I'd like to build a streetlibrary.org.au. About 50cm square from the front, a shelf, with a peaked roof, 20cm deep, glass door, mounted on a post. I'd use solid pine or Tas oak (local eucalyptus), painted or varnished.

I'm thinking of edge joining (with dowel) boards for the sides, forming a large opening at the front.  I would join the sides using box joints.


Does my design meet the following design criteria:

  • is functional
  • keeps a few books dry and accessible
  • is durable 
  • is simple, elegant

Any other suggestions?

  • Hi, my favourite point about projects like this is not to reinvent the wheel. Wouldn't it be simpler to just find an existing project out there (I presume there are many!) and just copy the construction of it? But assuming you do want to go ahead as sketched above, one thing that you didn't ask directly about so it may not be covered in any Answers — you don't need the dowels, unless you're using them for alignment. Joint your edges properly, use enough glue and clamp hard enough and the joints end up stronger than the wood around them, regardless of species.
    – Graphus
    Apr 30, 2020 at 7:36
  • 2
    From the timber choices, I assume you're in Australia? Where exactly? Up north where I live humidity would be your problem. You need dry air constantly moving over the books to keep them from drawing moisture out of the air and going mouldy. But in such a small enclosure anything you do to create airflow would allow rain to get in. If I leave mail in my letterbox for a few days, it will be covered in mould some times of the year. Insects can also be a problem, many of them love to eat paper or nest in it. A proper library has people keeping them clean and preferably also air conditioning. May 1, 2020 at 2:55

1 Answer 1


[SE sites don't really like "any other suggestions?" questions, but we can probably discuss specific design aspects for this specific project in order to make "good" answers. If this gets voted closed, so be it.]

This is definitely one of those designs where form follows function. If we want to consider this as serious fun, let's over-build a little library for fun and profit. Consider this one of those situations where any fun design will be in the details, and stick to the absolute basics for material and build.

This is basically a box, but one that has to withstand years unprotected by the elements. We can't even bury part of it in the ground and put trees around it to help. It's stuck on a pole or fence, and the openings have to satisfy how people want to use it, not how most of the wet will be driven in. So, it has to be simple, but it also has to take advantage of your material and design to minimize these major problems.

Think of this not as a little house, but a little garage or shed (or ridiculously overbuilt birdhouse). You do not need "rafters" because your roof just doesn't have that much mass. There is no way the walls will bow out because of a snow-load, for example. So, make an oversized roof to help protect the walls and the openings tied directly to the walls. Think about those house designs that we see in monsoon-prone areas.

We also don't have to worry about making anything airtight. In fact, like buildings that live through monsoons, we want as much air movement a possible.

Consider how water seeks any seam, collects and then seeks more seams. Reducing water ingress is actually a number of interconnected ideas:

  1. Slough off water as much as possible. Don't expose seams, and assume water will be driven in from all sorts of directions. Make sure you give it plenty of opportunity to drain full away.
  2. Assume water will enter, and allow for that ingress to drain off as well; we don't want overlapping seams, for example, but we also want water to drain out of places it has leaked into. Standing water is the enemy.
  3. Make sure openings (i.e. any cute doors you design) have simple drip-edges and ways for driven moisture to drain out the bottom and to the outside. Butt-join doors on little libraries always leak into the main area!
  4. Assume water will enter the main "living area", and the contents might get damp. Don't let the contents sit in damp, and give it space to breathe and dry out.

With all this in mind:

  • Oversized high-pitch roof to protect walls and openings. Roof doesn't expose a seam at the apex, but rather uses two or more layers so seams are staggered. Make sure moisture can run along the layers to the outside edges.
  • For air flow I'd design in soffits (really!) to let heat and moisture escape. See the bullet point about pest control, though.
  • Don't bother with a ceiling or rafters. We want this airy with lots of space to the roof-line. It's not like we are going to blow insulation into the attic, so creating an attic space is useless.
  • Main area should actually have a floor and sub-floor. I'd consider staggered drain holes in the floors directly to the outside bottom, and slope the floor for complete drainage. Standing water is the enemy here.
  • Doors and openings should include drip edges and allow drainage to the outside. If there is no door (because little doors always sag and become unusable) I'd bring the roof out, and/or design a little porch to protect the opening.
  • For material I'd definitely spring for pressure treated lumber for the main build, and get some scraps of prettier weather resistant stuff for the outside (e.g., Western Red Cedar if you live in the Americas). Or stick to PTL for the finish as well. (If you want to use regular lumber and good paint, you'll be repainting it regularly. Just saying.)
  • Don't forget about pests and mold. Any library in a temperate zone is going to eventually attract arthropod pests and allow for fungal growth. The former can be somewhat alleviated by the use of screens and sealing seams (this is where pest control and moisture control overlap). You might want to manage fungal growth with the appropriate finish on the inside.

And that's one way to over-engineer a little library.

  • 1
    Good answer. I'd substitute lexan/perspex/plexiglass/... for glass in the door. Apr 30, 2020 at 15:25
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate oh, for sure. Maybe the downside is you'd have to find the UV resistant stuff, and evne that'll become brittle after only a few years. I'd recommend a skylight, but those ALWAYS leak.
    – user5572
    Apr 30, 2020 at 15:26
  • 3
    @AloysiusDefenestrate also, I appreciate the fact that someone with your user ID is discussing window-panes
    – user5572
    Apr 30, 2020 at 15:46
  • Laminated safety glass would probably be the only safe "actual glass" product to be left outdoors and unsuperrvised like this, and it's probably pretty expensive. Some sort of plastic material would probably be best. Make 2 doors and keep the 2nd as a spare to be swapped in a few years down the road when the original is deemed to no longer be sufficient.
    – FreeMan
    Apr 30, 2020 at 17:45
  • 1
    @FreeMan I totally missed that. You're right. Safety glass, as painful as that is to work with, is required.
    – user5572
    May 1, 2020 at 14:45

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