Category Archives: Shelving/Finding Books or Periodicals

Finding books in the Cabell Library stacks

On the top two floors I (and others) find it difficult to find books because there are no directions regarding call numbers. If I am standing in the middle of the stacks of books, I can’t quickly determine which direction I need to walk in to find the matching call letters, especially if it is a different first letter. A more detailed map of each stack’s call numbers would be very helpful and located in the actual area of book browsing.

From: a graduate student

Patricia Selinger, Head of Preservation, replies…

It is important that our students easily find books in the stacks. I’m not sure what you have in mind and invite you to contact me directly with your idea. Stack guides have been placed on the end panel of each shelving row. The guides indicate what call number range is in that row. The library books are organized from top to bottom, left to right. The call number order snakes through the stacks, which allows for continuous flow of call numbers from the left to the right. It means you don’t have to walk to the beginning of the row if the call number ends at the end of a row; you just turn around and work your way from the left to the right. Not all the guides are correct as the VCU Libraries is in the process of pulling low-use books from our overcrowded stacks to put into storage. Then the sections are shifted and the stack guides aren’t correct. The stack guides will be corrected when the work in that part of the stacks ends. Thank you for taking the time to send us your suggestion.

What if a book is missing from the shelf?

How about replacing all the missing books you have? That would be a great idea. Then maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t have to search through 20 books before I found ONE that was available to read.

From: a library user

Patricia Selinger, Head of Preservation replies…

There could be several reasons why the book you are looking for is not on the shelf: someone is currently using it in the library, it is in the reshelving process, it is checked out, it is lost. For these reasons, among others, the VCU Libraries is making a significant investment in electronic books that are not subject to the circulation process and to loss, damage, and theft. The reshelving area on the 3rd floor is a good place to look if you don’t find your book on the shelf. Books are picked up throughout the library during the day and brought here along with those received from Circulation. Shelves in the sorting area are labeled with call number ranges for sorting. Books are sorted into call number order onto carts. If the specific book you want is not available, we recommend Interlibrary loan.

Teresa Doherty, Head of Circulation and Information Services, adds…

If a book is listed in the library catalog as being “available,” then it should be on the shelf — not checked out to another patron, or in repair, or on order, for example. If a book isn’t on the shelf where it should be, here are some suggestions:

  • Check on nearby tables and photocopiers, as other patrons may have been using the book you need.
  • Check the reshelving area on the third floor.
  • Fill out a “Where’s My Book?” tear-off sheet available on the ends of shelving units throughout the library stacks. You can drop the form off at the Circulation service desk on the first floor. Circulation staff will search for the book and let you know when it has been found.
  • Patrons can borrow materials from our library consortium partners in the Richmond area. Library staff at the circulation service desk or reference desk can help you check the catalogs of these other libraries and explain how to use a RALC Borrowing Pass (Richmond Academic Library Consortium) to borrow materials from them.
  • You can also use our Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery services offered through ILLiad to borrow materials not available through VCU Libraries.

Thanks very much for taking the time to post to the Suggestion Blog. We hope that this response is helpful to you.

Missing Issues of The Washington Post

Kindly pass this message along to Denise M. Branch, Assistant Head, Acquisitions. The Sundays’ edition of the Washington Post for the last four weeks never arrived. Would you kindly look into the reason that the Washington Posts (Sundays’ edition) is not reaching the wooden rack or the shelf. Thanks.

From: a graduate student

Denise M Branch, Assistant Head of Acquisitions and Serials Librarian responds…

The supplier failed to deliver the Washington Post on a few occasions. Acquisitions contacted the supplier, and the problem has been resolved. The papers should now be available. We will monitor the receipt of this newspaper for the next several weeks to ensure that it is being consistently supplied to us. Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention.

Browsing Collections by Subject

For students browsing for books, I suggest the library put up book categories/subject titles on the ends of each bookcase, below the call numbers. This can make it significantly easier to find where we are when looking for books in the library — after all, we process words much faster than alphanumeric call numbers. Thank you!
From: an undergraduate student

Patricia Selinger, Head, Preservation Department, VCU Libraries, responds…
Thank you for this great suggestion! The Preservation Department is responsible for maintaining the call number guides throughout the stacks. With our stacks overcrowded, we shift collections regularly to make room for new materials. The call number guides become obsolete quickly in this environment. We haven’t had subject guides before but we are looking at solutions that will help students browse by subject. Look for posters in the near future.

Juvenile Literature Section

The Children’s Literature section of the library is extremely disorganized. As a student that was in the elementary ed program and is now working on my masters in teaching, it is upsetting to come to the shelves time and again and find all the books in complete disarray. There are books on the floor, stacked on top of each other, books that have fallen behind the shelves, and more. On the end of the shelves, where students put the books that they have looked at to be reshelved, I have seen a book sit for 3-4 weeks without being reshelved. It is quite often that I cannot find a book in this section either, even when it is listed as “normal on-shelf.”

I wish I knew about this suggestion area before because I would have made a comment a year ago. Please please please do anything you can to help this sad section of shelves. I know that myself, along with many other graduate and undergraduate students would greatly appreciate a clean and easy to browse section as this area of the library is of great use to me in my education.
From: a graduate student

Patricia Selinger, Head, Preservation Department, responds….
The Juvenile/Young Adult Collection has not received significant attention in a few years and so many books were out of order that reshelving became nearly impossible. Staff have been shelf-reading the Juvenile/Young Adult Collection since January. A shelf-read consists of reviewing each shelf to ensure the books are in the correct order and then shifting to alleviate overcrowding. Staff is also identifying damaged books and faded labels during the shelf-read; these items will be repaired as quickly as possible. This project is labor-intensive due to the size and format of the collection.

As you noted, some sections of the Juvenile/Young Adult Collection are significantly out of order. These sections may be moved to the third floor sorting area where the reshelving can be staged easier and faster.

In reviewing this section, we realized the bookends on these shelves are missing. We will put some in place to correct this situation.

VCU Libraries is working toward a better Juvenile/Young Adult Collection and regret the inconvenience the shelf-read and sort has caused. If there is a particular book VCU Libraries owns that you cannot locate, please use the “Request” button in the catalog. We are making this area a priority and expect you will see improvement soon.

Thanks for your interest!

Call Number Signs for Shelves

I would like to see book number ranges added to the sides of the shelving units on the third and fourth floor, like on the first floor. Even if it was just the letters and first numbers, it would make it a lot easier to find the books I’m looking for quicker.
From:a graduate student

Patricia Palmer Selinger, Head, Preservation Department, VCU Libraries, responds….
We shifted both the 3rd and 4th floors this year and the signs came down because they weren’t correct. The call number signs will be replaced as soon as possible. Thank you for telling us they are helpful!

Disarray in the F section

Often I need books beginning with the call number F1219. When I look for books in this section, I can rarely find them. Books are stacked on the floor, crammed in behind or on top of other books on the shelves. Often I have to fill out a search form for books that are listed as available in the catalogue. If somebody would take the time to organize and/or expand this section, so that all the books fit on the shelves, it would probably save everyone involved a lot of time.
From: Crista

Thank you for using the Item Request Form to request books you can’t find. This form initiates a search for the book and a replacement decision if the book is missing. The collections in the E and F call numbers have experienced much growth recently. The Libraries has been relocating lesser-used materials and duplicates to make room. The Stacks Manager is aware of this section and we hope you have seen improvement already.
We hope you have a positive experience at Cabell Library this semester!

Patricia Selinger
Head, Preservation Dept.

Reshelving books

I am writing to express my concern for the serious need in the James Branch Cabell Library for more staff to help with shelving books. My recent experience may point up how extreme this need is. On December 9 I returned 5 or 6 books that I had been using for a project. Because I would not have time to work on the project until after the holidays, I thought it best to return the books in case another patron might need one of them. On January 10 I returned to the library to find the books and get back to my project. When I reached the 4th floor (I am using art books) I was shocked at the level of disarray I found: the reshelving shelves were overflowing, books were stacked on the floor, books had been jammed sideways on top of books that were shelved (these were not even in the area of the correct call number), the shelves were in total disarray. None of the books I had returned were on the shelf even though all showed as being available for circulation. In a last shot effort, I checked the shelving station on the 3rd floor. There I found most, but not all of the books I had returned. It was clear that in a month’s time they had never made it back to the shelf. While I understand that staff is reduced when the students leave for the holidays, this experience only points out something that is ALWAYS a problem. The state of the stacks, especially in the art section, is always a serious mess. Not only are the shelves physically a mess, but far too many volumes are badly misshelved. These books are as good as lost. Frequently when I look for volumes that show up in the catalog as being available, the book cannot be found at all. If I come in with a list of books, it is not unusual to be unable to locate half of the books. I have some experience working in an academic library, and I have been a patron of both academic and public libraries. I have never found a library that is more frustrating to use that the James Branch Cabell Library. Thank you for taking time to read of my experience. I hope this account will be useful.
From: Sarah

Cabell Library depends on students to reshelve books in the library. While we hired the same number of students in the fall semester as we did last year, fewer of them worked in December and January. This led to backlogs you describe. Last fall we did not experience any reshelving backlogs at all during December and January. We employ one full time person for the stacks. Additional full time staff would lead to more stable reshelving patterns and we hope to add to the full-time staff in the near future.

The Arts Collection (N-NX and TR) is a heavily browsed and circulated collection. Much of the misshelving is due to overcrowded conditions in the stacks. The Libraries does not want to reduce user space to add shelving so we are transferring duplicates to keep the crowded shelves under control. If there is a specific book you are looking for, please complete the Item Request Form at This form initiates a search and a replacement decision if the book is missing. You will be notified when the book is available.
We hope you have a positive experience at Cabell Library this semester!

Patricia Selinger
Head, Preservation Dept