Sunday, January 13, 2008

How (and How Not) to Babyproof a Bookcase

This is for all you do-it-yourself types out there who are working in the kinds of offices where you build your own furniture. (My desk, as you can see, is basically a big board balanced on some filing cabinets. But hey, at least it's real wood and not particleboard...)

But I digress. Today's topic is how to protect your books once the baby starts becoming mobile. And since the end goal of my work is basically to sell books, you'll understand why this was such a big concern for me. Because sure enough, once the Working Baby started inching herself across the floor and off the blanket I used to put down behind my chair, the first place she headed was to the big bookcase full of our merch, and when she got there she would reach out her tiny little hand and tug at a book until it was on the floor with her. And then she would want to gum the edges. But no one, even the biggest baby-lover in the world, wants to buy a book that's been drooled on. So it was pretty clear I needed to do something, and there simply wasn't enough shelf space in the office to just remove everything from the lower shelves (though it's true I've also sort of done that, with some of the shelves).

Now, there are some excellent babyproofing products out there--for example, the kit for covering up the front of your hard drive so the toddler doesn't try to load crackers into the CD tray--but nothing for bookcases. So, one time while my dad was in town, the Office Mom headed to Lowe's to try to cobble something together.

The requirements were, basically, that the solution had to be reasonably attractive and stymie a baby without keeping adults out of the shelves. I planned to babyproof the big bookcase with all the books we sell, and the bottom section of another bookcase that held some not crucially important stuff, but stuff that needed not to get drooled on. You know: office stuff.

Originally I had been thinking along the lines of a wood frame with fabric over it that could be somehow attached to the frame of the bookcase. My dad was thinking velcro attached to some screen. And the more he talked up the wonders of heavy-duty velcro (my dad occasionally works on location for television and movies, and so while not a furniture builder by any means, he knows some tricks for making things look ok on the surface, at least for long enough to get the shot), the more I was sold. Plus, it was less work.

So here's what I did, one afternoon after the regular work day, while the baby was napping:
  • cut screen to fit the bottom three feet of the shelf, with the top and bottom edges falling at actual shelves.
  • cut velcro to go on the sides of the bookcase (it should be noted here that heavy-duty velcro is pretty darn sticky, and you may need to take extreme action to get the velcro backing off, down the road. If you happen to work in the kind of office where that would matter. Which I, lucky girl, sort of don't. Not that I advocate gratuitously trashing office furniture, or anything.)
  • attached the screen to the other side of the velcro
What was unexpectedly difficult about this:
  • cutting the velcro. Your standard rinky-dink office scissors just ... well, you get it.
How the system was supposed to work:
  • you unvelcro one of the sides to gain access to the books
What really happened:
  • Despite the super-stickiness of the velcro backing, the screen didn't stick to it. Not enough heft, maybe, or just not enough surface area. In retrospect, this makes sense.
  • Because the screen wasn't really stuck, the velcro--that is to say, the ripping--didn't really work.
  • Instead, when you went to open the bookcase, you were basically unsticking the screen from the backing on the velcro,
  • which, over time, predictably enough, stopped being sticky.
How I tried to fix this:
  • lamely, taking shortcuts
  • in other words, by adding, first, some black electrical tape and, when that didn't really stick, yet more velcro to the other side of the screen
  • and when that stopped working, with a push pin.
  • also, by adding some tiny little bits of velcro to the shelves on the top and bottom of the screen, with electrical tape to back them
What it looked like:

Meanwhile, as the screen was slowly drooping away from the velcro, the baby was growing and getting more clever at wiggling her arm behind the screen to pull out books. She was by now old enough not to eat them--she mostly wanted to empty the shelf and make piles of books, a developmentally but not otherwise appropriate behavior.

The other shelf I had covered was worse, since--having sort of run out of screen--I had covered only one shelf. Here's what it looked like:

Yeah: horrible. So, a couple of weeks ago I sucked it up and started over. Well, at least I bought supplies for starting over; what I ended up doing was ripping all the velcro off the screen and re-velcroing it all, but on both sides. I even made a handy extension on the side we tend to open, to facilitate the ripping. And, where the dorky little pieces of tape had been, I folded velcro over the edges and on to itself. (These, alas, are showing some signs of not staying stuck, so I may need to revisit this part of the plan.)

Pictures coming soon.

In general, I would say you might not bother with this at home, unless you have a lot of bookcases and you just can't keep the baby away from the books. We found, actually, that the Working Baby was reliably terrified by a rainstick--like a primal reaction, or something--and so we propped that by the shelves for a while until she lost interest. Also, I don't neglect her at home to the same extent I do at work. . . . Now that I think of it, all you folks who work from home with babies around might want to up the babyproofing. Because, of course, the whole point of babyproofing is so you don't have to watch the baby so closely, right?

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