In the past year we have been shifting many collections at the library and all this movement made me ponder something that keeps the collections still: bookends. They are so utilitarian and unassuming that you may be surprised to hear there are over 4,100 bookends working silently day and night at the library to stop everything from falling over.

They are the most simple of simple machines. The weight of the books on the base of bookend keeps the bookend in place AND keeps the books vertical. Henry Petroski describes how our bookends work in in his brilliant book “The Book on the Bookshelf“: “Some bookends…are cleverly and simply made out of a single flat sheet of steel that has been punched out and bent to shape. Such bookends have been very common since they were patented in the 1870s.”

We employ this type of bookend in two sizes: small (6″ high) and large (9″ high). The steel is painted the same color as the shelves to keep them inconspicuous and they have a thin layer of cork on the bottom to keep them from sliding. Without this simple piece of stamped metal the library would be a much less tidy place. So please, let’s give a moment of thanks to all of these tireless library helpers!  (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons user Silver Spoon)

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