Home Guru: There’s Still a Place for the Home Library in the Digital Age

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Detail of The Home Guru’s shelving, which combine collectibles with books.
Detail of The Home Guru’s shelving, which combine collectibles with books.

By Bill Primavera – In an age when the wealth of human knowledge and culture can be accessed through a tile-sized tablet, many people would assume that we no longer have a need for a home library.

This does not necessarily indicate a decline in literacy. In fact, the members of Generation Y are the most avid purchasers of books. Not only should we not judge a book by its cover, we also shouldn’t assume it will be printed on paper.

Yet the printed book still holds its appeal as an artifact, a memento or an artistic creation, and those who own these objects will want them displayed safely and attractively. (If their physical presence inspires children to read more, so much the better.)

If you have seen collections of books in other people’s homes, you may have noticed how they seem to reveal something about the personality of the collector. In fact, you may want to take a look at your own collection and see if it is conveying a message that meets your approval. Consider the following distinctive home library types, and see if you recognize yourself in any of them.

A space lined with shelves, which are in turn crammed with books, maybe two deep, horizontally stacked and tucked in every which way, suggests an academic type who reads widely and deeply. If these books are old editions, or in different languages, we may imagine the reader is a tenured professor in an arcane subject. If the books are stacked, popular paperbacks covering every surface, we expect their owner to be a zealous fiction fan.

A large collection of books on a single subject naturally reveals the occupant’s interest, be it mysteries, gardening or history. It’s a great first step to getting to know a person better. Be conscious of revealing too much of your own interests; my collection of motivational and self-help books from my earlier stages of personal and professional development would give visitors quite the cross-section of my preoccupations.

The books themselves may be the items of interest. My wife Margaret’s Aunt Pearl subscribed to a book club that reissued a classic work every month with exquisite artistic production values. These books were left to us and hold a place of honor in the custom-built shelves of our living room. Serious bibliophiles may also seek out important first editions, signed copies of books or vintage books of other historical interest.

Sometimes books are collected simply as visual design elements. Many second-hand bookshops will advertise their books-by-the-yard rate to interior decorators, who will make their selection based on the size and color of the spines.

The next level of books as decoration is when the titles are chosen based on how much they may impress guests, rather than as a reflection of the homeowner’s interests. You may recall a famous scene in “The Great Gatsby” where a visitor to Gatsby’s library comments knowingly on the scope and quality of the volumes it contains, but also points out that the pages of all the books are uncut; a sign in that age that a book had not yet been read.

To show off your books, first glean them to make sure that the titles you have left are pleasing and useful to you. You may want to group them by category and then select a different part of your home for each one (cookbooks in the kitchen being a popular example). Store the books either upright or flat, not at an angle or spine-up, and keep them away from bright sunlight and moisture.

If you are keeping more than a few books on each shelf, be certain that the shelf is built for the weight. A too-heavy load can bend the shelf, or even make it collapse completely.

A glance online will show you endless varieties of arranging your books, from a ceiling-to-floor wall of shelves with a rolling ladder to access the highest level, to bookshelves built into the structure of a staircase and others used as sliding wall dividers.

While I am all for saving the trees, I am also very fond of the layer of interest and inspiration that a shelf full of books gives to a home.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.



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