After some experimentation, I have a solution that I think will be useful to others. I go into some detail here, so that people can take the principles and adapt them to their own circumstances. A lot of it seems obvious in retrospect, of course!
Tools I used:
- Two long plastic yardsticks (wood or fiberglass would be fine, too).
- One small plastic binder clip (like the ones used for potato chip bags).
- One high-powered flashlight.
- (Optional for other circumstances: a piece of plywood)
First, here are some questions that capture the underlying principles that I puzzled out.
How can I have fine-grained control over rotation of the plug parallel to the wall, so that I can properly orient the ground pin and prongs clockwise/counter-clockwise relative to the receptacle?
How can I control rotation of the plug perpendicular to the wall, so that the prongs and pin are properly facing the receptacle?
While maneuvering the plug, how can I detect when the plug is properly aligned with the receptacle, so that the insertion is accurate and safe?
Once the plug is properly aligned relative to the receptacle, how do I apply the proper amount and direction of force to insert the plug?
For #1, I used a plastic binder clip (like the ones used for potato chips) to attach the cord (near the plug-end of the cord) to a long plastic yardstick. By changing the angle of the yardstick relative to the ground, I had fine control over the rotational position of the plug.
For #2, I angled the plastic binder clip so that it secured the plug as close to the end of the cord as possible, so that it was firmly holding the flat side of the flat plug to the flat side of the yardstick. By keeping the yardstick parallel to the wall, the plug stayed naturally aligned.
For #3, I used a high-powered flashlight to illuminate the area, so that I could clearly see when the alignment was close to perfect. By aligning my vision to be at the same height as the receptacle, I could see when the two prongs were parallel to each other relative to the ground. When that happened, I could also feel the prongs and ground pin settle gently into the outer edges of the holes, so I had both visual and tactile confirmation that my alignment was good.
For #4, I inserted a second long plastic yardstick between the first yardstick and the bookcase with its flat face parallel to the flat surface of the first yardstick, but at a 30-degree angle or so relative to the ground, so that the two yardsticks intersected at the point directly behind the plug. I then rotated the second yardstick around its long axis, which, once the second yardstick contacted the back of the bookshelf, gained some leverage and, as rotation continued, it naturally applied progressive pressure directly against the plug assembly. This gently pushed the plug right into the receptacle.
Once I had the principles worked out, and tried a couple of approaches, it worked like a charm. I believe that my method is reproducible and safe.
This method was dependent on having the hard back of the bookcase available for leverage. In other circumstances (for example, if the receptacle was behind a soft-backed piece of furniture like a giant sofa), a section of plywood (flat enough to insert into the area, but wide enough to span any open space) could be positioned to provide the needed leverage.
And yes, I know that I could have spent the same amount of time emptying all three sections of the bookcase, unscrewing the earthquake brackets, emptying the filing cabinet portion of the middle bookcase, detaching the brackets connecting the three bookshelves together, moving the entire thing, and then reassembling everything.
But now I know how to solve this class of problem in ten minutes ... and hopefully, someone else will find this information useful.