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The college provides a desk for my kid but it does not have a bookshelf on top; single student desk with drawers below. I would like to build something nice, sturdy, functional and stable for additional shelf space on/above the desk.

I cannot damage anything in the room. Can't glue, screw or nail into the desk or wall or ceiling.

What are some design options for keeping the space relatively open for studying but providing maximum amount of good shelf space? I don't want it falling accidentally but don't know how to secure it to a surface

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  • There are various possible DIY solutions here but what you can build is very dependent on things you haven't specified — your experience level and the tools you have available being the two key things. You should however be able to buy a small pre-made shelving unit (the kind of thing that would be assembled with just an Allen key and maybe a bit of glue) and simply rest it on the top of the desk. I've done the same thing myself in the past. You do lose a bit of continuous desktop space of course but it's more than made up for by the additional storage.
    – Graphus
    Sep 6, 2017 at 6:57
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    "Can't glue, screw or nail into the desk or wall or ceiling." It violates the letter of the rule but possibly not the spirit of it, they make stick-on/peel off wall fasteners now that are supposed to be very good (and leave no trace on the wall paint). These are mostly intended for things the weight of picture frames but use more than one and they should be able to support a small shelf unit if you wanted it placed a little higher.
    – Graphus
    Sep 6, 2017 at 7:00

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I'd be thinking clamping, in particular at the back. The wall will keep it from tipping backward, you only need to take care of preventing tipping forward.

From the picture, it looks like there is a small overhang of the desk top on the sides. A small block on each side with a "lip" as deep as the overhang could serve. This could be screwed to the sides of the shelf unit if the unit was exactly the same width at the table top.

A unit with no shelf at the bottom would be nice because it would allow the desk surface to be unobstructed. You could put some strip lighting (like under-cabinet kitchen counter lighting) under the first shelf, which would provide good lighting without consuming desk surface. Depending on the height, you might need to place a "shade" strip in front of the lighting to prevent glare into the eyes of someone seated at the desk.

I expect you want the first shelf high enough to clear an open laptop.

Sturdy bent sheet metal might also serve as a clamp, and would be low-profile. All the screw holes would be in the shelving unit. Some rubber padding would prevent marring the underside of the desk top, perhaps something like an old inner-tube.

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