The Average Bookcase Depth

Monica Beyer

A bookcase is a welcome addition to any room of the home. It can be used not only to store books, but also antiques, special collections, a child's toys or cards.

What can be stored on a bookcase depends on the shelves' depth.

A built-in bookcase adds storage and beauty to a home office, living room or bedroom, but freestanding bookcases can be placed in any room to add visual interest and encourage reading in the home. The depth of a bookcase and its shelves determines what can be placed on them, but many bookcases today are created to hold a wide variety of items safely.


The earliest storage system for books was a single shelf that was made as a part of the wall itself. In medieval times, this is where a scribe would store his manuscripts. After the invention of the printing press, books were more plentiful and found in more households, and they were stored in cabinets or simple cupboards. As time wore on, the doors of the cabinets were abandoned for ease of access, and the modern bookcase we are familiar with began to take form.


Bookcases are made out of a number of different materials. The most common woods used are walnut, cherry or maple, as well as cedar and mahogany. Metal is another material used in modern bookshelves, as well as glass. More inexpensive varieties are made from particleboard. Some homeowners have built-in bookcases, which become part of the existing wall, and other homeowners and apartment dwellers use freestanding bookcases. Although most bookcases are open, some have doors or other closures on the front.


Bookcases come in many shapes and sizes. Standard cases feature three to five shelves and can be as small as 24 to 60 inches in height. Some come with adjustable inner shelving, placed on pegs, that can be removed and replaced at different heights to accommodate different sizes of books or magazine holders. Smaller bookcases have additional storage space on top and can be used for decorations. All bookcases should be properly anchored to the wall to minimize accidents.

Shelf Depth

The average shelf depth is 12 inches, which is more than adequate for standard books, novels and textbooks. Standard storage cubes of this size fit nicely onto shelves and make an attractive option for storing toys or other small items on the bottom shelves in a playroom. Bookcases can be customized if there is a need for it, and smaller and larger depths can be found pre-made. Put heavier books or items on the lower shelves to help prevent them from becoming top heavy and a danger to you or your children.