Shelving Books and Use of Book Trucks

By Diane Lunde for the Colorado Preservation Alliance 

Last Updated: June 2003

One of the most common routines in any library is the shelving and reshelving of materials. The use of good procedures for the shelving of materials and book truck transportation is very important for the long term retention of libraries materials. Good practices will extend the life of materials, and poor practices can hasten the deterioration of materials in the form of torn covers and pages and misshapen text blocks. The following procedures outline the basic concepts in proper shelving and book truck use.

Shelving of Books

  1. Books should be shelved upright resting square on their bases. A book standing or leaning on one board of the cover weakens the book structure, especially the hinge of the book and may permanently alter the shape of the book.
  2. Volumes that are too tall for the shelf should be shelved with the spine down against the shelf, not with the spine up. When a book is shelved foreedge down, gravity will eventually pull the text block from the case at the hinge.
  3. The lower edge of the book spine should be aligned along the edge of the shelf to present an orderly appearance.
  4. Book ends should be used on partially filled shelves to ensure the books remain standing upright. Books should be shelved snug enough to stand up and support one another, but loose enough to be easily removed from the shelf. If the shelves are too full, there is friction when books are forced in or removed. If the books are not shelved tight enough, they will lean on one side or the other and become loose in their covers or deformed.
  5. To close the space left after removing books from the shelf, move the remaining books to fill in the space and then move the book end up snugly against the last book on the shelf. Do not use the book end to move the remaining books by sliding the whole mass along to fill in the open space.
  6. If a shelf is full or tight, do not force the book into the tight space; make space by rearranging the shelf or unit. Forcing a book onto a shelf can cause another book to pop out.
  7. Be careful when sliding books onto the shelf next to the book end or end of the shelf; if the book is jammed around the edge of the bookend or shelf divider, the book may be damaged with crumpled or torn pages.
  8. Do not lay a volume horizontally on top of a full shelf.

Removing Books from the Shelves

  1. Do not remove the book from the shelf by pulling at the headcaps or at the bottom of the spine. (See Diagrams A and B) Continual tugging will damage the spine of the book. Also do not grab the book just by sides of the spine. (See Diagram C) Push a few books toward the back of the shelf on either side of the book, leaving the book free to be grasped on each side and removed from the shelf. (See Diagram D) Adjust the book end, taking up the space left by the removed book.
  2. Do not pick up a book by only one cover as this puts great strain on the book’s hinges and joints.
  3. Do not try to take a book off a shelf that is too high to reach easily. Use a kick stool placed directly under the book to be removed from the shelf and do not overreach while standing on the kick stool.
  4. Do not remove more books that can be held in one hand. It is safer to safely remove one book at a time, than to risk dropping any books. Use two hands to support a heavy book.

Use of Book Trucks for Transporting Books

  1. Use of a book truck is the preferred method of moving books. No more books than can be conveniently handled in one arm should be carried.
  2. Book trucks should be loaded with books standing upright and not protruding beyond the edge of the truck shelves. Oversize books should be laid horizontally on truck shelves. not on top of other books.
  3. The load on the truck should be centered to avoid spills.
  4. Book trucks should be loaded onto elevators at a right angle to the door. Pulling the truck on and off an elevator rather than pushing also helps to prevent spills.
  5. If a book truck does tip over, the books should be returned immediately to the truck. Any damaged volumes should be brought to the attention of the Preservation Lab so that they can be repaired as quickly as possible.
  6. Use both hands to push the book truck; do not carry books in one arm and try to push the book truck with the other hand.
  7. To help shelvers, use a piece of colored tape to indicate the right side of the book truck so that books being shelved always start at the same point.


Greenfield, Jane. “The care of fine books.” New York : Nick Lyons Books, 1988. (Source of illustrations A-C)

Horton, Carolyn. “Cleaning and preserving bindings and related materials.” 2d ed., rev. Chicago : Library Technology Program, American Library Association, 1969. (Source of illustration D)

Prepared by Diane B. Lunde, Colorado State University Libraries, 1993.