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Books to the Front of the Shelf or Pushed Back?

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

Dear Dr. Laura,

I’ve only been in the library a couple of weeks, but I’m going nuts already! My students shove the books to the back of the shelves all the time. I know they think they are helping. What do I do?


Front or Back Librarian

Hello, Front or Back Librarian!

What you are describing is tied in to stack maintenance. It’s a chore but someone has to do it. But, you also need to put some thought in to what’s important to you as far as stack maintenance. Remember, stacks are the more formal name for your bookshelves. So stack maintenance includes all kinds of things like repairing or building shelving units, to the monotonous dusting, shelving, and aligning (or not) books on the shelves. This can seem like a chore unless you lock in some decisions about what’s important to you and what’s not as important. Here’s how I handled stack maintenance at my school.

I was in an elementary school with no aide and one thing I gave up very quickly was a perfectly organized E section (picture books). I had a friend who had a much larger collection than me and her E section was always in perfect order, along with the rest of her library. (Hi, Sheri!) But, for me this is one thing I “let go”. I had low two-shelf-high cubicle style book shelves in my E section. I put alphabet stickers inside the shelves and my district put alphabet labels on the cover of all picture books. The alphabet letters were for the first letter of the author’s last name. (Example: Eric Carle’s books all had an uppercase C sticker on the front cover.)

I allowed the students to re-shelve their books in these alphabet cubicle shelves. It kept my sanity since I didn’t have to try to keep them in perfect alpha order. The kids had good practice matching the alphabet stickers on the covers to the alphabet stickers inside the cubicle shelves. Was it perfect? No. But, it was pretty close and very workable for me.

It didn’t bother me that they were not in alpha order. Most of the student browsing in the E section was pure and simple browsing. My littlest ones who spent the most time in that area were not usually looking for a specific book. When they were I could sit on the floor for a few seconds and quickly browse the alpha cubicles for the one they wanted. The same was true for when a teacher had a request. In a matter of seconds I could find what the teacher needed. So, in my E section, I did not worry about perfect alpha order and I did not worry about bringing the books to the front edge of the shelves.

Now my fiction and nonfiction was a different story for me. My older students spent more time in this area as well as my teachers. So, order was pretty important to me there. This was the part when it bothered me when students shoved the books to the back (in the shadows of the shelves) and when they weren’t in order. I have seen a multitude of people share ideas of how they placed things behind the books to prevent the students from pushing the books back. They have used empty laminator tubes/boxes, pool noodles, empty Kleenex boxes, egg cartons, etc. You name it and someone has probably put it into the recesses of the shelves to prevent books from being shoved back.

I took a different route. I modeled my plan after the Adopt a Highway system I see around my state. After I did a little training on what I hoped our stacks would look like, I let the classes Adopt a Stack(s). Our mascot was a tiger and we had a large full sized die-cut of a tiger head. So, as each stack was adopted, I placed the tiger cutout hanging down from the middle of the top stack. Each time someone from the class stopped by the library they had the job of checking on their stack and straightening up anything that was out of place and pull the books to the front edge of the shelves.

I also had a shelf list printed once a year and placed it at the front of the shelf - in front of the first book. My older students learned how to read the shelves and really helped me keep things in order. It made inventory time so much simpler!

As the year went on, I noticed the shelves looked better and better. As they learned to take pride in their stack, they also began to take better care of other classes’ stacks when they were browsing. Some of my library-loving students would even offer to adopt an unclaimed stack on their own. (I know they really

only wanted their name on the tiger cutout and I was fine with that!)

Be creative! Decide what’s most important to you. Cut out things you are willing to let slide a little, especially if it gives you more time with the students and teachers. And also, if it gets you home at a good time every night with your own family. Do not sacrifice your home and personal life. Self-care is important.

You’ll get some systems in place soon. Hang in there! Put first things first!

Dr. Laura

Librarian Influencer of the Week: Kara Harper You can follow Librarian Influencer Kara Harper at:

Twitter: @harper_kara

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