Sunday, July 11, 2021

Evolution of a library

When Don built the pantry last February, he purposely left the long (14-foot) outer wall blank with an idea of filling it with bookshelves at some future point.

That point has arrived.

The majority of our books have been packed away for almost exactly two years.

Of all the household goods scattered among various locations during the chaotic transition period between leaving our old home and settling here, it was the books I missed the most. I chafed and fretted and tried not to express my impatience out loud, but boy howdy I could not WAIT to have our books back – especially since this whole lovely blank wall was waiting for them.

To be sure, we had two large bookcases we brought with us. These shelves and their contents followed us first to our rental house, then here. It's not like we were entirely bereft of reading material.

But everything just seemed so ... so incomplete without the rest of our library on hand.

Finally, about a month ago, we were able to organize a work crew to help Don empty the storage units in our old town and transport the rest of our household goods here to our new home – including the books.

But because the books were stored in nice tidy square boxes and were very heavy to boot, they were loaded first into this huge box truck – which meant they had to be unloaded last. Don and I were in no hurry to offload the truck. Coupled with the crippling heat wave that's plagued the region for the last few weeks, unloading went slowly.

During this time, though, we faced another issue: shelves. Originally I had it in my head to purchase Ikea shelves as a (reasonably) affordable option.

I was wrong. Not long after the pantry was finished, I actually went so far as to try and order these Ikea units online, and couldn't get my order to go through. So I called Ikea and tried to place the order by phone, explaining to the helpful customer service rep about my online difficulties. He checked inventory from his side and said that due to enormous demand, the shelves were on backorder for the foreseeable future.

This was about the time the supply chain shortages were becoming apparent, so somehow this didn't surprise me. But no problem, right? Don can make shelves.

Then lumber skyrocketed to three times its previous price, which meant even DIY bookshelves were becoming a ridiculously expensive proposition. Measuring the wall and figuring in how many board feet he needed (about 130), Don concluded it would cost approximately $360 to purchase the wood to build enough bookshelves to house our library.

So he started looking at alternatives. Happily he found a regional mill that sold rough-milled boards (called "farmer boards") for $0.78 per running foot. Don was able to buy everything he needed for under $100.

Beautiful stuff, ain't it?

It's not shiny and smooth like the boards sold at Home Depot, and because of that I like it better.

We stacked the lumber aside for the time being while we focused on other matters...

...then Don was able to start constructing the shelves for the house.

He made cleats to go under each shelf for added support.

Fitting the cleats.

One by one, the bookcases took shape under Don's skilled hands.

As he finished each unit, we carried it into the house. Finally all four cases were complete.

Aren't they beautiful?

As you can see, the boards aren't smooth and shiny. I think that's one of the reasons I like them so much. I've never been a smooth-and-shiny kind of person.

We tweaked and adjusted the shelves to center them against the wall, then Don fastened the units to each other.

Here's a closer view of the cleats which help strengthen each shelf.

He used brackets to secure the units to the wall.

Then the shelves were complete and ready to fill ... except, of course, the books were still packed away in the very front of the box truck.

Over the course of the heat wave and only working in the very early mornings, we unloaded the box truck little by little and transferred items to the barn. We were close, so tantalizingly close, to accessing the books.

Finally I decided to tunnel through and get started on moving some of the books in the house. During a blisteringly hot day – I think it was 108F at the time – I got the first load of boxes moved.

Call me foolish, call me a stubborn cuss, but I just couldn't wait to fill those shelves!

It was like Christmas, unpacking boxes and seeing the old friends that had been stored away for two years. Gradually empty boxes started piling up on the porch.

Another load in, ready to unpack.

As we opened the boxes, we edited and weeded volumes we no longer wanted. One of my concerns was having too many books for the available shelf space.

The reason for this concern is I had lost track of how many books we owned. Many years ago, I put up a blog post entitled "What do 5000+ books look like?" which described our home library at the time. I literally went around and counted all our books – reading material, reference material, children's books, school books, cook books, books belonging to the girls, you name it. We totaled out at a bit over 5000 volumes.

From that peak, we've reduced enormously. Don and I weeded out about 1000 books we didn't need, and donated them to thrift stores in Coeur d'Alene. When Older Daughter moved to her own apartment, she took her books with her. When Younger Daughter joined the Navy, she edited her library, which I later boxed up and stored away. We gave away most of our unneeded homeschooling resources to younger friends who were homeschooling their own children (keeping back our favorite educational volumes). I purged our enormous collection of children's books, keeping our favorites and donating the rest.

In short, what's left is our personal library. I tallied it the other day, and it came in at just short of 1700 books. Not a huge number, but at least they all fit into the shelf space we have.

We ended up weeding out 5 1/2 boxes from our current inventory, including (sadly) our 1995 World Book Encyclopedia set. I have mixed feelings about getting rid of this set because it's served us well over the years. I hope someone else can use it.

We also put aside and later crated up the remaining school books we're keeping. We'll store these in the barn.

My modest collection of cookbooks is in the kitchen.

Here are three (quasi-transparent) totes containing the children's books we're keeping (the solid blue tote on the upper left contains something else). We'll also store these in the barn. These totes are massively heavy, probably sixty pounds each. Lots of treasured children's books within them.

We're storing Younger Daughter's rather extensive library. Now that YD has her own apartment at her overseas duty station, she would like a select number of these books shipped to her. I'll send her a list of titles and let her choose.

Whatever doesn't get shipped will stay stored in our barn. It's no accident both our girls turned into voracious readers with extensive libraries of their own.

So here's our finalized library. First up is the paperback bookshelf in our bedroom. Don made this back in 1994 or so from century-old barn wood found in the attic of our first (century-old) home we bought in Oregon. It's the only bookcase we brought with us through the years.

Next are the two tall bookcases we inherited from my parents, with Lihn's cage between them. These units will eventually get moved once we install the wood cookstove, which is slated to go exactly where Lihn's cage currently resides.

And finally, the pièce de résistance: the shelves Don made.

I think the library wall is prettier than any artwork could ever be.

So there you go, the evolution of our home library. And – ahem – there's even room on the shelves for a few more additions. Y'know, just in case.


  1. There is nothing sadder in the world than a bookshelf without books.

    The information about IKEA is interesting, but not surprising. We have gotten a great deal of mileage out of IKEA bookshelves over the years.

    We, too, are starting to reach saturation - we may be close to your total. I have begun weeding a few out. Most of the children's books I am saving, if for no other reason than given the current environment, I fear I would not be able to get them again.

    My buying has gotten more selective as well, focusing on some very specific areas. I do not know that I will ever "finish" my library, but its growth is becoming much more selective.

  2. Books can take you anywhere in the world you want. An if you are into science fiction out of this world. They are my friends. My eyes have gotten so bad that I now have problems reading books and have to read them on the kindle for PC in large size type.

  3. I absolutely love the new shelves and it makes my librarian heart happy to see them filled with wonderful books! It looks fantastic! I know you will enjoy this!

  4. When we moved, I “edited” our book collection. I’ve never counted but nowhere near 5k 😁. And I’m back to full shelves again 🙄

  5. I had 7 bookcases in three rooms and books on the floor and in boxes and on the floor and tables. There were 1,800. My goal was to have a place for each book on a shelf. I removed ten books each day for 80 days and finally every book was on a shelf, even if it was behind other books or lying crossways. Now, three of my bookcases were only about 4.5' high, not so tall as yours. Now, I have 1000 books in storage. I miss them because they are my friend and companions. Sometimes, I just sit and think of the volumes. I have bought a few books, not many. I love your book reunion.

  6. Congratulations! Your shelves look much better than mine (also homemade). Remember plank and cinder block shelves? My uprights are hollow squares of 2x4 between the shelves of 8" (paperback) and 12" (hardcover) spacing. A bolt holds each upper spacer through the shelf to the lower spacer - all interchangeable, holding the shelf rigid, but able to be reconfigured or disassembled. My friends that helped me make my final move were quite pleased that four 6 1/2' high bookshelves (total length 20 feet) was a stack of shelving, a pile of 2x4 squares and a bag of bolts...

  7. We too packed up and moved about 16 months ago. I had many books packed up for a few years. When we found our forever home, I was able to unpack all my books. It was like seeing old friends.

  8. Your new bookshelf looks amazing. I'm running out of space for all my books and will be getting a new shelf soon. My life would be so empty without my books.

  9. This is beautiful. I love the shelves and their rough finish and the fact that Don made them. Your house now looks like a home.

  10. I have 5000 books on kindle right now. I don’t know what I would do if I had to have bookshelves for all of them!!

  11. Ahhhh, Home at last!

  12. Nothing more beautiful than bookshelves filled with books. All you need is to plant your garden and your home will be complete!

  13. Ah yes, the eternal struggle of the reading mind. I wish I had that much room to work with, for a boatload of books, so that I wouldn't have to do the same thing(edit the list and dispose of). Sad duty doing so.

  14. I read your posts on my Feedreader - this is no place to respond. But I loved the book shelves so much that I clicked extra to come here and tell you! Great job Don and great organizing Patrice! I love this! Nancy

  15. I like the fact that your canning room is somewhat hidden now.

  16. I love Don's building solutions, I take notes. I do have a question, does the rough wood have any effect on the bottom of the books? I too have done some editing mostly in the duplicate department. Amazing how quickly a new book shelf will fill up.

    1. The rough wood is unquestionably harder on the books, since they can't be easily slid back and forth. We don't have any collectable books whose value will suffer if they're damaged, so it doesn't bother us much to have rough wood. But we do have to be careful to lift a book on or off a shelf, instead of sliding it.

      - Patrice

    2. Rough wood is also a little harder to dust. :)

  17. I recently bought a set of encyclopedias. As recent as 1995 is even harder to find. With everything online these days it’s rare for someone to have reference material easily available. It’s also interesting to note how definitions have changed with the new “cancel culture.”

  18. We used rough cut fir from a mill when we built our house. I sanded some leftover boards and the contractor threw together three bookcases for us to use temporarily until I found what I wanted.
    That was eleven years ago.
    We disassembled them and I had my young teenaged son rebuild them using brackets and he put stain and sealed them as a homeschool project.
    They were moved back to Wyoming four years ago.
    My husband kept asking me when was I going to “decorate “? I told him books were not only necessary they were artwork.
    I then told him I’d be happy to get a couple nice saddle racks built and bring in my saddles if further decorations were needed.


  19. We cleaned out my mothers house after Alzheimer’s made it so she could live at home. And she was a teacher for some 30 years. But any way she had 3 sets of world book and 2 sets of Britannia books. We placed an ad on craigs list no calls, then took tried to donate them to various charity groups and no one wanted them. So they were placed in the dumpster. Really hated to do that.

    1. Too bad you didn't think to just have a yard sale or a free sign on boxes at the curb. Or ask your local librarian to put a note up in the library for anyone who might like them. Such a waste to just dump them.

  20. Do your books have a bad odor to them due to being in storage? We have many in boxes in our garage and they have developed a damp, mildew scent although there is no mildew on them.

    1. Thankfully no. The only book that smells is a picture dictionary the cat used to like to pee on, go figure.

      - Patrice

  21. We recently had a family with two young children spend a couple of days with us. The kids were too young to remember being here and were excited to have a visit to the country. One thing that really made my heart happy was the reaction of the little girl, age nine, to my massive collection of children’s books. Immediately upon arriving, she disappeared for a while. When she returned, she told her mom that she loved it here and had already read three books. She asked if it was okay if she chose a chapter book to read. Her mom and I, both avid readers, were thrilled. ❤️📚

  22. I just checked my book inventory, I'm around 1400 books all in 3 rooms, nearly all reference books of some type like cooking, sewing, needlework, gardening, crafts of some sort. But no fiction, biographies, politics, etc. I have no idea why I stopped reading fiction many years ago. I keep thinking a thinning is in order, but it's tough for me to do.

    I love your shelves, but I'd probably have to put a smooth finish at least on the top side of the shelves, not only to protect the books from abrasion and acid, but to make dusting easier.

  23. Yourr bookshelves are gorgeous. Have you considered lightly sanding the flat surfaces to smooth them out just a bit? Your comment about about your 1995 encyclopedia set caught my attention. Toss them in the garbage and don't feel guilty about it- the info in them is grossly outdated for the most part. I work as a librarian and we routinely get rid of informational books that are outdated. Encycopedia sets are generally only useful for 3 years after publication before they are outdated. If there is a paper recycler near you, you can use a box cutter to slice the pages from the cover. Open the book to the inside cover. Start at the top of the spine where the pages meet the cover and slice downward. THe pages should easily separate from the cover. Do the same to the inside back cover. Throw the covers in the garbage and take the paper to the recycling center or paper recycling bin.

  24. I have no idea of my current book total. Not sure I want to.

    several years ago, my parents found a local to them supplier of commercial library grade metal bookshelves. The really really heavy duty kind used to store reference tomes. Infact, the seller was concerned that their flooring was strong enough to hold the weight of the fully loaded shelves. Last year, right before the Covid shutdown, my parents were preparing to move into assisted living, and gave me all but one set of the shelving (I also convinced them to give me most of their books that they'd planned to donate somewhere). These shelves are awesome, and will likely outlast me.

    I did some googling around trying to find someone who I could buy more from and didn't find any, but I keep hoping and keep an eye out....

  25. May I ask, what is the spacing between shelves? I'm building mine and it's my first home building project. I cant decide on the spacing.

    1. The shelves are 12 inches high (and eight inches deep -- he used 8" boards, not 12" boards for constructing). This fits almost all the regular-sized books. Oversized books are shelved on the standalone bookcases, which have adjustable shelves. Hope this helps.

      - Patrice

  26. We didn't move anywhere, but we did a 'deep clean' of our home this summer. We too did much of what you did. Boxing and purging old books. We too kept & boxed our kids' homeschool materials we wanted to save. We saved all their favorite children's books for whenever they have grandkids for us to bring them back out to enjoy. I too have a small bookshelf in my bedroom, but no room for much else, sadly. Our home is only 900 sq ft (including the attached garage), so there's not much room for shelving units. I wish we did have the space, as there'd be a nice library prominently displayed in our home as well. But we've always had LOTS of books and ALL our kids are avid readers. Both my eldest two have huge IKEA shelves in their room filled with books and boxes under their beds filled with them as well. My younger two share a smaller room, but also have book collections of their own. I'm so happy they LOVE to read. Most all their books are Christian in nature, whether it's Bibles (they have collections of translations and devos, concordinances, etc.), Christian fiction, commentaries by pastors or speakers, etc. They have some regular fiction as well, but Christian is their genre of choice due to our beliefs. It's good to see other families like this out there. I am in LOVE with your book shelves! They look AMAZING and very inviting/cozy in the living space. That would be the room I was in the most, other than cooking in the kitchen. A room with books is just so inviting to me. I warm cozy fireplace for the cooler months would make it complete, in my dream home. But you mentioned a wood stove and that's just as good, if not better (for heating). You've done an awesome job! Love it!