Book Displays: Arranging on a shelf

Book displays may take different forms. In this series of posts I present a gallery of types, which will serve as an illustrative overview of the Genus (if you will) Displaius libraratus. What is the point of a book display? In the first post I compared a book display to the sand mandala. Both are made to be viewed, both encourage positive energies in the viewer, and both end (in the case of a successful display) being deconstructed. The sand is carried off by the river, and the books by library patrons.

Shelf Sufficiency

Libraries have shelves. Homes have shelves. The difference is that when I search* for book display ideas, I get ideas for the book collector — that is, for displaying books that aren’t to be moved or read all that much. Sometimes the internet really is absolutely useless. (* And when I search now, I use a search engine that doesn’t support the dubious motives of ad men and paranoid government agencies. Well, that’s off my chest.)


Backless, double-sided shelves can “creep” unintended books into your display, as here, on the lowest.

I’ve blogged recently about arranging books on wall shelves. How is a bookshelf different from a wall? What a good question! (Who’s on the ball?) The answer is depth. On a wall, books sit flat, upright, side-by-side, facing outwards at the same angle. (Even so, as we’ve seen, you can get pretty creative.) Bookshelves, however, make possible a few more techniques because they are generally deeper than wall shelves. They give you spinal possibilities, depth, angle. But there are also some pitfalls that I’ll consider.


On the bottom two shelves: The “Face-in-the-Space” technique.

The Spine. I find it striking to juxtapose spine and cover. In the photo above, for example, the top shelf is spine-only — set off grandly by the “Big Word” technique. (Meant to indicate those that are “read” as opposed to unread?) In this second picture, right, you can see a similar effect. Top of shelf, all covers; bottom two shelves, spines. I include this also to illustrate the popular “Face-in-the-Space” technique of filling empty shelf space with outward-facing books. For these spots, I often pick a book right from the returns trolley: proven to issue.

A simpler Valentine's costume. Angles of all kinds have been used to make this effective and beautiful.

A simpler Valentine’s costume for that risky date with a stranger. (Will he be predictable? Large-print? Her father’s age? Will she be a quick read? Inked up? Un-put-downable?) Angles of all kinds have been used to make this effective and beautiful.

Angle. Not confined to the realm of tabletop displays. Use different angles to vary the depth and shape of books on the shelf, and to focus attention. Remember, of course, that sometimes the best angle is none at all.

Think not just of twisting books left or right, but also of how they sit on the shelf. We have plastic book stands of different angles that allow some books to stand tall and proud, others to recline almost horizontal. I like the recliners for low shelves, where a cover stood upright might not be seen from above; though sometimes I just place them flat. I find large and wide books work best for low shelves.

More “on the shelf” techniques

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Filed under Books, Memorial Library

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