Size Guide: How Shallow Can a Bookcase Be?

Shallow Bookcase

Whether you have a small collection of books or a large one, a bookcase is a welcomed addition to the decor of your apartment, condo, or house. However, you may wonder what the dimensions of your bookcase should be. After all, the space you have to work with can vary based on several factors. 

You may also wonder how shallow you can have your bookcase. It depends on a few variables, but finding how shallow you can go is not too difficult. Read on to discover more about the dimensions of bookcases, and everything else you need to know about the perfect bookcase.  

How Shallow Can a Bookcase Be?

You have a collection of books, and you need somewhere to put them. You have thought about getting a bookcase, or maybe you want to build one on your own. Either way, you need to know what dimensions the bookcase needs to be. 

All bookcases are different because they need to fit into different areas. It is important to consider several factors when you are deciding on your new bookcase. 

  • How many books do you have? If you have a small library, then the height dimensions will be different. It will also affect how many shelves your bookcase may have. The number of books will not affect how shallow your bookcase can, however. 
  • How much space do you have for your bookcase? Apartments and homes have various space constraints. For example, you may want to squeeze a bookcase into a tight space like a narrow hallway, so having the shallowest bookcase you can will help tremendously. 
  • How big are your books? The size of your books is the main factor to consider when thinking about how shallow your bookcase can be. You do not want any bookcase to be shallower than the width of your books, but more on that later. 

These questions must be asked before getting your bookcase. It is important to know how exactly the bookcase will fit into a designated space. 

The Space You Have for Your Bookcase

You need to measure the area in which you want to place your new bookcase. For example, perhaps you are trying to fit a bookcase into your bedroom, but you do not know how much physical space you have. Get a tape measure and measure the area. You will be able to get a general idea of how wide, tall, and shallow the bookcase can be. 

You may also be dealing with an irregular area in your apartment or home. Bookcases, however, are more versatile than they appear and can be squeezed into certain areas. Some areas will not allow a deep bookcase. You need to consider the furniture, if any, that will be close to the bookcase, too. 

The Size of the Books Matter

The next thing you need to measure is the size of your books. You have to get a bookcase that will house your books comfortably. Otherwise, the books are liable to fall out of the bookcase rendering it useless. 

Many bookcases are about 13 inches deep. This provides ample space for a variety of book sizes. However, it is possible to get shallower. Consider the width of the books in your collection. Find the largest one and cater your bookcase to that book. 

For example, you may have a book that is ten inches wide. In this case, a standard 13-inch bookcase will suffice. However, what if none of your books are over six inches wide? In this case, you could probably get away with a bookcase that is about eight inches deep. 

Remember, you want to have a little bit of extra space on the shelf so that the book can sit comfortably on the shelf. Likewise, if you own a lot of mass paperback books that do not measure about four inches, you could get your bookcase down to about six inches. 

The Height of the Bookcase is Important

One thing to keep in mind when you are deciding how shallow your bookcase can be is the height. It is easy to forget the height when you are worried about how deep the bookcase can be, but it is also important. 

Consider the following factors about the height of the bookcase in relation to the shallowness of the bookcase. 

  • Stability. When a bookcase gets thinner, it is going to need more stability the taller it gets. Think about how difficult it can be to balance something that is thin. The same principle is at play with a bookcase.
  • The weight of the books. The more books you have, the heavier the bookcase becomes. If it is a shallow bookcase, you need to factor in how heavy the bookcase will be. The heavier the bookcase, the more liable it is to topple over if it is too tall and too shallow. 
  • Shorter when shallower. It is best to keep your bookcase shorter when it is shallower. You could also get a bookcase with a wider base, but this may not fit the aesthetic you are looking for. 

Sometimes going shallow can go too far. It is best to not go too much under the standard 13-inch bookcase, though this does not mean that you cannot make a shallow bookcase. 

Dimensions of Various Bookcases

Various bookcases can be bought for your apartment or home. Many of them vary in how many shelves they have. They can also vary in the designs they are made in.

For example, there are postmodern bookcases that are made from metal and plastic. You may decide you want a classic bookcase made of wood. Whichever type of bookcase you decide, there are some standard dimensions for each size you will be looking at. 

  • Small bookcases. Small bookcases are going to be shallower because they are made for smaller books and smaller libraries. Small bookcases will usually have a depth of around 6 inches.
  • Medium bookcases. Medium bookcases are a step up from the small ones and can be used for slightly larger books, such as travel guides. Medium bookcases will usually have a depth of around 10 inches.
  • Large bookcases. Large bookcases, as the name suggests, are used for larger collections and larger books. These can have a depth of around the standard 13 inches. 

Most bookcases you will find will fall into the large category, but this does not mean you cannot find what you are looking for. 

Additionally, you may find you want a custom-built bookcase. You can easily build a bookcase to your specifications. Once you know exactly how much space you have to work with, you can modify the instructions to meet your criteria. 

Choosing the Right Bookcase

The dimensions of your bookcase are only one factor. You want to make sure that it fits in the space you have for it. You do not want a bookcase that is overhanging beyond the furniture around it, or a bookcase that looks out of place.

You need to consider the aesthetic of the room, too. Consider these facts when you are choosing your bookcase. 

  • Dimensions. If you have a large library, you will need a larger bookcase. However, you may also decide to get several small bookcases to take care of the size of your library. Just be sure that the depth of the bookcase matches the width of the books it is storing.
  • Material. Bookcases come in many materials, and you need to choose a material that compliments the furniture around it. 
  • Style. There are many styles to choose from. They come in different colors and designs. Moreover, they may come with a different number of shelves, so it is important to know how many you will need.

When asking yourself how shallow can your bookcase be, you must first look at the books themselves. Once you ascertain the size of the books, you can decipher the shallowness of the bookcase. Additionally, you want to make sure the bookcase you choose also compliments the aesthetics of the space it is going into. 



Hi there! I’m Alex, the one behind this website. I ran and operated a Local Furniture Store in Southern California. The store opened in 2010, during the “Great Recession,” It is still thriving today; however, I have dedicated my time to helping our online customer base. My primary focus is to help you with all your furniture & mattress questions.

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