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?

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!