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Guidelines for Shelving Books

Shelving Books

Vertical Orientation:

Books should not slump and the text block should not fall away from the boards in the upright position.

Volumes should be shelved vertically if:

  • The height is 40 cm. (16") or less, or
  • The thickness is 8 cm. (3") or less, and
  • The condition is sound and the volume is capable of standing with the support of adjacent volumes and/or bookends.
  • Volumes shelved vertically should be oriented with the tail (bottom edge) or spine along the shelf. They should not rest on their fore-edges.
  • Volumes of similar height that can help support one another should be shelved vertically as a unit. Interspersing short and tall volumes in a vertical unit must be avoided, since the taller volumes need the support of their neighbors to avoid warping.
  • To avoid interspersing short and tall volumes, small volumes should be housed in larger enclosures. This will also help to avoid the problem of small volumes being pushed to the backs of the shelves. Contact Preservation for assistance.
  • Another approach is to physically separate groups of short and tall volumes, using multiple bookends to separate and support the groups.
  • All shelves containing volumes shelved vertically should be equipped with bookends, ideally a "non-knifing" design. Bookends should be positioned at both ends of a group of volumes to hold them in a true vertical orientation.
  • Sufficient free space should be left at the end of each shelf to permit access to the bookend so that it can be adjusted when volumes are removed from shelves and when they are re-shelved.

                          Proper vertical shelving of library books

Horizontal Orientation:

Volumes should be shelved horizontally if:

  • The height exceeds 40 cm. (16"), and/or the thickness exceeds 8 cm. (3")
  • The volume is in poor condition or is noticeably distorted
  • The volume is a scrapbook, album, or similar composite structure with mounted elements that can be damaged or lost if they sift to the bottom of the volume during vertical storage.
  • Volumes shelved horizontally should not be placed in stacks higher than 15 cm. (6"), or more than three volumes high. Thus the thickness of the volumes will determine if one, two, or three volumes may be placed in a stack.
  • Large volumes should never be stacked on smaller volumes. Only volumes of similar size should be stacked on top of one another so that volumes are fully supported and prevented from warping or becoming misshapen.
  • Volumes should not extend beyond the edges of shelves.
  • Volumes must not be placed horizontally on top of a group of vertically shelved volumes.
  • To prevent abrasion, always lift books from shelving or in the work area, rather than dragging them across a surface.