Home Libraries: Creating the Perfect Reading Spot
Just up the road in Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson’s “book room” at Monticello epitomizes what many think of when considering a home library. Located in his private suite of rooms, Jefferson’s personal library contained more than 6,000 books during his lifetime.
The tall red leather chair, the stately bookcases and classic wood floors help to define how we imagine home libraries. Yet, most of us can’t dedicate an entire room to our books. And besides, with Kindles and Nooks and iPads, the entire notion of our reading areas is changing.
So to start, consider your needs, available space and individual learning styles to craft creative reading spots. Do you want a cozy corner to curl up with a good book — or an e-book download? Or are you looking for a study space for your school-age children? Do you need a dedicated space, or can your rooms serve multiple purposes? Once you’ve evaluated your wants and needs, then you can plan for a perfect space.
The Cozy Corner
You might find a window seat in your living room is just what you need, or maybe it’s an alcove in your child’s room where you can fit a bookcase and beanbags. You might place a chaise and a slim bookcase on a wide landing or consider adding a comfortable chair to your home office.
For doctoral student and Sylvan tutor Laura Jones, curling up on her sofa with her dog provides the perfect study spot, while her husband prefers a hard chair and table. Jones said homeowners also have to consider what they’re reading. With many more people using e-readers, iPads and other electronic devices in their reading and studying, they may need to be near an electrical outlet or computer.
However, a good general rule is to stay away from the television and make sure you have good lighting. Even electronic readers generally require adequate lighting, as they are not backlit.
When parents ask Jones about creating a study space, she makes it clear that the best space depends on the individual. She recommends having “ a student sit at a desk in quiet, give them a paragraph to read, then ask them some questions. Next, let them choose where and how they want to read a similar passage – then ask the same type of questions. Some will definitely do better sitting in a beanbag chair with music going than at a quiet desk area.”
If you have space in your home to designate a room as your library, you might take a note from Carol and Jim Pollock, retired librarians who live in Forest. When they built their house 18 years ago, they included a library with built-in bookshelves in their plans.
Yet, this is not a “Beauty and The Beast” grand salon, but rather a cozy room with two comfortable chairs and a small desk. The room has worked out so well, they’ve almost outgrown it.
“We filled up all the bookcases where we lived before, so we decided when we built a new house to include a place for our books,” said Carol Pollock. “Of course now these shelves are overflowing.”
Lynn L. Dodge, director of the Lynchburg Public Library, also has a dedicated office/library space.
“It has a fireplace with bookshelves on either side,” she said. “I don’t own as many books as some might assume — I get my general materials from the library and have recently gotten a Nook, and have already downloaded a few books.”
Dodge especially collects books on Lynchburg history and has connected that interest with the art in the space.
Yet, Carol Pollock emphasizes that reading can occur “almost anywhere — in a quiet nook or corner.” The main thing is to get comfortable.
Choose desks and chairs based on the users’ height. The top of a desk should be at the user’s elbows. Chairs should be chosen so that the user’s feet can rest flat on the floor. Often, an adjustable chair works well for growing children.
Likewise, consider shelf height. If the library will primarily be accessed by adults, then tall shelves may be quite appropriate. But when planning a child’s library, shorter book storage, such as lined baskets or bins or a canvas sling bookcase may provide the best solution.
Also, be sure to include good lighting, whether that includes a desk or wall lamp. But be careful that your book collection doesn’t get too much natural light. Sunlight can quickly fade print. So be sure to include shades, curtains or blinds in your library plans.
If you’re short on space, consider converting a closet into a library. Adding adjustable shelves offers great flexibility. However, make sure any shelving you install can withstand the weight of your intended collection.
The Study Nook
In meeting individual study and reading requirements, Jones recommends that readers take an online quiz to determine their learning styles. This will help to direct them in creating a space that best matches their needs.
Below are some learning styles and ideas for creating a good study space for each:
Visual learners retain information best when they can see it. That means that notecards, maps and other visual aids are quite helpful. However, it also means that your visual learners may be distracted by too much visual stimulation. So keep decorations and colors as neutral as possible.
Auditory learners learn best when they hear information. Thus, create a reading space for two. This will allow you a place to sit and talk about your current novel or nonfiction text. Soft background music might also be helpful.
Kinesthetic learners study best when learning is active and hands-on. If you are a kinesthetic learner, give yourself plenty of space to get up, move around and stretch when needed. Sticky notes, a white board and other tactile means for notetaking can also be useful.
Building Your Collection
Now that you have a few ideas for your “library” space, do you have books to line those shelves? If not, consider shopping at used bookstores, garage sales and flea markets for books you and your family will enjoy.
While your home library or study space may never look like Jefferson’s “book room,” it can provide a sensible solution to your family’s study and reading needs.
Organizing Your Home Library
Once you’ve collected a number of books, decide how to best organize them. You probably won’t want to follow the Dewey Decimal System, but you will want to be able to easily find your books later. Here are a few ways you might classify your collection:
- Alphabetize by titles or authors for quick reference.
- Sort by color, height, thickness or a combination of aesthetics.
- Group together like subjects, series, or authors.
- A rotating order divided between “have reads” and “want-to- reads” can help you keep record of the titles you have yet to enjoy.
- Consider using an electronic tool to catalog your titles.