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Introducing Intergenerational Library Shelving

   April 1st, 2015

My library has implemented a few alternatives to Dewey shelving in the past, but we're rolling out something this week that I'm really excited about - we're calling it Intergenerational Shelving.

The idea originated when we noticed the difficulties some families had in using the library. Parents would bring their kids in, often of various ages, and picking up books for everyone required stopping in multiple departments. Wouldn't it be nice, we reasoned, if we didn't cordon people off by age, but instead opened up the entire library for everyone?

Yes! So our solution was to intermix all of the books in the entire library, along these guidelines: books for adults on the top shelves, and books for kids on the bottom shelves. Here's how our approach looks:

intergenerational shelving

As you can see, adult books are on the high shelves - which eliminates adults having to bend way down to the lower shelves to find things. And kids books are on the bottom shelves, so all kids books are within kid reach. The colorful border indicates the age levels.

This system has lots of other benefits too:

  • We're trying to line up adult, teen, and childrens non-fiction books, so all the books we have on a subject - say, the solar system - are right next to each other, regardless of the target age
  • It removes age-related stigmas association with books - adults who want a kids book, either for an easy-to-understand introduction to a topic, or just like reading kid stories, don't have to be embarrassed about going into the Childrens Room (or worse, get accusatory glances for not having a child chaperon)
  • Kids who are advanced readers are more likely to serendipitously encounter higher reading level books
  • Parents are less tempted to dump their kids in the unlicensed daycare that is the Childrens Room while they go off looking to the adult section - now the entire family can browse together
  • This really reenforces the Library As Community Center idea, because patrons who may not have ever mixed before now find themselves in the same aisle all the time: kids series books are shelved under large print, and our senior patrons enjoy hearing from kids what the Rainbow Fairies are up to
  • Reshelving books has been tremendously simplified - all our Pages have now been trained to shelve everything. And, the Circ staff doesn't have to pre-sort carts as items are checked in - everything is just mixed together and the Pages take care of it

This has been such a huge success so far that we've gotten inquiries from retail stores who'd like to copy the model for their own shelves. The local grocery store is considering putting boring foodstuffs on their adult-eye-level shelves, with toys and candy on the low shelves underneath. The possibilities are endless!




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14 Responses to “Introducing Intergenerational Library Shelving”

  1. Keeley Says:

    I know this is probably an April Fools, but it actually sounds like kind of a neat idea 🙂

  2. JoshR Says:

    You joke, but at some of our small branches we’ve been interfiling the children’s non-fiction with the adult non-fiction for years now. The patrons and the shelvers like it for many of the reasons you cite. It’s easier to shelve the kid’s books when they’re interfiled with adult because it breaks them up some, and patrons can find all the relevant books in their subject without going all over the library.

  3. Sunflower Says:

    Even if this is an April’s Fool joke you might be onto something. Only issue I could see with this type of shelving is the health or religious section (parents not wanting their kids to be exposed to certain ideas or topics).

    Other than that it’s an interesting concept.

  4. T.S. Says:

    It actually is a really neat idea even though it is a joke. There is a stigma between ages and adults feel weird going into the YA section or the kids sections. Kids are separated into separate sections with the idea of “those books are not for you”.

  5. Mandi Says:

    I’ll happily be fifth in line with the exact same sentiment: I think this is a really great idea, for all the reasons you and the other commenters suggest. I was taking you totally seriously and getting a little excited to see the outcome until the sentence about the grocery store – I know that they take product shelf placement very seriously and have been shelving items this way for years.

    I think you should actually implement this! (I work at an academic library, so there’s no way for MPOW to implement something like this.)

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Keeley: This is indeed for April Fools, although I was only half-joking (or is it that my jokes are only half as funny as other peoples?). We have interfiled YA non-fiction, adult non-fiction, and reference, which has worked out very well. Expanding this for Childrens could make a lot of sense for some areas, but I don’t know how well redoing the entire library like this would work.

    @Sunflower is right that some subjects might be touchy, and something like fiction doesn’t really gain from proximity: If you liked James Clavell, also try Beverly Cleary. But who knows!

    @JoshR’s comment about interfiling making kids books easier to deal with has got to be true – shelving pictures books is a pain, so having more of a variety of book size would really help. I was really cursing those picture books as I set up this photograph.

    @T.S.: I agree, and I don’t really have a solution. Placing holds and picking them up at the Circ Desk is an option, but is no replacement for just comfortably browsing in the stacks.

    @Mandi: oh, there’s is always a way – just put undergraduate books on the low shelves and graduate school books on the top shelves, and then the whole school is mixing happily. But yes, if we ever do implement this, I will certainly post about it!

  7. Callie F Says:

    I fall for your April Fool’s posts every year! I was thinking… “Awesome idea, but how do they handle complaints about loud kids in the adult section??”
    Hahaha, good one!

  8. The Coolest Thing I Saw on the Internet | Storytime Underground Says:

    […] about shelving. Why are we stuck with what we’ve always done? Brian at Swiss Army Librarian seriously shook up his shelving, and he says it’s uber-successful in his […]

  9. Mary Ellen Says:

    I totally fell for this. It didn’t even occur to me that it was a joke! I thought it was an interesting, if kind of weird, idea, and was all pondering how it really wouldn’t work at my library.

  10. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Callie: I try to start coming up with more ridiculous ideas – as well as ideas on how to handle the loud kids we already have.

    @Mary Ellen: Ha – if you end up trying it, I’d love to hear about it.

  11. Christine Says:

    Love this idea! The fact of the matter is that the bottom shelf has very low circulation stats in adult non-fiction especially. In that regard, I think this would be fantastic! I can especially see this being applicable to Dewey ranges in crafts or parenting books.

  12. Mara Says:

    I’ve sent plenty of folks down to Youth Services for an upper-level children’s book, as an option in between encyclopedia level and full-length adult work on a topic. Plus, the illustrations are generally better.

  13. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Christine: I’ve heard that before too (top shelf as well, and it’s also true in retail stores), which is why I thought this could catch on. But it probably would only work best on a section-by-section basis, which is hard to implement and maintain.

    @Mara: I do the same thing – sometimes I have to talk adults or teens into using books from the Childrens Room, but if I walk them there myself and show them that the item isn’t a picture book or something, they’re usually fine with it. Shelving things together would make that process so much easier.

  14. JoshR Says:

    I hadn’t heard the tidbit about bottom shelf circ stats being lower. Have to say that it doesn’t seem that way when you’re shelving, in fact sometimes it feels like a good half of the shelving takes place on the bottom two shelves. Of course that may be because I’m shelving non-fiction, so the people who checked stuff out were looking for specific titles instead of browsing.