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The Hottest Shelf: Does Eye Level = Circulation?

I was chatting the other say with Leslie, our library assistant, when she brought up an interesting observation: snake books aren’t getting checked out as much as in the past. The only difference she noticed is that, due to weeding in nonfiction, sections have shifted around. Snakes, which used to be at the top of the shelf, have moved to the bottom.

So I ran the numbers, and confirmed that circulations in that section are indeed down – by over 50%.

We talked about the cereal aisle at the supermarket, and how the prime real estate is at a child’s eye level, because kids have a big say in cereal buying. That’s the place to get noticed, and notice leads to purchase.

Is the same true for books? Have you had a similar experience to my Snake section example?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Joseph Miller says

    I’d agree with your assessment of the importance of placement on the shelf. Books at eye-level do get checked out more than those on the bottom shelf.

    But here’s another question for you:

    Do the books on the very first shelf of fiction* have a higher rate of circulation than other shelves? In my experience, if you have a “A” surname and are on the first shelf, you are in the best real estate in the library.

    *This assumes that first shelf is eye-level.

    • Travis Jonker says

      That’s an interesting question, Joseph. I haven’t noticed that A surnames receive more circulations in my library, but I would be curious to see.

  2. I’ve seen this in both elementary and middle school libraries. Luckily, our middle school nonfiction is only shelved on the top two shelves of our three shelf cases. Fiction unfortunately is shelved on all five of our tall cases, and some great books languish on those bottom shelves. Last year I did a display of those bottom (shelf) dwellers: “It Came From the Bottom of the Shelf!” We used lots of hanging moss to make it look a bit creepy and it did spur interest. For elementary schools, a treasure chest filled with “treasures found at the bottom of the shelf” would be a fun display.

    As to most popular surnames, I find that the most popular section is the one you see when you walk in–in my library, that means authors from the CATs to the HAHs. The least popular is a small section housing the STRs to the ZUCs. It’s not visible from the circulation desk, and it’s a popular spot to hang out, but not check out:)

    • Joseph Miller says


      Good point about shelf position/visibility! I suppose that’s even more important than the “A” surname b/c if the A’s are hidden in the back, while the L’s are the first shelf kids come across, then that’s where the action will be.

      Best Wishes,

  3. I had never thought of this until now. However, when I think about which books in my everybody section I shelve the most, it is very much the top two shelves and not the bottom one (which, for me, is great because it is less bending and stooping but probably not so great for all those books!). I will have to do a promotion – love the “treasures from the bottom of the shelf” idea!

  4. Every check out I give my students a different challenge; check out two from a bottom shelf, one that starts with the same letter as your last name, a book with the letter O in the title… it keeps them searching for those books they otherwise wouldn’t see. I tell a story to the younger ones about seeing video footage of the library at night, where the lower shelf books were spotted crying about not being as checked out as the top shelf…it works!
    If it were left to students, (and teachers and parents), I’d say 90% of the books checked out would be the ones with their cover on display.
    Forget being “all about that base” …I’m “all about that display”…