Home Libraries (Revisited): Building a Library From Scratch

During the height of the Covid pandemic when historians were sequestered indoors, a series hit the blog that shared the Home Libraries of the ECW team, full of pictures and stories of massive or humble book collections. For a recap of that series, visit HERE.

Well, I wasn’t part of the team at the time, but boy, do I have a new library to share! For those who have read the newsletter, my husband and I have been working hard on building our first home. It took over a year (thanks to shortages on building supplies and labor) but we finally closed earlier this month. One of my conditions on the floor plan of our new home was that I NEEDED a new office/library. The walls of my previous office were covered in bookcases, none of which were the same size and none matched. Not to mention that I had to work around more windows than I really needed and a closet I never used. My office was also the “catch all” for every book in the house, no matter if they were mine or my husband’s (he didn’t have much space in his own office for books). Because of these difficulties, I quickly ran out of shelves, the layout of the room was awkward and cluttered with two desks to walk around, and stacks of books were scattered across every surface. So, my husband – being the creative designing type – fashioned my new office (and home) with shelf space in mind.

Sitting on one of the bookshelves in my new library. If it’ll hold me, it should hold my books!

The result was a dispersal of our old mismatched bookcases across the house, allowing me to separate his books from mine and the fiction from the non-fiction in different rooms, leaving my office exclusively for my research collection. The original design called for bookcases across three of the four walls, but at the moment – miraculously – I don’t have a need for shelves on that third wall. Instead, I have two walls of continuous bookshelves, six shelves high (one is 7 foot long, the other is 9 foot long, giving me about 96 linear feet of shelf space) made from two 2” by 6” boards held together by several pocket-hole screws, resting on low-profile shelf brackets that are screwed into support boards, which are then screwed into the studs of the wall for extra stability. Hubby installed it, but I stained and clear-coated every shelf myself.

My (rather cluttered) desk. I keep copies of the books I’ve authored on the top between the candelabras from our wedding table. To the right is the banner of souvenir pins from the battlefields I’ve explored (missing quite a few).

My desk is on the fourth wall, set into a niche so that the footprint of the desk doesn’t cut into the room itself, allowing for easy mobility to get up from my chair and fetch a book from the shelf (something that was VERY difficult in my previous office). My blue armchair is also now in a convenient place that is not blocked by books or furniture, creating an enticing place to kick back, and read at my leisure.

It took nearly four evenings to pack my books and just one to unload them into my new library. And, much to my surprise and delight, I have empty shelves for the first time in years! There is room to grow!

My new library (with empty shelves!)

Now, this library is not as impressive as others that were shared during the Home Library series of 2020, but I’m proud of it. I sort my books by topic, which I find more helpful when I’m looking for a specific source or fact. The books I have the most of focus on women and civilians during the Civil War, which takes up an entire shelf (about 7 feet long). Other Civil War topics range from specific battles, reference books, biographies, soldier memoires and regimental histories, soldier life and general studies, slavery/plantation/Confederate studies, hospitals and medical practices, and a little spot for historical fiction. Two shelves are entirely dedicated to non-Civil War history books that I’ve collected for school or other writing projects. There, you can find a mixed assortment of books on the Titanic, Irish folklore, medieval history, and the Holocaust. As a hoarder of knick-knacks, I sprinkle some personality across my shelves where I have space for it.

Adding some character to my shelves (note the ECW books to the right and the Appomattox parole pass facsimile)

While I still have some fixing up to do (need a second desk to hold office supplies), my new office is better than I could have ever imagined it. I’m grateful to have a husband who enables my book obsession and supports my ambition. I have a long way to go before I feel like this library is complete, but it’s off to a fabulous start.

9 Responses to Home Libraries (Revisited): Building a Library From Scratch

  1. You wrote: “my husband . . . fashioned my new office (and home) with shelf space in mind.”

    I have done this, twice. I build two additions on a previous home with shelf space specifically in mind for my library. And we’re making plans in my new home to do it yet again…. :-0

  2. You are a true Hobbit at heart! I wish I could share a picture from a fellow Baggins, but thank you for sharing yours!

  3. Very nice. My library is full to overflowing and I have books stuck everywhere. If I posted a picture it would make people shriek.

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