Different Types of Bookcases

Updated on May 4, 2019

Books stacked on tables, floors, and double deep on bookshelves. Those books need a roomy home. There are many types and styles of bookcases available today and many different woodworking plans to build your own.

They come in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles. They also come in different materials: wood, glass, metal, and plastic. Some are made with glass fronts to protect the books from dust. They can be built-in, free-standing, and foldable.

Simple Barrister Bookcase
Simple Barrister Bookcase | Source

1. Barrister Bookcases

Barrister bookcases originated in England and were designed for barristers' use. This bookcase became popular because of its unique stackable design. Barristers had many law books which was a problem if they had to move to new chambers.

A portable bookcase was designed for their needs. In original barrister bookcases, there are several glass-fronted separate shelf units that may be stacked to form a cabinet. When a barrister changed chambers, each shelf could be moved separately without removing its contents. Each glass door is hinged at the top of the shelf and slides up and out of the way to allow access to a shelf and to protect the content from dirt and dust.

Today there are stackable barrister bookcases and fixed bookcases with the appearance of a barrister’s bookcase, with separate doors hinged at the top of each shelf. These are a great way to hold items that need protection, books, or treasures, and are a favorite project for people who like to work with wood.

Instructables Modular Bookshelf DIY
Instructables Modular Bookshelf DIY | Source

2. Modular Bookcases

Cubes with or without backs can be used individually or in groups on walls to display decorative pieces or books. They come in small or large and can be used individually or in groups, in a variety of creative ways with endless configurations and possibilities for the design guru. They can be stacked horizontally or vertically, used to create a traditional looking bookcase, or cubes can be put together to create room dividers. The modular parts can be cubes that slide or snap together to create a tall vertical or low horizontal unit.

This type can be a freestanding unit or a framed piece to hang on the wall. Display decorative items on the shelves or place baskets in the different compartments. Classic modular bookshelves have straight shelves in rows. Wood, metal, and plastic are the most common materials.

Common finishes for modular bookcases are white or black, metal or a wood look. They come in many different colors from white to pastel to bright colors.

Folding Bookcases

These are shelving units that fold up. They take up little space and don’t need to be disassembled if you move to a new place. When you need to move, just pack up your books and fold up the bookcase and you are on your way.

3. Revolving and Corner Bookcases

These are sleek, space-saving, and eye-catching in a home. They can be placed in unused areas and corners in a room to display books and treasures in an attractive way.

Leaning Bookcases
Leaning Bookcases | Source

4. Ladder and Leaning Bookcases

These resemble a ladder with shelves situated like rungs to hold books and other items. There are two types: freestanding or leaning. With some, the bottom shelf is large with shelf size decreasing with each rung, and the smallest shelf at the top. The ladder bookcase is usually triangular from the side with four feet for added stability. It is a sleek design and works great in tight spaces; there is even a corner model.

They lean against a wall or solid structure. The feet usually have rubber footing or other material to prevent sliding. The weight of the items placed on the shelves contributes to the stability of the unit. This bookcase is best placed where it will not get bumped into.


5. Shelf Bookcases

These are the most common type. They can be open or closed-backed and the shelves can be adjustable or not, free-standing or built into the wall, two shelves or more. These bookcases can be used alone or placed with other units to create a large system. They are made of wood, metal, or plastic.

Children’s bookcases are usually made smaller and in bright colors. Some have shelves that are positioned further apart to accommodate tall children’s books, and they're usually made of plastic for easy cleaning.

Display Bookcase
Display Bookcase | Source

6. Display Bookcase

This type has dowels or a strip of wood along the edge to display books with their covers facing forward.

When shopping for bookcases, consider the size of your book collection, the amount of space you have, your budget, and if you will be moving a lot. Also, consider your skill with woodworking tools as bookcases are popular woodcraft projects.

If you want to build a basic bookcase, take a look at How to Build a Bookcase at Popular Mechanics.


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