Are you tired of the way that your library has always shelved its books? Are you eager to shake things up as the new librarian fresh out of school? Is your library director requiring you to come into work, even though the library is closed because of a pandemic and you need a project to sink your teeth into? Now is the time to start rethinking the way we put our books on the shelves and, to get you thinking, I’ve made a list of possibilities.
Just think of how beautiful all your shelves will look with all of the covers arranged perfectly in the ROYGBIV of the rainbow.
Pros: A E S T H E T I C
Cons: Aesthetic trumps all. This system is perfect. There are no issues.
Variation: By size. New York Public Library does it, why can’t you?
- Ideology of the Author
Do your patrons only want to read authors they agree with? Then make it easy for them! Have sections where they can comfortably only read authors that have the same politics or religion as them.
Pros: It would give librarians something to do with their English and History degrees as they delve into what beliefs authors subscribed to.
Cons: The end of democracy as we know it as the world devolves ever deeper into echo chambers.
Public and school libraries across the country have already found success in breaking down their collections into sections such as “Mystery”, “Science Fiction”, and Urban Fiction.” Some libraries claim that circulation goes up once a library has been “genrefied”. Why not take it a step further and let people experience serendipity in even smaller sub-genres? “Cozy Mysteries”, “Regency Romance with Vampires”, and “Science Fiction with Hard Science” could all be subheadings you could shelve your books under with thousands of possibilities!
Pros: Browsing would be fun! Readers can settle in with their favorite niche topic or be intrigued to discover that gothic steampunk exists!
Cons: There are authors that continue to break the bounds of the broad genres already in existence. It would be a great chore to fit many works neatly into a category.
- Alphabetical Everything
Fiction, Nonfiction and Children’s, all shelved together alphabetically by title.
Pros: Easy known item searching, just find the shelf with the letter range and your book will be in a predictable location. Easy for reshelving, too!
Cons: Pretty much everything else about this system is terrible.
- Date of Publication
Show the historical range of your collection from Thomas Malory to Angie Thomas by shelving your fiction collection chronologically.
Pros: It would put our collections into perspective as far as how much new and old stuff we have.
Cons: It wouldn’t keep all of a single author’s works together in the same place.
- Epistemology of the Researcher
Do you ever care more about how the information in a non-fiction book was found than what the information of the book actually is? Shelving based on where a researcher falls on the positivist-constructionist spectrum could answer that question for you before you even pick up the book.
Pros: Could be useful when constructing a literature review within a certain viewpoint.
Cons: Doesn’t really make much sense for shelving purposes. Could be an interesting thing to add to MARC records.
- Lexile Number
Several school libraries already shelve books based on reading level, why not expand it out to public libraries as well?
Pros: It could serve as a guide to parents when determining books that would challenge their kids.
Cons: A lot of adults would be pretty mad to find out that their favorite author writes using 5th grade vocabulary and grammar.
- Librarian’s Choice
Let that bias shine through! Do you think that James Patterson sucks and deserves to be shelved in the back of the building? Do you wish that more people would pay attention to global politics? Shelve based on what YOU want patrons to see first.
Pros: There’s bias in everything we do, so why not proudly make it our bias, not the bias of some old white guy who’s been dead for nearly a hundred years?
Cons: This requires you to have an opinion on every single book in your collection? Do you actually care about every single book in your collection?
Taylor Anderson is a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and will be graduating this Spring with her MLIS. She loves Community College Libraries, Public Libraries and April Fools Day. You can contact her at email@example.com with job offers or to rant about how wrong her shelving opinions are.