How Live Shelving Can Change Your Library

To begin with, the title “Dynamic Shelving” is not my idea: it is the idea of ​​a librarian Kelsey Bogan, whose excellent blog “Don’t Shush Me” is a wealth of ideas for new and old librarians. It’s a simple but very effective concept that can help your library in many ways.

When students enter the library I manage, I’ve become hyper aware since Kelsey’s interview that students can be overwhelmed looking at what can be rows and rows of book spines. Having a library with thousands of books that reflect the lives of the student population you serve is vitally important, but without a librarian to guide them, it can be a confusing ordeal.

There is evidence to suggest that having too many choices can be detrimental. This is reflected in British supermarket giant Tesco and its decision to cut the number of products it serves by 30,000. There may be parallels between a school library and this decision by Tesco to reduce the number of products. The reason Tesco does this is because they understand that their customers are short on time and shopping in a huge store can be exhausting and stressful, especially if you have children in tow.

In a school library, students are also short of time. They have to get food, rush, get a book or join a club and then look for a book if they want one. Then they’re only faced with rows of spines that tell them absolutely nothing about the books they’re looking at. That’s where live shelving comes in, as it’s a great way to reduce that stress, attract new readers, increase traffic, and make your job easier too.

It increases circulation

In my opinion, dynamic shelving cannot exist without a good weed control policy. I’ve written before about the importance of weeding in libraries, and it’s crucial that your patrons/customers/users know that you are not an archive or some sort of repository of knowledge; the job of a school or public library is to have accurate, up-to-date information and a diverse range of fiction titles that will engage readers, stimulate debate and, yes, even enrage people. There is no neutral library, at least there shouldn’t be. Live shelving means you create space on your library shelves for lots of face-up book presence. It’s that simple, but it creates plenty of opportunities for old and new users of your library to find great books. If they walk in and see the intriguing book covers – and let’s face it, we do often judge books by their covers – they’ll be more likely to approach the bookshelf, feel less intimidated, and borrow a book.

We’re competing for their time

There is no doubt that reading does not always appear at the top of the list of priorities for children and teenagers. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that there is so much competition for their time: things that provide immediate, but fleeting, gratification. If a young library user walks in and doesn’t see something catchy or immediate, there’s a chance they’ll feel completely overwhelmed with the choice. The librarian’s job is there to guide them, yes, but it’s much, much easier to guide them if you have a head start with something like live shelving. In our library, we are very fortunate to have a dedicated group of student librarians. I use their skills to write reviews (see below) and talk about good books, especially YA, which I often feel left out of because I read so many middle level books week after week. That’s a good thing, but it means I mostly rely on others for my old YA recommendations.

Think like a bookstore

When you walk into a bookstore, you’ll see it’s laid out in a very specific way, designed entirely to capture our attention – and it works. Libraries, often time-constrained themselves, have limited storage space and even a limited budget to bring in compelling new titles. This makes it hard to “think like a bookstore”, but it’s still worth mentioning. Using the resources available to them, libraries can still create shelving arrangements where the books face largely outward and therefore jump out in the eyes of the user. Another great display promotion that I like to use are things called “posters” which are simply little recipe card holders where reviews can be written. They hang a few centimeters from the shelf. I use them for written reviews from teachers and students, and when I’m out of them, I just stick the review card inside the book for the user to see. Often, seeing a decorated card popping out of the book can inspire them enough to start flipping through the book.


There is no magic wand approach to shelving arrangements, however, as mentioned there is strong evidence to show that children and adolescents who are presented with a wall of books can feel overwhelmed. and even anxious. Too many choices without a dedicated librarian on hand can have a detrimental effect. Using dynamic bookshelves by putting good books front and center with reviews that are well written and presented in a way that they jump out at students can make a difference and it’s worth a try.