Sunday, July 24, 2011

The end of bookshelves? My furious response.

The horror! People can see me...on the shelf! (*no books were harmed in the making of this photo. This book is one used for exhibits*)

Are people ashamed of their books?

Not me! I'm proud to show that I'm literate, that I love reading, and it prompts great conversations as well as requests. I will gladly share them with you (as long as you will care for them as if they were your children/pet/high-end Mercedes). I don't just have a coffee table stack of books for show. I *gasp* have bookshelves that are meant to be used. How novel.

According to this article in the Chicago Business, people are getting more and more boring in their home spaces. Built-in bookshelves are being removed or walled in to allow space for big screen TVs, wet bars, and other media paraphernalia. This article made me instantly furious and only partly because people seem to think it's a good idea to rip out bookshelves (hello, storage!). It's poorly written to the point that this author must've needed SOMETHING to write about that day. Anything will do.

First, we will address the problem of removing the bookshelves. I can't understand this supposed "trend" (where are the numbers to back this up? I know, I know, jumping ahead) but the arguments that the supporting side gave seem ridiculous. To the woman who "updated" her room with a wine fridge, a wet bar, and a CD cabinet: I'll only give you points for the wine fridge. Nothing else on that list can be considered an "update". This is not 1989. The same woman (a real estate agent) also pointed out that she never sees books on bookshelves anymore, just knick knacks. I'm at least OK with the knick knacks--you're preserving the shelves for future homeowners who may want to use them. Especially if they are original to the house. Don't tear those babies out!

Meanwhile, the president of a construction company said that most bookshelves his company builds are not intended to store books. They have a "decorative purpose" as opposed to a utilitarian one. Um, I'm not sure I understand that argument. Unless they are completely empty, they are utilitarian. Whether it's books, photos, trophies, or knick knacks, something is being stored on them.

As for the actual article, I want to shred it into tiny pieces. Who let this article get published? It's just a couple of people giving their opinions, with no numbers or facts to back it up. First, the title implies that this decline in bookshelves is directly related to e-books and their increasing market share. The article states that e-book sales are surpassing that of traditional paper volumes. Again, where are the numbers to back this up? This is the only statement to mention e-books as no one listed them as a personal reason for covering up/destroying their bookshelves.

We are then introduced to the real estate agent whose personal experience is that home sellers only put knick knacks on shelves, not books. Again, this is one woman's experience. In one city in America. Well, in reality, it's probably only one neighborhood of this city. And of how many houses she has been through in her entire career, she must have an excellent memory in order to state that the majority do not use bookshelves in a traditional way. However, she then shares that she completely removed the bookshelves in her own home. Hm, doesn't this smack of a personal bias? If you don't value books yourself, aren't you less likely to notice them? I'd certainly pay more attention to homes that fit my style and interests because I find them more pleasing. I should know--I searched for my house for a year before finding the right one and I can't even remember all of the houses I looked at. Only the really good ones and the really bad ones. And that was only a year!

Moving along, (and skipping the construction company president's ridiculous statement that has no supporting numbers) we encounter an architect who points out that most smaller homes do not ask for built-in bookshelves because they need the extra space for a pantry. This sounds reasonable. Indicating a trend that bookshelves are obsolete? I don't think so. What this doesn't take into account is the fact that bookshelves are fairly easy to construct and aren't that expensive (Walmart has decent ones--I know, I have two). They can also be moved to a different space very easily and more can be purchased if a personal library has grown too large. This flexibility cannot be overlooked. This article is not accounting for the number of people who do not have built-in bookshelves or request them, but instead prefer to buy them after having their home built. Where are the numbers that show the number of homes that did NOT request bookshelves but do OWN bookshelves after they've moved in? I'd bet that there are some.

And finally, we finish with Ms. Dedominicis, who prefers to keep any books she owns hidden away. I wonder if she owns any books at all? Where could you possibly be hiding them if you have any? Why are you so ashamed? I'm most upset with her opinion finishing this article because where is the opposing side? If, as a writer, you are really confident that your piece holds water, you should be able to explore the other side because it helps prove your point. Readers should hear from those that still love and use their bookshelves but who admit it is getting difficult to find homes that have them. And not just in Chicago. Everywhere. Where are these people? Oh, that's right. H. Lee Murphy couldn't put them in the article because then he/she would have a useless piece of crap writing with no supported argument (although I'm not seeing much of a difference here). It's utterly ridiculous that this was published.

Overall, I understand not making bookshelves the reason to buy a house you are looking at (hey, it's great if they come with it!), and for smaller homes, it does make more sense to have a pantry because you can buy bookcases. But to hide or remove the ones you have? What a waste. And they're utilitarian! At least the person putting knick knacks on it is using the space. I hate objects/spaces that are useless. A large blank wall that only serves to hang a monstrous big-screen TV (which I have! next to my built-in bookcase!) is ridiculous. At least maybe someday a new owner will discover the ones hidden behind drywall with glee.

For those of you unable to access the article, I have it copied below. It was written in May and at that time, there were no issues accessing it freely. I had trouble with Blogger being down at that point and forgot about the post. Once I returned to it, I realized you  had to sign in to read it. Now you don't have to. :D

"Built-in Bookshelves Take A Hit As E-books Win The Market" (May 9th, 2011) by H. Lee Murphy

"Built-in bookshelves were once the mark of a gracious home—but with sales of e-book titles surpassing those of paper-and-ink volumes, homeowners are moving on. Lynn Fairfield, a broker associate at Re/Max Suburban in Libertyville, says clients are drywalling over bookcases to make room for flat-screen televisions and other entertainment paraphernalia. “When I show houses, I never see books lined up on shelves anymore. If there are shelves, they're usually filled with sports trophies or photos or knickknacks,” she says. In her house in Hawthorn Woods, she replaced book cases in her family room with a wine refrigerator, wet bar and CD cabinet. “It updated the room completely,” she says. “I don't miss the bookcases.”

Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction Inc. in West Chicago, says clients often bypass bookcases even in home offices, opting instead for shelving inside closets. “The bookcases we do build usually don't hold books. They serve a decorative purpose, not a utilitarian purpose,” Mr. Airhart says.

In smaller homes, says Bret Richter, a Lisle architect, people almost never ask for bookcases. “They'd rather devote extra space to a walk-in pantry off the kitchen,” he says. He's designing a 6,500-square-foot home with a sprawling family room highlighted by a big entertainment center: “The room won't have any books at all.”

Regina Dedominicis, 40, has listed her four-bedroom home in Grayslake for sale and recently knocked out some bookshelves surrounding a fireplace. She is searching for a house in Dallas, where her husband has taken a new job. “Bookcases will be a moot point in any house we look at,” she says. “We really prefer to keep any books we have hidden away.”"


  1. wow... and to think I had the built-in coat closet in my dining room removed, so that I could put in a what??? built-in bookshelf.

    no wonder Americans are dumb.

  2. I only have one thing to be said about this:

    If this were true, webpages like this would not exist: