Skip to main content

Casual Library Assistants Resource Guide: Stack Maintenance

Stack Maintenance

Stack maintenance is a general term for the work done in the stacks (or library shelves). All of the work that takes place in the stacks is intended for the betterment of the library and the patrons. When the stacks are organized in an orderly fashion, it allows patrons and library employees to easily find what they are searching for. If a book is misshelved, it could be lost for a very long time--no one knows where to look for it! A tidy shelf also ensures an aesthetic appeal. If the library looks good and the books are easy to find, patrons will be more likely to want to use the collections.

Working in the Stacks

Shelf reading is the process of verifying that materials are in their correct position on the libraries shelves. Library staff "read" the call number that is present on the spine of each item in an area to make sure they are in the correct ascending order. Any materials that do not belong in that area are removed for reshelving. Each branch supervisor will arrange for areas to be shelf read.

Some level of shelf-reading occurs when shelving books by checking each side of a book to ensure you are placing an item in the correct location on the shelf. However, supervisors will have areas of the collections shelf read as a separate activity.

If using computer generated shelflist, Items should be in the same order as on the printout which lists the status, the last 6 digits of the item barcode, the call number and portion of the title of item. If the item is not on the shelf, mark NOS in pencil beside the barcode. If an item is out of order, bring it to the service desk and wand it in to see if it has been flagged as missing. If an item is found, handle as you would other missing items. If it has not been flagged missing, it can be counted as a pickup and reshelved in its correct spot.

Edging books is a very simple part of stack maintenance. Pull the books close to the edge of the shelf and even out the row. Sometimes the books have been sloppily shelved by a patron, or just moved back from browsing. To ensure that the books are easily accessible to other patrons, it is good to edge them so that they can easily see the call number and spine title of the book.

Also look for books that have been pushed behind rows.

When edging, be sure to pull the book from middle of the spine or from farther back on the top of the book. It will cause damage to the book if you quickly pull at the top spine edge of the book. Obviously, we want to keep the books in good condition for as long as possible.

Shifting is the process by which free space within a collection may be divided up and redistributed amongst the shelves in order to shelve the books more evenly in the collection. Shifting is one of the most important steps necessary to ensure that a collection is maintained in proper order and allowed room for growth. There are multiple factors involved in every shift that need to be taken into account before even a single book is moved. This guide will describe in detail the techniques of shifting and how to handle major and minor (or mini) shifts in the collection.

When to Shift

While shelving, you may be required to move books from one shelf to another to make room for more books. This is the most basic type of shifting and usually takes only a few seconds to accomplish. However, there may be an area that acquires new books more rapidly than the rest of the collection, or a new series or a gift collection may require more space than is available on your shelves. When it becomes necessary to move a large number of books in order to shelve correctly, you will need to shift. See your supervisor if areas are very tight and shifting will take more thana few minutes to do the section.

Shifting may also occur when collections are being relocated or added to. Major shifting projects are more complex.

When shifting items we typically allow for 5 years of growth. Journals are shelved with the books (monographs) in some library locations, and in others, the journals are shelved separately. Please follow the guidelines below for when journals and books are shelved together. Ask your supervisor if you have any questions.

Left align all shelves:  All titles need to be pushed to the far left of the shelf.

Keep growth moving forward: 

  1. For shelves that house only books, leave approximately 30% of the right side of the shelves empty. A way to approximately measure 30% is a hand width from thumb to little finger.
  2. For shelves that house only journals, keep them together. Do not leave space at the end of the shelf if the title continues. At the last issue, check with staff to see if we need room for growth.
  3. For shelves that house journals and books, keep a space between them for growth.

Keep the call numbers flowing: If you need to break a range of call numbers up, ensure the breaks are logical. This is important on every shelf and especially important when books are flowing around to the opposite side of a range. Even when shifting to approximately 70% or shelf for shelf, do watch to ensure call numbers flow.  

Logical breaks are indicated in the examples below by the green highlighted call number.

BX 4827           BX 4827           BX 5613

E5P666            T56F13            K49M55

1972a                                        1984


D16.2               D16.2               D16.2 .P28

P25                  P25

v.1                   v.2

Range end call numbers:  Labels will need to be replaced so that it is easy to identify what call number range is located down each aisle

Forward Shift:

Refers to the direction the books move off the old shelves and then onto the new shelves. Books come off location from small call number to large, from top to bottom, from left to right. They go on the new shelves the same way: small to big, left to right, top to bottom.

Backward shift:

Refers to the way books move off the shelves and then onto shelves at new location. This is easier than a forward shift. In a backwards shift, books are coming off the old location from the largest call number to the smallest; from the bottom shelves to the top shelves. They go onto the shelves at the new location also from the bottom to the top, right to left.

It's the easier shift because as you shift books that are too tall for the shelf and you must raise shelf above up a couple notches, all the remaining shelves above will probably also have to be raised a notch or two. Since they're empty, it is easy.

In a forward shift, since books are filled from the top shelf to the bottom one, when you run into a too-tall book near the bottom of the section and have to raise all the higher shelves up a notch, they're already full of books and are very heavy and difficult to move.

When you begin a range, all the shelves should be evenly spaced on each section, with six to eight notches left over at the top. Basically, if you have any leftover space, you want it at the top of each section, so the books aren't too far out of reach of patrons. When you lose space due to tall books, you pick up the extra notches from the top of the section.

Shifting Journals

In an area where one journal title fills multiple shelves, you need to consider leaving room on the shelf for missing volumes or copies.You also leave enough space at the end of the run for X years of growth. ("X" depends on how many years of space your library is adding.)

For some titles, it will be obvious that the library has stopped receiving journals. For example, the last issue received may be 2005. With other journal titles it may not be obvious. I

To determine the amount of growth to leave at the end of a journal run check the public catalogue for the status of the journal.

  • Select the call number search.
  • Type the call number of the journal to determine if the library's copies are current. (Other branches may also have holdings with the same title so only look at the information for the specific library you are searching.)
  • The record will appear. Under the heading “Library has”, the status of the journal will display.

Preventing Injuries

Wrist guards are available upon request.  Please ask your supervisor.