Library Elements (Page 3)

10. Globe.

Nothing says "pursuit of knowledge" like a world globe, particularly a floor model, and the larger, the better (however, globes larger than 16" in diameter are prohibitively expensive – I believe that there is an anti-competitive cartel of sorts in the globe manufacturing industry, due to the fact that every web retailer sells their globes for the same price – and I wonder if Replogle and Cram are now owned by the same parent company).

11. Book stand.

Book stands can be very attractive, especially antique ones made of ornately carved wood or metals such as brass. They’re a great way to hold an often-used reference book such as a large dictionary, or an especially beautiful volume that you wish to display.

12. Bookends. Unless your shelves are already completely filled to capacity (a depressing situation that is all too common), some sort of objects to hold books in an upright position will be needed (allowing books to slant can eventually damage the books and lead to book spines being permanently "cocked" to one side). Books can be held upright by the following types of objects:

a) Proper bookends.

Bookends usually come in pairs, although pairs are not absolutely necessary. I personally never use more than one bookend per shelf because the side of the bookcase holds up one side of the row of books. Bookends can come in many shapes, often depicting objects or persons of interest. They can be very beautiful objects and are collected by serious collectors. The pair above was made around 1915 and will likely sell for at least $1500 on Ebay.

b) Other objects used as bookends.

Other objects of the right size and shape can be used to hold books upright, even if they are not proper bookends. I like to match objects with the subject of the books upon those shelves: for instance, using a small bust of a president on a shelf of American history books, a statue of an Egyptian cat or a small stone obelisk among books about Ancient Egypt, a large fossil or shell among natural history books, etc.

In the photo above, these are my shelves of books about ancient Greek history, so I have put a number of items related to ancient Greek art and architecture among the books. These include a bust of Athena among the Greek mythology books on the highest shelf; a statue of Zeus/Poseidon and a miniature fragment of columns among the Greek architecture books; a stylized Spartan helmet from the movie "300" and some replica pottery among the Greek biographies; a small bust of Homer holding up various translations and retellings of his stories. Also, note the horse head bookend on the bottom left holding up books about ancient Troy. As long as the objects are heavy enough to keep books from toppling over, and at least as wide in the middle as at the bottom (to prevent book slant), they should work quite well as bookends, and add visual interest to your bookshelves as well.

c) Horizontal stacks of books.

Horizontal stacks of books can be used to hold up vertically-arranged books, as in this beautiful photo from a blog entry about arranging books). This works especially well when you have a number of oversized books that are too tall to shelve vertically. Stack them horizontally in order of size from largest on the bottom to smallest on top, and align them on one side so as to provide a straight vertical edge to prop up the vertically-arranged books.

The above photo is also a good demonstration of the next library element:

13. Collected objects including photographs, small framed paintings, statuary collected on holidays and other personal items that you find beautiful. Objects can be placed on tables, propped up on bookshelves or hung directly on the fronts of bookcases (in the case of small framed pictures), or used as bookends as mentioned above.

14. Classical busts.

The great age of private library construction (before the current one, that is) was, in my opinion, from about 1770 to 1920 in the English country houses, and this period was also marked by the great fascination with the rediscovered antiquities of ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, many of the country houses during this period were decorated in a neo-classical style and often contained plaster or marble busts of classical personages. Thus busts are totally in keeping with the picture most people have in mind of a traditional library. The photo above, of musician Sting's house, has busts of classical musicians, another very traditional subject of busts.

15. Dehumidifier.

Dehumidifiers aren’t nearly as cool as most of the other items on this list, but books don't like damp environments and will become moldy or covered with mildew if subjected to humid conditions. If your library is in a humid part of the country or below grade (something I strongly advise against – books do not belong in basements), you must have a dehumidifier to discourage mold from making your books smell bad after a short time, causing allergic attacks among household inhabitants and guests, and rendering your collection worthless.

In a basement, mold will probably still grow on your books despite your efforts, so please do not store your books below grade unless you have absolutely no alternative (such as you live in a basement apartment, in which case you should move as soon as possible and wait to have a library until you do), and even then, regard your books as temporary possessions that you will need to replace in a few years.


16. An element of humor.

In a room as serious as a library, which is devoted to the acquisition of knowledge and contains many heavy books, it’s often nice to have some humorous item to lighten your mood and show visitors that things really aren’t too serious. A prominently placed ridiculous tschochky, perhaps used as a bookend; a photo of you or someone you know looking absolutely goofy; a cowboy hat perched atop a classical bust (such as the Stetson in the photo of this Harvard professor's library, above and here).