Shelving Solutions for Busy Librarians

Hi friends!

Let’s talk about taming that shelving monster! Do you struggle to keep up with the books returned each day to your school library? Do you dread that task, or get overwhelmed by giant stacks of library books?

librarian with a stack of books

The generous educators in our Learning Librarians Facebook group recently shared some TERRIFIC ideas to help make your library life easier.

Parent Volunteers

Do you have parent volunteers who help you return books to the shelves? Many librarians suggest having those helpers focus on the Fiction and Everybody section, which are easier for a novice. Can you recruit 5 grandparents, who could each come one day a week? Be sure to label shelves clearly so that any volunteers can see where books belong.

Student Volunteers and Adopt-a-Shelf

Do you have older students who can shelve books for you? Can you recruit “Library Ambassadors?” Maybe they could shelve books during their recess, specials time, or library visits. You’ll need to take time to train them AND make sure to commend them on a job well done. Perhaps you could award them points on Class Dojo or whatever behavior system your school uses.

Jessica Lodge has a whole package on TPT for her Adopt-A-Shelf program, if you’d like to see all the details to get a program like this started at your school.

Adopt A Shelf Library Program

Substitute Teachers

Ask your principal if you can require substitutes to come to the library during the teacher’s conference/planning time. The substitute does not need to confer or plan, so he or she can come to the library and help you clear your shelving cart. Make sure that when they check in with the front office, your sub coordinator reminds them of this responsibility. And I would make sure to have little treats made up for them (like a little bag of chocolate), to thank them for their help and encourage their return the next time they sub!

Hey Girl Teacher Chocolate Drawer

Self-Check-in with Shelving

Some librarians have students walk into the library, scan their book at the circulation desk to return it, then walk back to the shelf it came from and put it back. Others have students scan their book returns, then put them on carts organized by Everybody, Fiction and Non-Fiction. And others have students scan their book returns, then set them on top of the correct shelf, so that the librarian can later walk around and put them in place (if they don’t get checked out first). It’s just an extension of the self-checkout system!

Special Shelving Areas

Think about creating a “Too Hot to Shelve” area. At my school, I have a “Fox Run Favorites” bookshelf about two steps from the circulation desk. We can quickly shelve those popular series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, instead of having to walk over to the middle of the fiction shelves. If you don’t have empty bookshelves, use baskets or bins for those popular series. The few minutes it takes to set this up will save you valuable time every day!

Check out from the cart

I call the “returns” cart the “dishwasher” in our library. I explain to students that at home, the dishes we use most often are frequently found in the dishwasher–that favorite stirring spoon, the plate that’s just the right size for a snack. In our library, the books that everyone likes are often on the return cart. This is a great search strategy for students to browse through books that other students have selected and liked.


Relax. Your library does NOT have to be in perfect order to be effective at growing young readers. Your students DO need a librarian who has time for them.

Focus on what you know is important–your students. Especially if you’re in a situation where the powers-that-be have reduced staffing, don’t try to do the work of two or three people and get stressed out and snippy.

Enjoy the time you spend connecting students (and teachers) to that just right book or resource! And share with us any strategies YOU use to streamline the shelving routine!

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    One Comment

    1. Hi Cari,

      Thanks for the great info on shelving books. There never seems to be enough time to stay on top of the shelving in my library and as soon as I have finished there are more books in the drop slot. I love your idea of the adopt a shelf, I am going to recruit some of my library keeners to adopt a shelf. Thanks again for taking the time to share your great ideas.


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