This post republishes a piece which was originally commissioned by myVLF and published on their blog as ‘Unpacking Your Library: 10 Top Tips to Organise Your Bookshelves’, myVLF, 3 September 2020.
Whether working, furloughed or simply unable to go out and socialise as much as usual, Covid-19 has given many of us more time at home. Many people have been unpacking their libraries (to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase), building reading nooks and reorganising their shelves. There’s a great tradition of writing to help us in doing this, and especially on the impact that sorting through our books has on us.
If you want to know how to organise your personal library and bookshelves, here are ten top tips based on practical experience and from ten of my favourite books.
Last week was Spring Clearing Week, an annual campaign run by the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) to raise awareness of the need to Spring clear before we Spring clean.
This year, the theme was Making Clutter Count, and, since books are – of course – never clutter, I chose to focus on clothes and textile recycling. I was really inspired by the RSA’s new report Turning the Tide: Public Attitudes on Plastics and Fast Fashion, which found a gap between our desire to reduce the use of plastics and petrochemicals in our clothes and our awareness of how much we are actually consuming. It calls for “new measures to turn the tide, including a tax on virgin plastics used in clothing; a ban on marketing petrochemical-derived clothing; and a commission to prepare for the future of fashion.”
As well as reading these two publications, on the build-up to Spring Clearing Week I tried out various apps to see whether I wanted to recommend them to people on Instagram. In the end, on Friday I chose to highlight @thredup, a survey you complete to find out how sustainable your wardrobe choices are; @goodonyou_app which provides information on how fair clothing brands are; and @30_wears, which allows you to photograph and diarise your use of each of your clothes. Apparently most women wear most garments only seven times before disposal, so, as its name suggests, the app aims to encourage them to up that to thirty wears.
I also did a lot of surfing the web (including APDO’s own recycling and donations hub for members) to try to find out which charities were still able to collect items for donation despite the Covid restrictions. It’s really important to do due diligence on charity bag schemes, as some collections made door to door actually give very little to the named charity. Some collectors are more conscientious than others about trying to have clothes reworn before looking to have them scrapped for recycling. And, clearly, the best route for anything containing plastics and petrochemicals is for it to be used to the point of destruction before being scrapped and repurposed.
During the Week
The APDO colleagues who run our Twitter and Instagram accounts both primed members in advance to be ready to take part in their #APDOClutterChallenge (links to Twitter – the Insta challenge was completed through Stories which is, of course, more ephemeral). Colleagues shared a range of resources, some of which were new to me. My favourites (in no particular order) are:
This was the first APDO campaign week to take place since I became a verified member, and it was a great learning experience. I’m sure that some of my clients picked up tips directly from following the #springclearingweek hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and all my clients will benefit from my own increased knowledge on how to make their clutter count. It was also a fantastic way to gain an insight into the things that my colleagues are most passionate about clearing out and organising – there are so many different people looking for help with so many areas of their houses that it’s really useful to know who has expertise in particular fields. Of course, the APDO Directory lets anyone search by particular specialisms, but there’s niche and then there’s niche … you can search for photo organisers, but not for librarians or archivists, for example.
Now I’m looking forward to National Organising Week in November … and, from a CPD point of view, to the APDO Conference next month.
Image: Photo taken by Daichi Ishikawa at Bonhams Plath Hughes Private View for the London Bibliophiles in 2018.
APDO also provides information on what to expect when you book a professional organiser. As they say, “Finding the right organiser for you is a personal choice so it’s probably useful to speak or meet up before you start working together.”
I’m always happy to hear from potential clients. You can book a free discovery meeting from the link on the Tidy Beginnings page.
As a rule of thumb, store like items with like – and don’t disperse storage throughout the house. Books are a special case: Group these by category – cookbooks, coffee table books, novels, etc. – and store them where they make the most sense. If you like to read before falling asleep, designate a book zone in your bedroom – this way they won’t overwhelm your nightstand or end up in a stack on the floor.
Store books on flat, smooth shelves, strong enough to support their weight. Ideally, books should not come into contact with unsealed wood which can release organic acidic vapours. Line shelves with acid free board to avoid this problem. Stand books vertically close together and if possible by size. Use bookends to prevent books collapsing.
Although it can look aesthetically pleasing to use different objects as bookends, remember that they are placed against the cover or board of the book, and a danger they can present is pushing unevenly against this. Uneven pressure can cause warping or, over time, even detachment of a board from the spine. This is also why we shelve books of a similar size together – tiny books next to large books can similarly put the spine and cover / board of the larger book under stress.
A good bookend lays flat against the book, and holds it upright. It should be pushed over far enough that the books stay in their positions but are not so tight that we put stress on any of them when we remove one from the shelf.
So, now we’ve established what good quality bookend looks like, let’s have some fun browsing for them. There are so many styles to choose from, there’s at least one to suit every home.
The book has been around for centuries, so there’s a wide range of antique and second-hand bookends out there to suit every budget.
I found my pair of plaster of Paris dinosaur bookends in Crystal Palace, which as well as being famous for its dinosaur park, is a significant place to me. They are both kitsch and historical, which fits my style perfectly.
Online sources of second-hand bookends include eBay, Etsy, and Preloved. Remember to look for flat backs though!
On the desk in my study, I use a pair of agate bookends to hold books on which I’m working. They were a present from my parents, so they’re both functional and spark joy (as Marie Kondo says things should).
Most books are robust enough to be shelved in this type of desk arrangement for a short space of time.
You have to be careful standing books next to natural objects. Bringing things in from the garden can introduce extra moisture (even if they don’t feel damp to the touch) and even insect life. Never place books against unsealed wood, as it can release acid which is extremely damaging to books. Be careful with waxed items too – you don’t want anything to transfer onto the cover or board from your bookend.
4. Share your interests.
There are bookends themed to suit almost every hobby and interest you can imagine – #bookends on instagram includes dogs, and bicycles and Star Wars, and, of course, reading.
The shop gives the advice, “They’re so unique that they’re never going to blend in, so instead create a conversation point!” That’s true for any bookend beyond the basic.
5. Put on a display.
Bookends aren’t the only support on the market. Sometimes you might want to highlight a book by having it face outwards.
I spotted this in the Publishers Association when I was attending a BIC course on ONIX metadata last November. As well as making me want to read Kingsford’s book (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way), it gave me something appropriate to look at in their reception area.
With this sort of display easel, it’s important that the book is supported but not forced – never try to squeeze a book onto a stand that is too small for it. Prefer one with a base, as pictured, to one with individual strips of metal or wood running under the book, as they will put pressure unevenly on the tail of the boards / cover. Recipe stands aren’t just for cookbooks! Some shelving systems, like Ikea’s Billy bookcases, are designed the option of display stands.
There’s so much more to be said about book supports – I’m aware of not even touching on bookends for children – but perhaps that’s a post for another day.
Anne Welsh‘s latest publication is a blog post at myVLF.com sharing top tips on how to organise your library.
You can read the tips in full on the myVFLF Blog (update: myVLF ceased trading in 2021, and the blog is republished here) alongside lots of other bookish posts. Librarian to the core, we thought it might be helpful to share a bibliography of the books and articles mentioned. Wherever possible, we’ve shared links to fulltext, WorldCat libraries, the original publisher, and secondhand sellers, in that order.