The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ll start with the ugly. This one gives my collection manager’s heart the flutters, and not in the good way.  Even if the user could identify those volumes (with their call numbers pointing up, above eye level), how are they going to get them off the shelf?!

Now the bad. This isn’t good, but it doesn’t make me cry like those other shelves do. Sad books, unable to stand up, bindings getting damaged.

Here’s the good, just a few shelves off. See how much nicer that is? All the books upright, standing tall, spines and call numbers readable, easily accessible?

So what did we do? A small thing, really. We created an oversize collection for big, tall, heavy books. It’s still in progress, but it’s looking like this:

We talked about this project for a long time. Our stacks managers wanted to do it for purely workload/workflow reasons — it’s terrifyingly hard to shift a collection when the books don’t actually fit on the shelves, and the shelves are sized differently from stack to stack, range to range. No matter how much we sympathized with their plight, though, we’d never had an oversize collection at MPOW before, and creating a new fragmentary collection was a struggle for us, philosophically. We have a strong tradition — backed up by student feedback — of facilitating browsing throughout the collection, and we’ve resisted fragmenting the collection in order to preserve browseability. We debated ’round and ’round. Do our concerns about appropriate management of the collection trump our thoughts on user needs? Are users better served by one continuous call number run? Are they better served by materials that are more easily accessed because they’re housed appropriately? What’s the best thing to do in our library, with our users, our collections, our physical spaces?

In the end our communal opinions on how to balance the needs of the user with the needs of the collection led to the oversize collection. And I know that I feel confident about it, and am excited to see it finished.

Now, what to do about these?

Listening to: R.E.M. – Leaving New York


  1. Sends your heart skittering, doesn’t it? And sadly, it’s the kind of problem that sneaks up on you. We’ll just tip one book, rather than move six shelves. Well, there’s already one down, so let’s just flip this one, too, so they’ll all fit better…

    And then suddenly you have human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria. (ahem).

    But I’m pleased with the solution, and I’m not alone in that. Heck, I like it enough that I took its picture. 🙂


  2. I just yesterday heard that quote on a radio call-in contest…what IS it with Ghostbusters lately? 😉

    As for the books: Nice solution. If you can find some REALLY GOOD bookends that stay in place to hold these monsters up, will you let me know? We have very tall ones but they can’t handle it when a couple of books are removed from the oversize shelf, and they end up like the Bad picture. Always. Not really much of an improvement.

    Our oversize seem to be a bit more oversized than anything in this photo though (think 37 cm. and up).


  3. Last semester we had a lot of the bad. I work in a small art library for a museum and an art school and last semester we had no student workers for the first time and we got a little lax on our shelf reading (oops). I really wanted to post a sign that said, “Beware all ye who enter here!” (There were books on their sides, books falling down, books upside down, books laying flat on top of other books!) After a while it started to improve and this semester we have fantastic student workers who help us keep track of the shelf reading. We have very little space so we still have books on their sides, but at least they are straight. 🙂


  4. In the gadget world, scaling up is perilous. Paper airplanes fly fine, but don’t try one big enough to ride! Folios are scaled up books. It’s obvious that taller, deeper shelves are needed for folios. Overlooked is that the extra concentration of weight means that the shelves should be less wide than normal book shelves. Even bigger bookends won’t hold that many folios.


  5. I think everyone can relate… my team recently adjusted the shelf heights for 15,000 books worth of stacks so that we could create a folio run. That was two weeks of dusty back-breaking work! But oh-so-satisfying.

    Best thing instead of oversized bookends is slotted shelving, where vertical dividers can be put in for provide additional support.


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