Once thought of as the domain of brandy-sniffing professor types with leather-patched elbows, the personal library has become a mainstay of the Zoom age.

On social media, we’ve gotten glimpses of celebrities’ bookshelves featuring impressive collections ranging from old British classics to the newest tomes on societal awareness. And on TV shows, politicians and talking heads are usually seated in front of bookcases stocked to lend an impression of literary prowess.

One Lancaster book dealer chuckles as he tells of a New Jersey company that specializes in setting up book collections for politicians to impress constituents. It turns out that onlookers have complained about some of the book titles. Red-faced, politicians have confessed the books weren’t personally selected.

Lancaster author Don Helin holds Zoom calls with his best-selling military thrillers displayed behind him, but feels it doesn’t work as a marketing tool.

“My head is too big for the titles to show,” he says, laughing. “I should learn from my friend, children’s book author Lynne Selsi. She shows all her titles when she Zooms. Her secret, she tells, is raising her laptop. She places it atop a stack of books. Setting the computer higher up is also more flattering to the person Zooming, she claims.”

Displaying books

When board members of Lancaster Newcomers & Neighbors hold Zoom meetings, they admire the book displays in Janis Harrington’s home in Willow Street. A retired teacher, writer and researcher, she is a lifetime book lover and collector.

“I have bookcases in every room of the house,” she says. “Even in the kitchen, baths and hall closet. The children may never come home again because their rooms have been taken over by books as well. My taste in books is all over the place. I have fiction of every genre, I think, and lots of reference books, too. But my best-loved category is probably classic literature.

“I take pleasure in walking through my house, seeing the books, grabbing one and getting absorbed by it. Right now I’m fascinated by a book that’s way out of my comfort zone. It’s ‘Day of Honey: a Memoir of Food, Love and War.’ But it validates what I love most about books: being transported into other cultures, other places, other times. It makes you understand humanity better.”

Karyn Beltle, adult services manager at Manheim Township Public Library, arranges the books in her personal library according to genre.

“I’ve got books in categories ranging from classic lit to picture books,” she says. “So genres matter to me, but I have seen people coordinate their books by color or size and I have even seen some whose books have their spines facing towards the back of the shelf and every third book turned around. Just like there are different books for everyone, there are different ways of arranging them for everyone.”

Like most book lovers, Beltle regrets that she doesn’t have room for wall-to-wall shelves, but every professional designer will insist that home libraries really needn’t be the stuff of mansion-size dreams. Even if you live in a small city apartment or a tiny bungalow, creating a space for books and getting lost in them can be as straightforward as fitting in a comfy armchair and a neatly arranged bookshelf. An alcove, window seat or a landing is absolutely a library in the making.

But if you live in a typical suburban home you almost certainly can fit in a wall of books somewhere: the dining room, for example. There, the shelves can make an impossibly chic backdrop for gatherings as well as a casual reading room for a lazy afternoon. An occasionally occupied guest room is another possibility. And consider lining your hallway with stories. If it is wide enough, it is the perfect place for bookshelves ad infinitum.

Open floor plans make it easy to combine functions, including a home library. Let floor-to-ceiling bookshelves run the length of the space for incredible visual impact. Add a library ladder for a contemporary, architectural element and, of course, to keep everything accessible.

One thought unites all book lovers. Once you’ve picked up a good book, you need a place to curl up with it, they say. A deep chair to sink into is a must for time out with a classic. And extra seating means that others — including little ones — can join in with their favorite reads.

What to Read Next