In today’s world of shifting trends and emerging trends in library collection organization, proper book shelving strategies are crucial to keeping your library organized and accessible. With the abundance of information available at our fingertips, it’s more important than ever to have a system in place that makes finding and retrieving books as easy as possible for your patrons. In this article, we will explore some of the best book shelving strategies that can help you keep your library organized and user-friendly.
Categorizing Your Books
The first step to organizing your library is categorizing your books. This can be done in a number of ways, including by subject, author, genre, or age group.
Dewey Decimal System:
One of the most effective strategies is to use the Dewey Decimal System, which is a numerical classification system that organizes books by subject. This system is widely used in libraries and is a great way to help users find books based on their interests. It’s been around for nearly 150 years, and most nonfiction sections still utilize it. There are some ways to get away from Dewey without necessarily ditching it completely.
The most popular way to categorize the fiction section is by genrefying. That is, categorizing books by genre AND by author last name. If you have kids who like to read the same genre, this can be very powerful in terms of helping them expand their reading to other authors in the same genre and for helping them recognize that they should try other genres if they always read the same genre. Although genrefying is normally done with the fiction section, I have also discussed categorizing using genres of picture books.
Technically graphic novels have a Dewey classification of 741.5. An option, though, is to categorize them into their own section. It makes them easier to find for students who enjoy graphic novels and to control how many graphic novels each student checks out if you desire to do so. Where decisions need to be made is whether or not to shelve the nonfiction graphic novels by Dewey or with the graphic novels. Arguments can be made for both. Which would help them be found by your students easiest?
This is an idea that some have reported favorably on. It may not necessarily mean that you create a Kindergarten section or a 6th grade section, but you organize your library into areas that are geared toward different age levels. This may mean combining some of your K-2 interest level picture books and nonfiction books near your easy readers and putting your grades 3 and up picture books with your fiction section. It could also look like creating a “big kid section” that would be separate from the rest of your fiction section that has books that are of a higher interest level or reading level for your more mature students or higher readers who need a challenge.
This is something that I’m trying with my biographies section. How often do students come in with a project and they need a biography but they have no idea who to study? What do you do? You start naming different types of people: politicians/leaders, musicians, inventors, scientists, etc. Right? If you organized your biographies section like this, how much easier would it be for students to find someone to study? A LOT!
Labeling Your Shelves
Once you have categorized your books, it’s important to label your shelves clearly. This makes it easier for users to find the books they are looking for and also helps to maintain the organization of your library. You can use simple labels or color-coding to indicate different categories of books.
Genre Labels: Whether you choose to genrefy your collection or not, genre stickers on the spines can be helpful for students as they search for books. Most vendors can set up genre processing to add the stickers before they ship the books to you. Demco, Follett, and Mackin all have excellent genre sticker options. My one wish would be for these companies to make genre stickers in Spanish for dual language libraries.
Shelf Labels: These are two-fold: labels for the section and authors. Section labels could indicate the genre such as Realistic Fiction that includes a picture of the sticker you use or a color to help kids know what type of book is on that shelf. Author labels could indicate what stretch of authors are on a shelf (eg: AAA – BEA).
Posters: Large labels or posters can be helpful for your students when searching for a section. Colorful posters with both words and pictures are helpful for all students in elementary libraries for readers of all ages.
Displaying Your Books
How you display the books on your shelves is one of the other important book shelving strategies. Be thoughtful with how you display them to attract the readers to the books.
Tops of Shelves: One of the first things that people will see when coming to your library are the books on top of your shelves. These are also, almost assuredly, the books that will get circulated the most. Display new books here or books you think are not circulating as much as they could. Sometimes I pick the books with the most uninteresting covers here because the might not circulate at all if they weren’t there.
Front-Facing On Shelves: Think of the shelves at your local bookstore. Some books will be facing with the spine out, while others will have the covers facing out. Some call this dynamic shelving. The saying goes not to judge a book by its cover, but students certainly do so anyway! Turn those books so the cover is facing out!
Bins: Books for Kindergarten through 2nd grade are best in bins where students can easily browse books and see the covers at their own level rather than on high shelves squished between other books.
Book Displays: Thinks about national months or themes of books to advertist certain books throughout the year! Remember, you need to draw the eye for elementary students!
Choosing Your Shelving
Choosing the right shelving is crucial to the success of your book shelving strategy. Oftentimes, you won’t have a choice in this. You get what you get. If you do get to choose, though, the shelves you choose should be sturdy enough to hold the weight of your books and should be adjustable to accommodate different book sizes. It’s also important to consider the aesthetics of your shelves, as they should complement the overall look and feel of your library. You can choose from a wide variety of shelving options, including metal, wood, or plastic.
Check in with librarians in other schools to see what they prefer. When choosing shelves, try to find reviews from actual librarians and not just the reviews in the catalogs. What looks sturdy on paper, can come with shoddy shelf clips or thin shelves that bow with only 40 books on the shelves.
Maintaining Your Library
Once you have organized your library, it’s important to maintain it regularly to ensure that it stays organized and user-friendly. This includes regularly dusting and cleaning your shelves, checking for damaged or missing books, and reorganizing your shelves as needed.
If you have students help you shelve books, be sure to train them in reshelving books. There are great free library games including one called the Librarian Assistant Game and Library Shelf Order Game that can help students practice.
If you notice a section has low circulation, what changes could you make to your displays, arrangement and categorizing to improve it? If students have difficulty finding books, how might you change your labels? Remember: Your first thought should be about making your library user-friendly. Your main users are students, so do not be afraid to make a change in your book shelving strategies that may be unpopular with staff. If it benefits your students, they’ll eventually accept it. Have data ready to back you up!
Proper book shelving strategies are essential for maintaining an organized and student-friendly library. By categorizing your books, labeling your shelves, displaying your books, choosing the right shelving, and maintaining your library regularly, you can create a space that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Whether you are an elementary librarian, teacher librarian, or an elementary teacher, these strategies can help you keep your library organized and accessible for years to come.