How to create a home library

Parts of our home library and examples of our Rustic Library decor

Parts of our home library and examples of our Rustic Library decor

Parents invested in their child’s education dream about providing a home library for their family

This sounds like a daunting task. We picture the perfect library as a huge room lined with gorgeous shelves of leather bound volumes, or like our local library’s adorable and lively Kid Lit section with bright colors and stimulating environment. 

I've often imagined a huge room with floor to ceiling shelves, gleaming wood floors, and those cool looking library ladders on rails - then I imagine dusting all those books and shelves. . . Don't you hate it when reality interrupts your daydreams?

Although our homes and budget can’t accommodate our dream library, we can create a unique home library that meets our family’s needs and inspires a love of reading and learning. 

My parents accidentally taught me to read when I was 3 years old, and my father especially valued books and reading. He discarded our television, and we began a bi-weekly ritual of visiting the Guyandotte Public Library - which, by the way, started out in a converted gas station. I brought home as many books as I could carry, and my parents made sure I had a few books of my own. My little particle board bookshelf held my beloved friends: Harry the Dirty Dog, When We Lived in a House, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, and a few Nancy Drew stories. It’s hard to know which came first - a love of books or the endless supply of rich reading material my parents supplied to satisfy my hunger for stories.

Not every child will become an avid reader, but the more book friendly the home, the more likely kids will read. So the question is:

How can a family with a small budget and limited square footage display books so that they are organized and easily accessible?

One of the greatest challenges in creating a home library is location.

Start by looking for unused spaces. Many families look around and say "We don't have room for bookshelves!" But if you open your eyes and your mind, you will notice spaces in your home that do little else but gather dust bunnies - under tables and chairs, over and beside windows, under the stairs, beside couches and beds, in the corner. There are almost always empty spaces in our homes we can place a crate, a small shelf, or cubbies. You can also replace the typical end table or nightstand with a small bookcase.

Even though we think of a library as being a dedicated room, a home library is about the books you've chosen to make part of your family's life, not just a specific place for books. Books make great companions in any area of your home and look interesting on any surface.

Our Tv stand and bookshelf

In our house, books are everywhere. Each room has at least one bookshelf, and my husband built large floor to ceiling bookcases from reclaimed wood for our living room, dining room, and bedroom. They aren’t fancy, but they do the job. We’ve christened our decorating scheme Rustic Library.

I've often said our home serves us and our needs; we aren't at the mercy of current decorating trends or what the neighbors might think. I encourage you to think of your home this way as well - if books and reading are important to you, don't let any magazine or interior design fad prevent you from creating a space that proudly declares, "We love learning!".

By the way - it is important to remember that a 36” shelf needs to be at least 1” thick so it doesn’t bow under the weight of books. A longer shelf will need to be thicker. You can intersperse your books with treasured pictures and mementos to offset the weight if necessary.

The goal is for books to be visible, accessible, and in areas that invite reading in comfort.

How do you choose books for your children?

As parents we want our kids to be ‘well-read’, except that none of us really know what that means! Does it mean reading classic literature, like The Epic of Gilgamesh and Great Expectations? Does it mean reading books by authors from different countries, in various genres? Where do we fit in pleasure reading such as chapter books, adventure stories, and mystery series? How much modern literature should be included so that your library is up-to-date? Is there nonfiction that kids will enjoy?

If the goal is to inspire your child to read, then the most important criteria is what interests them. It’s OK to let them read exciting mystery and adventure stories, graphic novels, and riddle books. Children need to build confidence in their reading skills before they can tackle more challenging reading. They also need to develop comprehension and retention skills, as well as emotional maturity before they are given weighty tomes with sensitive or controversial topics and themes. You might be surprised by how many ‘classic’ books contain mature content. You weren’t paying attention in Literature class if you want to hand your 10 year old Canterbury Tales!

If you want to challenge your kids with books that are the equivalent of literary broccoli, try reading small portions to them and having a discussion time.

  • Make it fun with food and drinks that go along with what you are reading.
  • Have a map displayed nearby so they can see where the story takes place.
  • Give them drawing paper and crayons and have them illustrate the story while you read.

Also do this with nonfiction, especially biographies and memoirs. It's a bit like the 'spoonful of sugar' if you have reluctant readers.

Listening to audiobooks can also be an important aspect of learning how to enjoy  more challenging stories. If you think audiobooks are someone just reading stories out loud, you haven’t experienced a great audiobook. As fellow BookTuber Jen says, audiobooks are the difference between hearing a story read and hearing it told. Audiobooks narrators can bring characters to life with their voices, accents, pauses, and inflections. Kids can also read along to an audiobook to strengthen their reading skills.

Where can you buy books at an affordable price?

Amazon.com is the go-to place for many readers to shop for affordable books from the comfort and convenience of home. Other online sources are Book OutletThrift BooksBetter World Books, and AbeBooks.com. A wonderful way to meet folks in your community is to explore local sources of books, especially independent book stores (check out Indiebound, an online independent bookstore finder!). We also take advantage of thrift stores, library sales, garage and estate sales, and discount/gently used bookstores like Half Price Books

Once you’ve acquired some books, you can rotate your library with new material by using book swapping services like Book Mooch or Paperback Swap.

Do you need to do anything special to take care of your books?

bookshelves in living room

Yes, but the care of books is fairly simple.

  • They need to be kept relatively dry - basically any area with comfortable humidity for people (not too damp, not too dry), and a moderate temp of 60-70F.
  • Don't store them near a heat source like a furnace vent or radiator.
  • Dust books and shelves regularly to discourage little critters that love books too - for food! Feather dusters and Swiffers are good for this.
  • Kids also need to be taught that books are valuable and how to care for them properly.
  • Natural light is good for reading but not for books - don’t place them where they will be exposed to direct sunlight.

Is there a right way to organize books for a home library?

There is no right or wrong way method to keep your books in order. You can use:

To encourage your child to try new stories, occasionally change up how your books are organized and displayed. Put some books on the shelf with the cover facing out. Place a few on your end tables near comfortable chairs or the couch, or in that favorite reading place of most Americans - the bathroom!

How many books are enough for a home library?

The number of books doesn’t matter, as long as you create an environment in your home where books are treated as fun and interesting. It’s better to only have a few books your children love, rather than shelves full of books they ignore. Make trips to the library or bookstore a special occasion and let children pick out their own books. Some books will remain beloved for many years, and can crossover from young readers to adults. One of our favorites is Calvin and Hobbes, which was bedtime reading when the kids were little, but is still fondly read and laughed over now that they are in high school. I have read The Secret Garden several times over the years, and enjoy the feeling of nostalgia as well as the story itself.

How do you make time for reading?

When the kids were younger, we had quiet time in the afternoons. They needed it, and so did I. They could read or listen to a book and play quietly, but were not allowed to watch television, use the computer, or play video games during this break time.

They were also allowed to stay up at night as late as they wanted on two conditions:

  1.  They were reading or listening to a book.
  2.  They got up in the morning on time without a fuss.

Of course, they never could stay up all that late - their little bodies konked out early no matter how hard they tried to stay up past midnight. I didn’t mind that they tried because it meant they were reading!

Let your kids bring books with them when you run errands - they can read in the car, in the waiting room, while standing in line. I’ve been known to prop a book up on the countertop while doing dishes when I simply couldn’t bring myself to walk away from it!

Warning: Don't do this with library books. You can imagine why.

When reading together or talking about books is part of your family time, it naturally limits television viewing and computer use. This also requires the parent to be a Reading Role Model, which is difficult for parents who weren’t readers when they were young. However, just like anything else we did or didn’t do when we were kids, if we want things to be different for our own children, becoming a reader is going to be important in order to improve your child’s reading life.

You can also have family fun making book related projects, like book posters, bookmarks, bookplates, and bookends. Keep crayons, markers, drawing pads, and other artsy-craftsy supplies near your child’s reading nook.

Get started today with a trip to the library.

Talk to your kids about their interests and what they'd like to learn.

Find a spot for a small bookshelf or crate.

Just take one small step toward a home library and give your kids the gift of reading. 

Do you have a home library? Tell us about it in the comments below.