As our libraries shift from physical books to digital media, we do away with the need to store books within easy reach. Digital libraries provide near instant access
to any single piece of our media, and our "primary" need for bookshelves is removed.
Bookshelves are more than a place to stack and store books.
When we choose which books to place on a shelf, we are making a decision to publicly display the book. Some choose books that they have read and hold special meaning to them. Some
books that they feel represent who they are, or who they want others to believe they are. Some choose books that have yet to be read, and use the visual prominence as a reminder.
Deliberate curation of a bookshelf's contents is an expression of personality.
When we choose where to place a book on a shelf, we add to the metadata of the book. Not only can we see the title or the author's name, we see its relationship to its neighbors.
Traditional sorting based on genre is usually possible in a digital format, but the ad-hoc taxonomies that form by placing books on a shelf are lacking. While we can sort by "biography" or
"science fiction" it is more difficult to express "inspirational without being preachy for when it's raining outside" when accessing a purely digital collection. On a bookshelf, it's as
as "the left side of the third shelf down."
When we openly display our books to guests, we provide an opportunity for spontaneous discussion and sharing. Seeing a book on a friend's shelf gives us the opportunity to examine it,
the owner's opinions, get a recommendation for it or a similar book, and, often, borrow the book on the spot. While digital recommendation services can provide suggestions based on books
have indicated you have read or liked, they can't know that you are about to take a trip to Europe, or you were asking about a recipe earlier in the day. They certainly can't recommend
when you are not accessing your own collection through whatever service they employ. A friend and an open bookshelf can.
Out of necessity, bookshelves have become important focal pieces for interior design. From ceiling high bookcases full of legal volumes to funky shelves that hold knick-knacks as well
as books, these storage units have become artistic expressions in and of themselves.
In these ways, and more, the arrangement and display of books in our homes serves more than simple storage. It enhances and informs the experience of reading its contents.