Do you remember when bookshelves once held pride of place in the home, but what happens next with book sales dwindling?

The library/sunroom in Jim Noble’s house is all about the books. Leather-bound volumes, many of them antiques that have been in his family for generations, fill floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that line an entire wall.

“It’s nice to have books around. They add so much ambience,” says Noble, an interior designer. “I hope we never live to see the day that books are eliminated from the home.”

Michael Jones also loves books. But his apartment doesn’t have space for a traditional library. He still buys books but downloads a lot of his lighter reading material on his Kindle. He added a custom built-in bookshelf to his living room – mainly to display his art collection.

“I was running out of wall space,” he says.

The two homes illustrate the role books can play in the home – and the role they may play in the future, as e-readers continue to revolutionise our relationship with the printed word.

Books were once powerful symbols of knowledge, wealth and status. In the 19th century, upper-class homes often included voluminous libraries.

Built-in bookshelves gradually moved into middle-class homes, but by the 1950s and ’60s, the role of books in the home started to change. Inexpensive paperbacks became popular, and bookshelves became a place for displaying collectables as well as books. As family rooms and TVs began making inroads, books themselves became more like TV – a form of entertainment.

The recent explosion in new-media technology has again altered books’ role.

And now that you can carry an e-reader anywhere, is there even a role for rooms and furniture designed for books and reading?

Designer Marie Meko says homebuilders are still putting in bookshelves and people are still accessorising with books, but clients are increasingly selective about what goes on the shelves, she adds.

“People want books that look nice, not just paperbacks. Not just rows of books, like in old libraries. We’re not piling them on shelves.”

Meko believes books and e-readers fulfil different roles. “I’m a big iPad user. Professionally, I love it. I don’t have to (carry) five catalogues. For travelling, I love it. But at home, personally, I like books to hold.”

She still buys coffee-table books as mementos of art exhibits she’s seen or travels she’s taken.

“Books provide memories,” she says.

Where do you put your books? Is the bookshelf obsolete in your house?