The March 7 online issue of the New York Times presents "Where Greek Ideals Meet New England Charm," an article about several New England athenaeums. The article includes several examples of the users of these "bookish sanctuaries" remarking that it is often the physical appearance of a book that is important, and that the right physical appearance can reveal something about the contents. Some athenaeums catalog their books based on physical qualities rather than by content.
[Richard Wendorf, director and librarian of the Boston Athenaeum] added that athenaeum methods of stacking books (by size or by several different or proprietary systems) also promote serendipitous discoveries.
“This is browsing at its very best,” he said, emphasizing that the entire book stock of the Boston Athenaeum, save for rare vaulted materials, is available for members to explore. “The physicality of books often is very important.”[. . .]
“Some members look for novels with the most-tattered covers,” Ms. [Jean Marie] Procious [director of the Salem Athenaeum] explained. “They figure these were the most widely read and must be the best.”
Jim Watts: The LA Times recently featured a story on home libraries that also emphasized book display: "In a city derided for its cerebral shortcomings, the home library -- once merely a quaint signature of old money -- is asserting itself as a showcase for personal taste, designers say...."