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There are lots of glue spreaders out there, ranging from rollers to brushes etc. Personally I use a plastic squeegee intended for spreading Bondo. Always have a damp rag handy when gluing up, and wipe squeezeout before the glue sets. Then come back in about 20 minutes and look for any you missed - at that point glue will be soft enough to remove with a scraper.

I have built birch ply book cases and done what you propose, but using small brads (and glue) to hold the thin strips on. I just set them below flush and filled the holes with a wax crayon the same color as the stain. Minwax makes them.
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