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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Library Building Programs: Shelving

The Good Old Days

Photo: Cincinnati Public Library

How much shelving do you need?

One of the most frequent questions librarians get these days is "aren't books going to disappear?" The reality of the situation is that print media is going to be around for the foreseeable future. Some collections, like Reference, have dwindled significantly; others are still growing with community size.

Every community is different, and local use must determine the size of the collection.

The following describes the calculation for linear feet of shelving. For the square footage you will need, including aisles, etc., see a resource such as Building Blocks for Planning Functional Library Space, found on our resources page.

  1. Conduct a thorough weeding of the current collection
  2. Count the number of shelves occupied by each collection & note the width of each section. Standard steel library shelves are 36" or sometimes 30" wide.
  3. Use the shelving calculation spreadsheet below to figure out how many linear feet of shelves you have for each category in your collection.
  4. Use your Collection Development policy to determine projected growth (or shrinkage) rates in each category. Your policy should take into account local usage and recent trends; if not, update the policy first, looking at circulation and use statistics on a category by category. For example, many Reference collections are being incorporated into the main nonfiction areas, or disappearing altogether. DVD and audiobook usage is decreasing with the upsurge in streaming media, but popular fiction is going strong.
  5. Project future collection growth (or shrinkage) for each category going forward.
  6. Do the math - adjust the shelving calculation spreadsheet for your local 30-year projection.

Shelving calculation spreadsheet