Shelf Reading: What it is and Why You Should Do it

  • Tips for Librarians
  • Elementary
  • Middle School
  • Pre-K

A common library term that people like me throw around is shelf reading. This simply means to pick a section of the shelves or stacks, and read each call number to make sure books have been filed in the correct place. In an elementary school library, where we are not professional catalogers and processors (yes, there are such a thing!), I advise to not only read the call number but the author’s spine as well. This way, we can catch mistakes in processing as well.

Chances are, when in a pinch, if a sweet 5th grade girl asks you to put some books away when you have not been able to even look at your shelving cart in 2 days, you are going to say yes. While I believe whole heartedly students have the best of intentions, sometimes even if they are trained, they will make a couple of shelving mistakes. Heck, I found mistakes I made throughout the year. Nobody is perfect, but libraries are kind of expected to be.

Here are some tips to tackle shelf reading:

  1. Start in an easy section, such as your chapter books, then work your way over to nonfiction: because guaranteed, you will find call numbers so small in your nonfiction section you wonder how you have gotten through life thus far without laser eye surgery

  2. Pull up a chair: I saw a volunteer at a public library sitting in a chair with wheels to shelf read. It’s easier to re-shelf when you’re at eye level with the books.

  3. Write down where you started and where you left off: because first grade will walk in excited and you'll forget everything you did that day. That’s why.

  4. Also write down the dates of shelf-reading: you’ll see when you need to

  5. Keep a mental note of displays or books you’ve pulled: Seems like a no brainer, but I  panicked when I couldn’t find a series, not realizing I had set half of them out for display a few weeks prior.

  6. Train volunteers and have them help you: Ever had a volunteer show up and not have any idea what they should do that day? Shelf-reading.

  7. Pull books that need re-processed: Keep them in order of call number to make reshelving easier!

While shelf reading can be daunting and surprisingly tiring, this will help you get to know your collection and give you a chance to suggest a great book to a student you hadn’t seen before!