Dynamic Shelving Webinars Q&A

I recently partnered with Demco to present a webinar on “Rethinking Collection Organization” as part of their Demco Ideas & Inspiration Webinars series. The webinar recording will be available for viewing here about a week after the live session (which was on 4/27/2023), for anyone who’d like to view it. We also did a webinar on “Dynamic Shelving,” which is available here.

Since we weren’t able to address all of the questions during the webinars, I’ve drafted out some responses to several of the questions, and am posting them here in case the responses are helpful to others! (they are in backwards order, so the questions from webinar #2 are first and the ones from webinar #1 follow).

Question & Answers

Q: In the Percy Jackson pull out collection was that long term or just a display?

A: I initially created it as a temporary display but have decided to leave it as a permanent display for now. I call it a “permanent display,” rather than a new “genre,” because I haven’t given them new stickers or anything, they are still cataloged as part of their regular genre and just listed as on display.

Q: Even though many books cross genres, is there a good resource that lists popular fiction books /authors and their genres ?

A: Most library vendors have tags in their systems, which can help and you can also use your own MARC records and a book’s BISAC tags. With all that said, though, I tend to use goodreads.com most frequently to help me quickly identify which genre to choose, because the readers tag books in goodreads and I just tend to choose the genre as whichever tag gets the most votes on goodreads. Many library management systems have lately been developing “genrefication assistance” features though, so it is definitely worth reaching out to your vendor to see what features and functions they may offer, often without additional charge. There may be new features that exist now that did not when I genrefied.

Screenshot is of the goodreads page for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. You can see where the user tags are, these are usually what I use to help me determine which genre to put a book in.

Q: Have you done a seminar on weeding?

A: I have done P.D. on “Weeding for Equity” for several libraries, school districts, or organizations and its something I love presenting on because I am a BIG fan of weeding! I’ve written several blog posts about it as well (listed below). If your library, school, or organization is interested in booking me for a session on weeding, do not hesitate to reach out using the contact form. Its a topic I’m passionate about and love presenting on!

My blog posts on weeding can be found here:

Q: Would you recommend primary and secondary books to be mixed? 

A: This probably varies depending on each individual community’s needs and also a bit on the size of the collection. I don’t have experience managing a collection that crosses significant age levels, so my perspective on this is not informed by practical experience, though I think that it probably makes sense, generally, to have primary and secondary collections grouped separate from each other, in order to offer more efficient and relevant browsing to each group.

Q: Is there a recommended number of genres?  How many is too many? 🙂

A: There’s no hard and fast rule that I’m aware of, and different numbers may work better for different libraries. I started with 7 and found that a few were too broad and I ended up adding about 4 more so that I now am at about 11 fiction genres and that number is working for us, but this will probably vary significantly across communities. I often see anywhere between 7-15 genres as seeming fairly standard. Too few genres can leave each genre too broad to be helpful, whereas too many can make browsing too overwhelming, so its about striking the right balance and a little bit of trial and error.

You can see here how many “genres” I have in each of our collections. This can shift and vary depending on library’s individual needs. There is probably no “right” or “wrong” amount!

Q: What do you do with “miscellaneous” books that don’t fit into a genrefication category?

A: I just choose whichever genre it either most closely matches with, or whichever genre I think it will be most likely to find its ideal reader in. Its important not to overthink which genre to choose, because its not something you can “get wrong.” If there is a specific book someone is looking for, they’ll always be able to search the catalog to find out which shelf its on, so you can’t mess it up. Just choose the “best fit” genre and if the book doesn’t circulate well there you can always move it later.

Q: Do you use any stands to stand up your forward facing books?

A: Yes! Check out the Dynamic Shelving webinar to see lots of ideas and examples. Alternatively you can check out my Dynamic Shelving blog posts for ideas.

Q: Do you make all your posters/signage?

A: I do! You can learn more about my signage on my blog posts, and you will also find that many of my signage is available for free reuse on the blog as well.

Q: How do you make them (the signs) stand up?

I have two different ways of propping them up. One way is to print it on cardstock and laminate it (so it’s a bit sturdy) and then I tape it to a simple metal bookend, which props it up. Another way is to cut a piece of foam board to the right shape and then glue the sign to the foam board. Then I just lean the foam board sign against a standing book end. You can see example of what it looks like here.

Q: How many books fiction and non fiction do you suggest having per student? It is hard to know how many to keep and how many to get rid of.

A: I don’t think there is a one size fits all rule, it depends on your individual community needs and usage patterns. Because of digital research resources, though, I generally don’t think we need as many reference print resources on the shelves as we used to. Collections serving elementary students will probably want to lean towards higher numbers of books per student, since circulation tends to be much higher at that age level. Teen collections may want to focus more on quality over quantity, and in my experience it is helpful to have more duplicates rather than more titles, because, at our school anyway, many teens want to read the same books as their friend group, or the ones that are trending at that time on social media. I have never worked in a collection serving adults, so I don’t have particular insights into what works best for that audience.  While I can’t offer a specific number per patron, I can suggest that heavy weeding be done on resources that are outdated and no longer circulating. A smaller but more relevant and updated collection often circulates more than a large but outdated/irrelevant collection.

Q: What did you use on your shelves after you genrefied them? I love that each genre is a clear color.

The edges of the shelves are just colored duct tape! If you aren’t comfortable using duct tape (as it can be difficult to remove later), I have heard that colored masking tape now exists, and that may be a gentler option as masking tape is usually easier to remove than duct tape. Some librarians will paint the edges instead of using tape.  The back panels of each bookcase are just covered in colored wrapping paper, which I adhered with simple book tape. It is a fairly inexpensive (though somewhat labor intensive) way to spruce up the shelves and add some pizzazz! I like using colors on edges and/or back panels because the change in color helps to provide a visual indication to browsers that they are in a different genre area. Its also helpful when kids ask “where are the X books” and I can say “right over there in the X color section.”

Q: Do you recommend putting all animals together or separating out?

A I would say it depends very much on your user community’s interests and browsing habits. If it’s a very small animal collection it could make sense to have them all together as one group, but most often I would imagine it will be better to have subgroups for at least the most common categories.

Q: are series shelved in a separate location? if yes, then how do you label those so students know where to go?

A: I keep series in their regular genre location. I had played with the idea of separating them out but it did not work out so I abandoned that plan. I have seen librarians separate them though and use a simple “Series” label on the spine label/call number to indicate. So instead of “Fantasy F GEE” the call # would be “Series F GEE”

Q: Do you recommend a “multi-cultural” genre section?  I have one and I feel it is exclusionary.

A: No! I teach my MLIS students not to label OR shelve books according to identity representation, as this is generally not considered best practice. When in doubt, ask yourself if you would ever label or categorize a book as being “white” or “straight” or “monocultural”? It just seems wrong, right? Same goes for anything else related to identity, race, class, culture, ethnicity, ability, etc. Physically labeling, or shelving, books by these characteristics only serves to ensure collections are segregated, rather than inclusive. Labeling books, or grouping them together, in this way serves to “other” them and further marginalize those stories and voices. We want to develop inclusive collections, which means that we want inclusive representation present in every genre, every collection, every list, every display. Every time! We want our patrons to be able to go to ANY shelf in the library and find inclusive and diverse representation there. We don’t want them to need to go to specific little isolated and segregated sections to find specific rep. Identity information is not a genre and should never be treated as such. If your patrons do need to easily find books with certain representation, you can utilize digital resource lists or temporary rotating displays to help highlight the books in the collection with those specific representations, and you should utilize clear MARC tags and catalog tags when applicable, but physical labels and sections shouldn’t be used. It is worth noting that ALA and other professional organizations have put out position statements formally opposing the labeling or shelving of books according to the identities represented within the books, as well. 

Q: Before you genrefied did the fiction books have any genre spine labels on them? We have spine labels with genres but they are interfiled as Children’s Fiction.

Ours did not have other labels on them, not consistently anyway. I sense there is more nuance to this question that I am missing, so if I didn’t answer helpfully please feel free to contact me via my blog’s contact page.

Q: Love your signage, where do you get that?

A: Thank you! I created my own signage using canva.com. You can usually get the reusable downloads for everything I create on my blog.

Q: With genrefication, how do you deal with overlap of genres?

A: I just choose one of the genres and place the book in whichever genre location I think it will work best in. Its important not to overthink it.

Q; Is there a way to mass change the catalog in Destiny?

A: There is a way to bulk change the copy category, call number pre-fix, and sublocation on copies in destiny. Probably other things too. Follett has a good customer service, if you call them you’ll be able to get someone to walk you through how to do whichever type of bulk change you want to make.

Q: How do you change the labels on books without ruining the books, especially if you use laminate to cover books?

A: I just place the new label overtop of the old label and then cover it with a piece of book tape!

Q: if you have time, could you please tell us more about the relationship/identity genre? What relationships/identities are included? (For public libraries this makes me concerned about the issue about whether putting certain identity labels on the spine might hinder circulation or kids might not want to have adults see they are reading about certain identities)

A: Absolutely, I agree with you completely and I do not recommend ever labeling or shelving books according to specific identity representation, for the reasons you mention plus other reasons (as explained in a question above). Our “relationship/identity” genre is not about specific identities but rather its where I put realistic fiction books that have the theme of “identity” or “coming of age” or “bildungsroman” etc. So our “Relationship/Identity” section is just where we put realistic fiction/contemporary fiction which has a major theme of either ones relationships (with family, friends, or love interests) and/or exploration of identity/figuring oneself out/coming of age, etc.  My genre name is referring to “identity” as relates to literary theme, not as relates to inclusive representation or specific types of representation. Users in our library will not find specific representation segregated into its own section but rather will always find various representation is present across all of the genre sections, which is as should be.

Q: How do you stand the signs up on top of the book cases?

A: I have two different ways of propping them up. One way is to print it on cardstock and laminate it (so it’s a bit sturdy) and then I tape it to a simple metal bookend, which props it up. Another way is to cut a piece of foam board to the right shape and then glue the sign to the foam board. Then I just lean the foam board sign against a standing book end. You can see example of what it looks like here.

Q: What call number did she choose for the self help/wellness collection?

A: Its hard to remember since it was a few years ago, but I think it was the number 619, which I chose because I thought the 600s made the most sense as a good place for such a section, and I believe I found that DDC doesn’t currently use 619 for anything, so it was an available unused number in the section.

Q: can you explain how you do series labels?  how would you do spine labels for bins if they are in a separate area from “regular” shelves.  (We have a “bin area” for popular elemenntary scool series.  It’s always a challenge for students to know when to look in bin area vs shelves, and for the librarians to know which books go in bins vs shelves)

I manually type up series labels to place on the spines of our books. I just get the label template online and type up what we need, then print. For the bin question, I would just choose any call # that makes sense (perhaps simply using BIN+Author last name or topic) and then I would ensure that I used sublocation tags in OPAC combined with matching signage in that area. That should help patrons finding things. For librarians I would consider adding a specific color label above the spine label to help indicate that that book goes to the “bin” area.

Q: Do you recommend genrefying as well as dynamic shelving, or can dynamic shelving be successful without genrefying?

A: I think either can be successful in tandem or separately, it always depends on the individual needs of each library community. If you aren’t sure you want to completely genrefy yet (or ever), you can definitely still utilize dynamic shelving techniques to help promote and organize your resources into more accessible and engaging ways! I don’t think anything has to ever be “all or nothing.” With that said, I can say that I personally am a big fan of genrefication, I believe it generally is a successful way of organizing books, for most user communities (though I’m sure many libraries do fine without it too!).

Q: I’m the youth librarian in a public library, we do have a teen librarian. Do you think it would be confusing to do dynamic shelving in middle grade chapter books, and when they move to YA there might be a different method there.

A: It could be! But it could also still be the right decision to make for your middle grade students. If something isn’t working for a user community, and you think a change can help make it better, then why not give it a try? It could also provide an opportunity to establish some data of success, which you may then be able to leverage to advocate to the other departments in your library to try to convince them to give it a try too.

Q: What kind of colored tape did you use?

A: I used duct tape, however I think colored masking tape exists now, and that may be a good option too. I know some librarians use washi tape.

Q: How stacking will work at a public library for adult collections and a floating collection?   We don’t know the amount of books we have to deal with on any given day.  I think this is great for school setting.

A: I’ve never worked in a public library and am not certain what a floating collection is, so I’m sadly not too helpful on this question, however I think I could make 1-2 possibly helpful suggestions! Instead of doing full bookcase dynamic shelving, you could try designating just certain bookcases OR even just 1 shelf per bookcase. Let’s say you decide that the eye level shelf on each bookcase will be reserved for dynamic shelving techniques. In that case you’ll shelve books normally while pretending that shelf does not exist, leaving it blank. Then go ahead and choose just a few books from each bookcase to display in stacks or front-facing on just that eye level shelf. This would allow you to have both enough room for shifting collections while still designating some space for dynamic shelving. You can see an example below, this is one of my earliest attempts at dynamic shelving, I started with just one shelf per bookcase and eventually grew from there. This could be a good strategy for public libraries or other large, or continually shifting in size, collections.

Q: Do you know, by chance, how many years you moved your average publication date forward from when you began to now?

A: Yep, we moved from about 1987 to 2014, over the course of 6 years or so.

Q: How often do you reshift the bookshelves?

A: Typically I do some shifting about 2-3 times per year, usually right when a new semester starts. Typically shifting is needed after new purchases arrive or after a weeding project has been completed.

Q: How much time do you spend on keeping the shelving up? I have student media aides (ages 12-14) do most of my shelving and dynamic shelving is beyond most of them.

A: Not too often, its just become part of the normal re-shelving process, so as we re-shelve books we tidy up as we go. Then about 2-3 times per school year I do a more thorough walk through to re-display things or shift things a bit. It take some training, for certain, and with very young kids it might be tough.

Q: how much teaching do you do surrounding this set up to start the year – how much teaching into it?

A: With staff/volunteers there isn’t too much training, just a little bit of modeling and then assisting until they get the hang of re-shelving. The kids don’t require any special training on how to browse as its mostly intuitive. During 9th grade orientation I just let them know that our collection is organized by genre and that they can look up at the sign on each bookcase to see which genre they are in. Our students learn how to use the OPAC in elementary school so they already know how to look a book up to find its call # by the time they get to us, the only difference in our library is they need to write down the call # and the sublocation. On the user end of things genrefication and dynamic shelving doesn’t really change anything, its mostly a change on the staff/shelver side of things.

Q: I see how this would work for a single librarian library.  How would it work in a bigger library where multiple shelvers would need to know where to put things?

A: Other than a little bit of training I don’t think it changes things much. The books are still in author ABC order on the shelves, so other than front-facing or stacking things instead of standing them in rows its not very different. Just like with any process or procedure, all staff would need to be trained on how to do it but since everything is still in author ABC order its not much of a training burden. The biggest difference is just learning to identify gaps or empty spaces and doing some shifting occasionally to choose new items to display front-faced.

Q: With dynamic shelving on fiction shelves do you worry about abc order at all?

A: Yep, everything is still in author ABC order, the books are just stacked or front faced instead of in rows, but they are otherwise still in the same order as they would be in a static organized library!

Q: Can you suggest how to “redo” classification in your system (I have Destiny) so that you & staff know where books are?

A: Sure ! I use sublocations in destiny to indicate which genre section a book is in. When someone searches a book in the OPAC they will see, right below the title/author info, that the call # and sublocation are clearly listed, and those are the two pieces of info a patron needs to take note of in order to then find the book on the shelf. It’s very easy to create and add sublocations, the directions are in Destiny’s “help” guide!

Q: also curious with the front facing books: how many items would you estimate are in your collection? your front facing pictures make it seem like you have a smaller collection

A: I am a heavy weeder, items that don’t circulate in 4 years or are usually weeded, as we’ve found that a smaller but highly updated and relevant collection which can be primarily organized via dynamic shelving circulates best for us. However, because we have a lot of series (which can be stacked) and duplicates (which can be stacked or shelved behind each other), that saves a lot of space and allows for most of the collection to be front-faced. I’ve also reclaimed a lot of shelves because we no longer maintain a large print reference collection (utilizing digital reference for the most part instead) and that freed up a lot of bookcases for us to “spread out” into. In collections where space is tighter I would recommend using a hybrid mix of static and dynamic shelving, perhaps choosing just 1-3 shelves per bookcase to do dynamic shelving on, with the others being kept in “spine out” order.

Q: If I was going to start with one genre to dynamic shelf what would you suggest? Did you have a first genre?

A: Oo this is a fun question, I’m struggling to decide. I’d probably either start with my most popular genre or with my least circulating genre (to see if dynamically shelving it might help boost its circ). Or you could choose based on space, choosing whichever genre you have the most shelf room for!

Q: So you leave that stack of series alone once when book 1 checks out? 

A: pretty much! If space is tight I may swap it for a different series, moving the original one back to “spines out” order so I could use those shelf inches to stack and front face a different series instead, but usually I don’t need to and can just leave it alone. I like that the empty front-faced spot provides an obvious visual cue to browsers that book #1 is currently not available, and it also helps me to see it because if I notice seeing it empty too often that can help indicate to me that I may want to consider purchasing duplicates of book #1.

Q: Do you have a books per student standard you aim for?

A: I don’t adhere to a hard and fast rule! I weed and purchase regularly so our collection tends to be in continual flux. I am a firm believer that smaller but updated and highly relevant (to current needs and interests) collections circulate more and are more effective than large and sprawling but outdated and irrelevant collections.

Q: How can this going to work in an elementary school setting when a section like sports is so large and encompasses baseball teams, football teams, and then items of soccer, tennis, gymnastics, cheerleading?

A: If I were at elementary I would seriously consider moving to a “bin” shelving strategy. I would create bins of the most common/popular topics, and I would put the books on those topics in their corresponding bin. I think bins are one of the best ideas for accessibility when it comes especially to elementary level collections!

Q: This is my first year as a HS librarian. I have a few illustrated boxes/gift sets that included a series of books. I have kept the box and cataloged/shelved the books. How can I use the box with its cool illustration on the outside, in dynamic shelving?

A: Great question! I have some of these boxes too that I’ve been holding on to as I try to find a use for them. I don’t have any ideas to share but perhaps others will share ideas in the comments!


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