Library Shelves to Attract the Modern Teen

Sorting contemporary nonfiction books

See and Be Seen

Teenagers don’t always notice what’s right in front of them. In my high school library few students take the time to look through the shelves when they need a book. I’m always happy to guide individuals in their literary searches, but I’d love for them to be prompted on their own by lively, inviting book shelves.

Last June I genrefied the fiction books in my school library. While I noticed a positive increase in how many students browsed the shelves, I still wasn’t satisfied with our circulation numbers. This past June, with the help of my new assistant, I took my shelf organization a step further to include the more current nonfiction titles. My goal was to increase the visibility of the most compelling books, with the hope that more students would be motivated to read.

Post-it notes marking where to put shelf labels in the instructional nonfiction section

Dew It Right

There’s been much debate about getting rid of the Dewey Decimal System, which I still have in place for the nonfiction books in our collection (although I’m no fan of Melvil Dewey, who was not an honorable person). Opponents of genrefying books worry that students won’t be able to learn the skills of locating titles and navigating a library. Young people, though, figure things out pretty easily. Academic librarians, for example, use the Library of Congress classification system and don’t have trouble guiding patrons through their shelves. Since the DDS is already categorized by subject, abandoning it altogether wouldn’t even change much. For my latest reorganization I separated the contemporary nonfiction titles from the older informational nonfiction titles in our collection. While they’re still all classified with Dewey numbers, we added shelf labels for each subject category in the more dense sections, and displayed forward facing books that were representative of each contemporary section. 

Using forward-facing books to add interest to the contemporary nonfiction shelves

Shelves that Shine

I’m confident that our newly organized shelves will improve students’ library searches. I realize, however, that I’ll need to up my game when it comes to catching teens’ attention. In an inspiring blog post about transforming library shelves, librarian Kelsey Bogan points out that traditional shelving practices make the job easier for librarians but won’t entice readers. “Dynamic shelving,” she explains, “is all about what’s best for the reader. Especially the reader who is looking to browse, to taste, to explore. . .and for whom therefore the traditional ‘spines out, author ABC order’ isn’t especially helpful” (2022). I’ll admit that books lined up in perfect rows is one of my favorite sights and also satisfies my sense of order. Maybe some students would agree but for now, I need to keep an open mind.

As I look toward the coming school year, I’ll continue to remind myself that what’s appealing to me personally won’t always be best for adolescent readers. Once back at school, I’ll make it a point to reevaluate our physical space periodically, gather input from the students, and find innovative ways to highlight our collection. 

Classics and short story classics shelves

Shelf Life

Our latest reorganization categories:

  • Young Adult novels
  • Graphic novels/Manga
  • Adult Fiction sections for Contemporary Fiction, Thrillers, Science Fiction, and Fantasy/Dystopian
  • Modern/Contemporary Nonfiction 
  • Informational Nonfiction (labeled with smaller subject titles)
  • Fiction Classics
  • Short Story Classics

Some ideas for the coming year:

  • Create more interactive displays (“As Seen on Booktok,” “If you liked this movie, you might like. . .”)
  • Display more forward-facing books on the crowded fiction shelves
  • Use empty counter spaces for creative displays
  • Create more prominent signage around the library

Adult Fiction

Works Cited

Bogan, Kelsey. “Dynamic Shelving Pt.1: Introducing Dynamic Shelving – Don’t Shush Me!” Don’t Shush Me!, 28 February 2022,

Lindell, Karen. Melvil Dewey’s sexism and racism drove the ALA to change an award name., 27 September 2019, 

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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