Because no two readers are alike, everyone favors a slightly different method for organizing the madness of a bookshelf. Some people alphabetize their books; others group their books by genre. Personally, I organize my books by how attractive they look positioned next to each other. I have a shelf for silver and blue hues as well as one for rich browns and greens. This means that books of the same series often land on different shelves, which would drive some people mad, but it works for me. Your shelf is your own. Except when it’s not. I work at a small independent bookstore and was recently tasked with creating some organization for sections that had become more “etc.” than anything else. There’s a lot of freedom in running a small bookstore but a lot of unusual challenges as well. I made a few discoveries as I was pawing through seemingly endless piles of books that just didn’t have much in common.
Accept that you’re not going to be able to dedicate an entire shelf to every category. You’re either going to have too many books or not enough. Feel free to create some subsections that have enough in common to add some cohesion to the shelf. I pulled all of our books off the crowded Parenting shelf and redistributed them among two new shelves called New Parents and Parents’ Reference. The New Parents shelf includes all the titles anyone in their first year of parenting might need, and the Parents’ Reference shelf includes other helpful titles concerning issues such as homeschooling, bullying, mental disorders, and anything else parents of children aged 2 – 15 might need. Give yourself the freedom to reject rigidity and embrace a new system that works exclusively for your store.
Focus on Display
You want even the most specific sections to draw the attention of the casual browser, so don’t be afraid to try something that rejects everything you ever learned about the proper use of space. I ended up dedicating an entire shelf to books on anatomy and physiology. Rationally, we didn’t need to highlight these titles, but no one noticed them when they were tucked into the corner of another catch-all shelf. I ended up featuring a lot of these titles as face outs, because although the average customer may not want to buy a book on human anatomy, the books’ covers were colorful and intriguing. You never know what people may find on a shelf they wouldn’t have thought about perusing if something colorful and exciting hadn’t caught their attention.
Did you forget about those miniature coffee table books you stuck on the back shelf two years ago? Yeah, they’re still there complicating your organization and earning every glare and frown you’ve tossed their way. Pull them off the shelf, discount them, and dump them in that basket that’s been gathering dust on the counter. Someone will pay $1.00 for a collection of photos of lizards wearing hats.
Bookstores are amazing centers of warmth and comfort, intellect and commentary, and sometimes coffee and scones. As a customer, you leave your anxiety at the door. As a bookseller, sometimes it follows you inside, but don’t let it stay. It’s easy to feel frustrated when you’re trying to fit fifty new titles on already full shelf, but you’ll figure it out. Drink coffee, eat a scone, breathe deeply, and get back to work!