the target book. Without careful removal of upper books a few at a time, the entire tower may topple, causing significant torn pages, loosened bindings and cracked hinges. 

Is it OK to stack books on top of each other during the summer?

For all the reasons listed above, stacking books on top of each other during the summer season

 is not a good idea. In addition, the warmer air during hot months can affect the glue that holds the books together, as well as the glue which goes into the construction of the paper. When the warm temperatures cause the glue to soften, the entire structure of the book is weakened. 

Warmer summer weather brings another harmful element against your books. It is more likely that there will be insects out and about. They can attack your stacked books and quickly destroy the contents of your library. 

Occasions when horizontal stacking may be preferred

There are several instances where stacking your books horizontally is considered to be appropriate. In each of these instances, the suggestions will apply, including avoiding too many books in one stack, and maintaining airflow.

When your books are very large, so that they won’t fit on a bookcase shelf, they should be stacked on the top of the bookcase or other level surface. The stack should not be more than three books high, and the oversize books should be as close in size to each other as possible. The order of the horizontal stack of books should be rotated periodically to change the book on top.  

Another suggestion is that books may be stacked with one side against a bookshelf or other vertical surface (but not an exterior wall). This does provide some support, and can allow you to take advantage of odd spaces, but still is susceptible to problems of irregular sizes and difficult access.

If you are careful about maintaining a close spine edge measurement in your vertical books on a shelf, one or two horizontal books could be placed atop the vertical edge. This can allow you to utilize gaps in a bookshelf between the upper edge of the books on the shelf and the bottom of the next shelf, which might otherwise be wasted space.  It should be avoided in cases where the weight of horizontal books only rests on two or three of the volumes beneath, due to irregular heights. 


Taking advantage of your storage space by using creative techniques can provide room for more volumes. However, maintaining the appropriate temperature, humidity, airflow, and lighting is more important than squeezing too many books into a space that is less than desirable.