Finishing Touches for Your Library

So, you’ve prepared, packed, schlepped, unpacked, and organized your library. You’re probably beat!

Make It Yours

Once you’ve taken a break, though, it’s nice to add a few finishing touches. These are entirely personal, and offer you a chance to add your own flair to your collection.

  • Maybe you’re the Spartan type, and just want the books and shelves.
  • Or maybe you’ve got a green thumb, and want to tuck a few potted plants here and there.
    Tip: put your plants in plastic pots that then sit inside larger, sealed pots, rather than using pots with saucers. This will keep overzealous watering from dribbling all over your precious books!
  • Do you collect something interesting? Why not display some of your collection in the extra space on your shelves (if any!) or on top of your bookcases?
  • If your bookshelves are bracket mounted, you can hang things from the brackets.

Your imagination is the limit! Well, your imagination and a little common sense.


  • Light candles in your bookcases.
    I know, this seems obvious, but it happens. Even tall shelves and short candles can spell DISASTER. At best, you wind up with bubbled veneer or smokestains. At worst, your place burns down.
  • Have anything containing water in your bookshelves unless you take thorough precautions to prevent capsizing/spillage.
  • Leave bottom shelves empty, especially if you live in earthquake country.
    You want your bookcases to be bottom-heavy, not top-heavy. Even the best safety strap is no match for a tall bookcase loaded with heavy books at the top and little or nothing at the bottom if a big quake hits.


Speaking of quakes: it’s very, very important to fasten your bookcases to the wall. It’s easy to be careless, especially if you’ve shimmed your bookcases so they’re leaning against the wall, but any bookcase over 3 feet tall should be attached to the wall. There are loads of ways to do this, from safety strapping to little l-brackets, but it has to be done.

Stacking short bookcases isn’t recommended, and if you do it, be sure to secure them well. I watched as two stacked bookcases adding up to over six feet high faceplanted during a big quake when I was a kid, and have never forgotten the sight. Nobody was hurt, but the books were a bit damaged and it was scary as heck.

It’s important to secure your bookcases even if you don’t live in earthquake country. Small kids often think bookshelves look like fun to climb and can be injured when the bookcase overturns. Yikes!

It’s even worth considering installing elastic straps to make sure your books don’t come off the shelves during a quake. The professors at my college all had built-in bookcases in their offices lining the walls, floor-to-ceilling, and every shelf had a thick elastic cord running across it in the middle. It was easy to move out of the way to get a book when you wanted it, and ensured that the profs wouldn’t be crushed under their libraries if a big quake hit. Plus, lots of professors tucked things between the straps and the books as a sort of ersatz bulletin board. Win all ’round!

What About You?

How do you decorate your bookcases/bookshelves? What safety measures have you taken?

New Blank Books!

We interrupt your irregularly-scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement!

I’ve finished some blank books, and listed them in my Etsy shop! I’ve been so absent from the blog due to first day-job issues and then getting caught up in producing more lovely little journals and pocket notebooks. Yay!

Arranging and Unpacking Your Library

This is the third post in a series on moving.

So, you’ve packed your books and schlepped ’em to the new place. Now what? If you’re anything like me, you now have a bunch of bookcases that haven’t been put where they go, and an enormous pile of boxes.

Prep Work

Get all your bookcases arranged. If they’re not level, or are leaning dangerously out into the room, you can pick up some wood shims from a local hardware store. Shims are basically thing wedges of wood, and you can stick ’em under the front of your bookcase to help level them. I used to use cardboard, but found that it compacted pretty severely, especially once the bookcases were full. So, wood is the way to go!


If you were super meticulous and labelled all your book boxes, you can pretty easily put all the boxes near the bookcases where they’ll go. Easy peasy. If you didn’t, you have a couple strategy options: just go box-by-box and unpack them as you open them, or open them all and put them where they go, then unpack. Whatever works for you.


I’ve already done a whole series of posts on organizing my library, and the same principles hold. The most important thing is knowing how you want your books organized. Everything beyond that is basically little tricks to make things easier.

A trick I used with my latest organization is wooden dividers for sections in my nonfiction bookshelf. I didn’t have to label the shelves, I had wooden dividers with the section names on them (huzzah for labelmakers!), and I could just move them around as the books got put away and started taking up space. I went to my local lumber store, bought a sheet of 3/4″ plywood, and had them mill it into 6″x6″ squares. I used veneer strips to make the edges look nicer, but that’s not really necessary.


Demco also offers some spiffy dividers that double as bookends, holding up your books while also labeling the section. They have a ton of dividers in general, so check out their selection! Library supply stores are a bibliophile’s best friend.

One thing to watch for when unloading: bending over to pick up books from a box on the floor and then reaching up to put them away is really hard on your back over time. Stack boxes or find something to put them on so your books are at about waist height. Your back will thank you later, believe me!

Time to Relax!

There are few things so satisfying as a bookcase you’ve just filled and organized. Line your books up (remember to pull them toward the front of the bookcase so air can circulate behind them, it helps prevent mold, bugs, and other nasty stuff), take a photo or two, and put your feet up!

The fourth and final post in this series will be up in a bit. Stay tuned. Be sure you’re subscribed to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter, so you won’t miss it!


Packing and Schlepping

This is the second installment in a series on moving.

Packing and schlepping your books is what most folks think of when they think of moving, and most of the sad stories I hear about moving books come from poor packing. Boxes get dropped, books shift inside them during transit, and just the weight of stacked boxes can do a number on poorly-packed books. Using good boxes and following a few basic principles can save you a lot of heartache down the road.


Here are the principles I pack by.

Firstly: group books by size. I generally sort one or two shelves at a time by size, pack most of them, then add any stragglers to the next couple of shelves and repeat. This has two advantages: my books wind up packed mostly in the right groupings, so I can label the boxes by section, and it makes fitting the books together in the box a lot easier.


Secondly: Any books that will be vertically oriented in the box should go spine down. This is non-negotiable for hardcover books, and I generally do it for paperbacks too. Why? If you drop the box, any hardcover book with spine up or spine to the side will be subject to the momentum of the pages when the covers stop. Especially if they’re spine up, it can damage the spine a great deal, even tear the text block loose from the cover. Bad stuff. For paperbacks, the spine is stronger and less likely to get damaged in the event the box is dropped. Books are heavy, boxes fall or get dropped, it happens. Better to be prepared.

Thirdly: when possible, make two stacks in opposing corners of the box of books lying flat, and have those stacks go from the bottom of the box all the way to the top. This helps the box keep its structural integrity when other things are stacked on top of it. Cardboard isn’t actually all that strong, as I learned when I packed 70 or so boxes of books for a book drive last year. Stack poorly-packed boxes more than two or three high and they’ll start to collapse under the weight of the boxes on top of them. Not good!

IMG_20111016_125032.jpgFourthly, and worth saying in spite of being obvious: pack the boxes all the way full. Don’t let your books slide around! They always seem to find the worst possible direction to slide and wind up getting damaged. Use soft, light things like pillows, fluffy sweaters, towels, tshirts, or just about anything else that works well to fill in any gaps in your book boxes (in the photo here, you’ll see a weird rubber knick-knack holder I tucked in there — I shook the box around a bit before taping it closed and it worked to hold the books in place just fine).

Another practical thing to consider when packing your books is how much detail to use in labeling the boxes. I’m a fairly lazy labeler when it comes to my own moving, and it seems like every time I move I swear that next time I’ll do a better job. In this move, I just scribbled a letter or two on each box to indicate which part of my library it belonged to (U for Unread, SC for Special Collections, etc).


You’ve probably heard all the standard advice: lift with your legs, not your back! Take breaks! Another less-well-known thing to watch out for: don’t pivot while holding something heavy! If you are picking things up from a dolly and lifting them into the back of a truck or car, be careful that you aren’t rotating without moving your feet while you’re holding the box. Generally one can get away with it a few times, especially if the rotation is only 90 degrees or so, but more than that and you will almost certainly throw your back out. This, I know from personal experience. Learn from my mistakes, my friends! Be nice to your back. Use a dolly! Get friends to help you! (Be sure to stock up on their snacks/beverages of choice, especially at the new residence. Friends help you move, good friends help you move books.)

A Final Note

Be careful when unloading wall-mounted book cases, even those where the brackets are attached to the boards. Books are very heavy, and an unbalanced shelf can very easily shift unexpectedly — at best, it dumps some books on the floor, at worst, it can rip half your bookcase off the wall. I’ve seen it happen! So be careful. Even with regular bookcases, it’s wise to unload them from top to bottom so that the center of gravity stays nice and low. Packing and moving is bad enough without adding injuries to the mix!

Preparing to Move

This is the first installment in a series on moving.

So, fellow bibliophile! You’re going to be moving soon? You have my sympathies! Moving a library can be a nightmare. Preparation is vital.

Give Your Books a Once-Over

Do you have any particularly delicate books? Books in this category include:

  • Any paperback or hardcover with loose pages or other structural damage.
  • Antique books that seem a bit fragile
  • Odd-sized books (very small or very tall and thin)


Decide how concerned you are for these books’ well-being and either set them aside to be transported separately (possibly each wrapped in packing paper first) or make a mental note to pack with them in mind so they’ll be supported and braced by other books.

Find the Right Boxes

This is very important. It’s really, really easy to look at a box and think it’ll be fine when packed with books and then find yourself unable to move it without injury. Books are heavy.  Three trade paperbacks weigh about a pound. So does a single normal-size hardcover.

In my experience, the small cube-sized boxes offered by places like U-Haul are a bit small, while their small rectangular boxes are too big. The best boxes I’ve found so far are the ones from Better World Books I was able to get leftover from a book drive done in partnership with them. That’s what I used for my most recent move.

If you can’t get your hands on book drive boxes, you’re better erring on the side of too small than too big. If all you can find are big boxes, try hitting up a local library or bookstore for leftover boxes from their book shipments. Or, pack a layer of books at the bottom of your big boxes and then filling the rest of the space with something lightweight.

The C-Word

I am of course, talking about culling.

I read Unclutterer frequently, and most of the folks writing/commenting there are major proponents of getting rid of any book that isn’t reference or something you’re going to read and reread.You’ll find the same message on many other sites, and not just minimalist-oriented ones.

Unsurprisingly, I disagree.

Books are more than just the stories they hold. They are historical artifacts, memorabilia, and plenty more. If nobody ever held onto old books, there are a lot of researchers who would be majorly out of luck. Consider the museums that showcase children’s books, or the ancient books historians and bibliophiles pour over. Hell, I’m really irked that I will probably never get my hands on a complete copy of Varney the Vampire because it was a penny dreadful and those cheap pamphlets almost never survived culling (even Project Gutenberg doesn’t have a complete version). At the time, nobody thought Varney the Vampire was anything more than just another pulp horror story. Looking back, though, it was one of the first vampire novels in English, and that makes it significant.

I’ve frequently held onto books and reread them later because I learned something new about the author or otherwise had my views changed.

I’m a big believer that what we each do with our book collections is our own business, so if you choose to cull yours, I won’t give you a hard time about it — but if you’re considering culling mostly because of pressure from other people, don’t. Nobody can say what the right standards for collecting are for you but you.

All Set?

Once you’ve got your boxes and decided how to handle your delicate books, you’re ready to pack! Come back next week for my take on that.

She’s BACK!

So! I’ve been AWOL from the blog for a while. Why?

I moved.

Nothing like prepping to move when you not only have over 1,200 books but are also something of a packrat. Ouch.

So, I figured I’d do a series of posts about the realities of moving when you are a bibliophile!

Watch this space as I cover:

  1. Preparing to move
  2. Packing your books — books into boxes, boxes into truck/van/car/whatever
  3. Unpacking your books — from the truck/van/car/whatever, and from the boxes
  4. Final touches

See you next Wednesday!

I’m Selling Blank Books!

OK, so I think in theory, the way selling stuff online goes, you’re supposed to have a big co-ordinated launch thing with newsletters and tweets and posts and whatnot.

Which is great, but I am sick and am jobhunting for another cubicle gig, so I’m a little preoccupied. Sorry about that.

But! You Can Still Buy Stuff

I am selling blank books, like the ones I made in my early Bookbinding classes at the SFCB! They are basically your standard sized hardbound blank books, with unlined pages, except I made them!

Pretty sweet, no?

Also, I am a Paper Nerd

The blank books use Mohawk Superfine 70lb Text paper for the pages, and let me tell you, I am in love with this paper. I used it to make myself an oversized journal to do my Morning Pages in, and I still can’t get over how smooth it is — just the right amount of smooth. It’s got an eggshell finish, so the ink soaks in and there’s a bit of friction against the nib of your pen, but just the right amount.

Even better, if you make dark lines on a loose sheet of paper and put it behind the sheet you’re writing on, you can just barely see the lines through the Mohawk Superfine! Seriously, this stuff is basically my Platonic ideal of paper. I know it’s not gonna be everybody’s, but if you taste in paper is anything like mine, you will drool when you touch it.

I used colors and patterns on the covers that I thought looked spiffy, but I’ve barely touched my stash of decorative paper and book cloth, so there will be plenty of other designs coming! I’ll be posting the books two or three at a time, as I finish them, so keep an eye on my Etsy Shop!

The Art and Science of Cloth Rebacking

Last week I spent four days, 9:30-6ish, up at the San Francisco Center for the Book, learning how to do cloth rebacking.

WTF is Cloth Rebacking?

Well might you ask!

Cloth rebacking is when you take a cloth-bound book that is falling apart and fix its binding.

Fitting the clothBasically, it involves putting new cloth underneath the old cloth and rebinding the book. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I put up a ton of photos on my personal Flickr detailing the process.

It was really fun!

The teacher, Dominic Riley, is a professional bookbinder and book repairer from the UK, and he has done over 900 cloth rebackings alone in the course of his career. He knew all kinds of tricks and methods of dealing with the various odd bits of damage and peculiarities of the books my classmates and I were working on for the class.

There were a few steps that were incredibly stressful, like cutting into the bookboard to make a channel for the new cloth to go into, and working the cloth into it. My book’s bookboard was very old and fragile, and really uncooperative!

Front Cover: progressWeirdly, my favorite part was repainting the cover — a very painstaking and exact process using the finest brush I own (which I originally bought for detail work painting lead miniatures). It was also the part I did the best at — Dominic seemed very impressed with my work. So gratifying!

I’m looking forward to practicing on several of my own books and on some of my family’s books — and then I’m going to start offering this service to all of you!

Got damaged books?

Start making a note of which books you have that could use some TLC. The Book Roadie’s Book Hospital will be taking patients soon!

Care and Feeding of Books

How do you take care of your books?

For most folks, the thought never really occurs. Books get tossed on shelves or plunked into boxes and left in all sorts of storage spaces, with little thought about their wellbeing. Those of us who are bibliophiles, think about these things.

Bugs and heat and moisture, oh my!

The biggest enemies of books are those three. There are plenty of bugs that can get into books, though cockroaches and silverfish are the most common where I live. They nibble on covers and pages and make a horrible mess. And, as anyone who’s ever left a book in their car in the summer can tell you, heat can warp the heck out of a book. Even worse is moisture, and wide swings in temperature will leave moisture on your books very happily (if you’ve ever wondered why outside walls with furniture close against them often wind up with mildew, it’s the moisture that collects during large temperature changes).

Moisture in large quantities (from the humidity of a bathroom or from actual immersion in water) is the bane of books everywhere, and that’s fairly obvious, but the moisture exposure over time from storage in a place with wide temperature changes is insidious and not very obvious.

What to do, what to do?

The easiest way to deal with all these problems is to store your books in a cool, dry, clean location. Think of a large public library. If they have large windows, they have coverings or UV proof film. Libraries have air conditioning, and good circulation around their books. Plus, libraries are cleaned regularly!

The rule of thumb I learned early on was to store your books in a room that would be comfortable to live in. Attics, basements, and storage units tend not to be comfortable living spaces due to their heat in summer, cold in winter, and stuffy natures. They don’t make good homes for books, either.

My bookcases are against an outside wall, but I pull the books forward on the shelves so there’s plenty of circulation behind them, and I regulate the temperature in my apartment as best I can without actual air conditioning (I chose carefully and my apartment is well shaded and on the first floor so it doesn’t get too hot in the summertime). We all have to make compromises, but if you pay attention and strive to get as close to the ideal as possible, your books will have a long and happy life with you.

When is a Book not a Book?

Last week I finished a two-part class at the San Francisco Center for the Book which was ostensibly about making multiples of a structure (say, making a bunch of blank journals with the same number of pages and style of binding), but which turned into a guide to making small art books once we exhausted the planned curriculum.

Tiny bits of bookish art

Our teacher owns a small specialty press in the East Bay, and specializes in custom editions of things like invitations. She also makes amazing tiny art books like the one pictured here.

IMAG0737It was interesting to look at the structures she had made. In some ways, they were clearly books: they had pages and covers, and most of them had text in them, even if it was just something like “Happy New Year! – Jocelyn.” And yet, they’re not quite what I think of as books — they have odd constructions, and are meant to be decorative more than to hold information.

What IS a book, exactly?

I’m a big believer in defining my terms! I define a book as: a physical structure which holds information in an easy-to-access, analog format (ie, markings on its surfaces). Books can be made of just about anything, really — metal, vellum, parchment paper, wood, whatever. Those cardboard books designed for babies are still books. I don’t consider an ereader to be a book, though. If it can run out of batteries or break irretrievably when you drop it, it’s not a book, it’s a piece of electronics.

By that metric, these little art books are indeed books — hell, a scroll can be a book, depending on whether you think it’s easy to read a scroll. It’s easy to slide into a philosophical discussion about what is and is not a book. What about those folks who take discarded books and carve them into strange shapes? Are the items they produce still books? I’d say no, as they’re not holding information in markings on their surfaces; they’ve become sculptures, and a sculpture is not a book.

What do you think?

Where do you draw the line between book and not-book?