Has your bookshelf exploded on to your floor? Does it span across your desk, into makeshift milk crate bookcases, and occupy every corner of your house not filled with furniture?
Well…you are not alone. There are lots of us out there who consume books as though our lives depend on it.
I don’t know about you, but I form a bond with a book during the few hours we spend curled up together in a cushy chair. So, it’s not so easy to let go when the read is over.
Also, as a homesteader, I have hundreds of books I reference regularly on gardening, special skills, recipes, home health care, and more.
If you found yourself nodding in agreement to any of what I just wrote then you – my fellow book lover – need a proper library!
Creating Your Own Home Library
It’s time to stop drooling over the pages of posh magazines wishing you had your own French chateau so you too could have a personal library. Making a personal library is entirely possible using many of the homesteading skills you already have.
If you can build a chicken coop, you can certainly come up with some bookcases that fit your available space. You can obviously operate a smartphone or a computer because you are here reading this article. So, you are completely capable of using an app to catalog your books.
Oh, and I am sure you’ve got great organizational skills because you already manage a homestead and all that entails. See… you are totally ready to create a custom home library that meets your needs (and gets your beloved books off your floors)!
Now you just need to make a plan and do the work!
As with just about everything homesteading, you’ll get much better results by making a comprehensive plan for creating your dream library. This plan starts with a little research to figure out your wants and needs.
Step 1: Calculate Space Needs
Before you get too deep into your library dreaming, the first thing you need to figure out is how many linear book feet of shelf space you need.
1. Measure Existing Book Space
This starts with getting out a tape measure and measuring your existing bookcases and stacks of books to determine what you already have. Don’t forget the books you have in boxes, closets, and other storage areas.
2. Reality Check
When you finish your calculations and realize that you’ll need 500-feet of linear bookshelf space, then you need to consider if you actually want all those books in your library.
I know it’s hard to let go. However, are you really going to read your collection of Twilight books for the 50th time? Or have you had your fill of vampire/human relationship drama?
You can always donate these books to your local free library, or build a little free library in your own area, and stock it with your these much-loved books, paying it forward to other homesteaders.
3. Predict Future Space Needs
Now that you’ve calculated your linear feet and excluded books you aren’t really going to keep in your library, it’s time to predict the future.
You need to calculate how many books you’ll buy in the next few years. You also have to take into account “turnover.” This includes the rate at which you give books away to friends and don’t get them back.
Also, consider how often you change directions or outgrow subject matter. As an example, when I first started homesteading, I had about 3 linear feet of general homesteading skills type books. However, now I could write those books. So, I’ve been giving my collection away, one by one, to every newbie or wannabe homesteader I meet.
4. Fine-Tuning Book Shelf Requirements
Now, combine your current linear feet with your future linear feet needs, less your turnover, to get your actual linear foot needs. This is how much space you will need to find for your bookcases.
– Think Vertically
Don’t panic if the number seems inordinately large because you will be arranging this vertically and horizontally. For example, a 4-feet-wide and tall bookcase with 4 shelves will hold 16 linear feet of books. However, if you instead use an 8-feet-tall, 4-feet-wide bookcase with 8 shelves, you get 32 linear feet in the same basic footprint in your living area.
By simply opting for a tall bookcase rather than a short one, you can double your book storage capacity.
– Space Savers
Also, most bookcases are 12-inches deep and tall. However, if you want to build custom bookcases, such as running along a hallway, you can often get away with a narrower profile.
Some general garden and homesteading references are oversized. However, most fiction works and many subject matter specific books (e.g. the book I wrote called Grow Your Own Spices) are less than 8-inches wide and tall.
So, you could make your shelves 10-inches tall and wide and still provide dust protection while saving space. Then you’d just need to find a separate space with a larger shelf for storing oversized books.
– Special Collections
Libraries have areas they designate as “special collections”. These are often historical books that require special handling, first editions, or other books that require special care. At home, though, you may have to designate a few special collections based on the special ways or places you are most likely to use those books.
For example, I kept all my cookbooks in my kitchen area rather than putting them on our regular library shelves. That way I can access them easily while cooking. I also keep the books I reference most frequently on the homesteading front on a shelf in my office.
If you have books on knitting, woodworking, fermenting, or various other homesteading activities, you may have to store those where you are most likely to use them. That will make them easy to access when you are most likely to use them and reduce the linear feet you need for your long-term storage library.
Step 2: Decide on a Location
Now that you’ve got a good handle on how much space you’ll really need, the next step is to decide on a location for your home library.
This doesn’t have to be a dedicated room. It just needs to be a space with enough room to fit a series of tall bookcases near to each other.
I already mentioned one possible location – the hallway. If you have limited living space this can be a great option. However, do make sure you have plenty of room to get through in an emergency.
Also, think about the kinds of activities you do and whether your books will be in the way. If you take up some of your hallway space it will make things like getting furniture in and out harder. It can also make a low-ceilinged hallway feel super cramped.
2. Feature Walls
Another great option is to turn one of your long-walls in your primary living areas into a library feature wall. You may have to remove some artwork and maybe reposition a sofa. However, isn’t that a small price to pay to have your own organized library?
Don’t just consider your living room. What about the dining room? Most of us under-utilize our dining rooms anyhow. So why not commandeer a wall in there for your books? Your dinner guests will also be amused by all your book choices and that can lead to some great conversations.
3. Room Dividers
If you don’t have a long enough wall, then what about making a room divider using your library bookshelves? If you go that route, you could even do back to back bookcases and double your linear feet.
Another trend I’ve noticed in home libraries is using the wall along the stairwell for book storage. Normally that’s where a lot of homeowners tend to put their family photos. Now though, we can access our photos in seconds on our phones.
So why not curate current photos in a more prominent location of your house to show off your family. Then, use your staircase wall to create your dream home library.
Can’t you just see yourself picking out a good book before bed as you walk upstairs?
5. Multipurpose Sheds
Personally, our house is super small. It’s also a mobile home and isn’t built to support the weight of our 1100 books in one location. So, we opted to use the skills we developed building livestock shelters to create a climbing wall, tiny guest cottage library for our books.
We turned the entire north wall of that space into our library. Because the north wall is also the wind and shade side of the structure, those books also add additional insulation to help keep the space comfortable in all sorts of weather.
Note: If you do opt to use an outbuilding for your home library, you will need to make sure it is weathertight. Otherwise, your books may absorb humidity or be subject to insect damage.
6. Places to Avoid
There are a few places you’ll need to avoid.
Bathrooms and laundry rooms tend to have high humidity which makes them less than ideal for keeping books in good shape long-term. A damp basement or an uninsulated garage also run risks for your beloved books becoming moldy or mouse fodder.
In general, books like the same conditions we do – not too humid and with consistently comfortable conditions.
Step 3: Install Shelving
Now that you’ve settled on a library location, the next step is to install shelving. There are lots of pre-fab bookcases out there. You can also find modular set-ups similar to kitchen cabinetry but for libraries. Or you can build your own.
1. DIY Building Materials
If you decide to make your own, then you need to do a bit of structural engineering to make sure your shelves can support the weight of your books.
– Shelf Support
Hardwoods tend to hold their shape better than softwoods. Yet they can be expensive. You can also use things like plywood and more frequent central supports to reduce costs.
Metal is also an option. It can be trickier to work with unless you have welding skills. However, metal shelves are sleek in appearance and easy to clean.
– Assembly Options
You also have to decide how to install your bookshelves.
Depending on how your home was constructed, you may be able to attach shelves directly to your wall. For this, though, you’ll need to be working with load-bearing walls and be able to hit lots of studs.
Or, you’ll need to construct a freestanding custom bookcase that looks like it was built in. In this case, the bookcase and the floor beneath it bears the books’ weight rather than the wall.
Either way, it’s important to make sure your floor or wall is sturdy enough to support the weight of your books and the shelving materials you use. In some cases, they may require a little shoring up depending on how extensive your home library is.
2. Cosmetic Details
Don’t forget to think about all those fun cosmetic details. For example, if your bookshelves will be rustic, then you might need your attractive hardware to show.
If you want a refined look, then consider using things like pocket screws with plugs to cover the hardware. You’ll also have to consider crown molding or other aesthetic details to make the new bookcases feel like they belong in that space.
Using custom paints or stains to personalize the appearance of the bookcases will also help them seem like a permanent part of your living space. Just make sure whatever you use to finish your surfaces can be cleaned and won’t stain the pages of your books.
Lighting is also important to consider. You need enough light to read your bindings and maybe a paragraph or two without straining your eyes.
Step 4: Organize Your Library Books
Now that you’ve got shelves ready to load, you still have to organize your books by category.
1. Don’t Dewey!
The Dewey decimal system is too complicated for the standard home library. I suggest you instead organize by categories that make sense for you. Also, keep it simple so you can quickly find books and re-shelve them after use.
After much debate, my partner and I agreed to lump poetry, fiction prose, and drama into one category and alphabetize by author. Then we put non-fiction excluding how-tos in another category. Finally, we put our how-tos in one area, nearest to the door since we are likely to access those most often.
There’s no right answer on how to organize your personal library. Just remember, the more complicated you make the system, the more likely things are to get re-shelved incorrectly.
2. Bells and Whistles
You are almost done creating your personal library (at least in your imagination). Even so, you may also have to think about a few more bells and whistles to make using it easier.
3. Digital Card Catalog
There are free and cheap apps available now that can scan the ISBN of the book to create a digital card catalog of all your books. Usually, you just have to scan the number with your phone and it generates all the key data including title, publication date, author(s), and even descriptions.
Since you’re going to be organizing your books, likely dusting them off, and handling each one anyway – why not scan them as you go so you have your own card catalog at your fingertips?
Some of these applications even allow you to make notes so you can keep track of who you loaned books out to. We used CLZ Books which works great. Still, there are plenty of options out there depending on your needs.
4. Return Area
Like a public library, you may need to leave part of a shelf or a basket out for returning or adding books. If you are scanning the ISBNs, then you may need a separate space for new books so they don’t get shelved before scanning happens.
I have one final bit of advice on creating a home library. There’s a reason every library has a head librarian. Someone has to be in charge of making sure libraries are maintained. The same is true at home.
Shelves will need occasional reordering as your collection grows or books are shared. Unread books may need to be rehomed to make room for new purchases. Dusting is also a necessary chore.
The sum of these duties tends to add up to much less work (and wasted psychic energy) in a library than when trying to take care of books spread all over the house. However, it’s still a good idea to choose a family librarian to do periodic maintenance to make sure your library stays lovely.
Now you are totally ready to create your own home library and be its head librarian (or you can be the library director and delegate the head librarian duties to someone else). Happy reading!