Stock management – A complete beginners guide

Learning how to effectively manage the stock of a library can take a lifetime of experience and is highly dependent on location and clientele.  The following is intended as a simple guide only and is not prescriptive.  Many books can be written (and probably have been – let me know of any suggestions) on this subject but, sometimes, just the basics are what is needed.  This guide is in no way a substitute for a trained member of staff but rather as an idea of the very minimum that should be present from day one.

Basic rules

It’s simple really – Put fiction closer to the door and and non-fiction further away. This is because people will go hunting for non-fiction books they want. But remember that there is a lot of “popular” non-fiction that may also be worth promoting near the door.

Quick Picks / Entrance

Put “Quick Picks” popular new books at the front for those in a hurry to grab and go.  The Quick Picks are normally all fiction but may include the most popular non-fiction (e.g. celebrity biographies).  Don’t include cookbooks because, although they’re very popular in bookshops, this is because they’re bought as presents.  They’re not high demand items in most libraries.  You may want to consider duplicate copies of the most common items (e.g. James Patterson thrillers) but be aware that buying ten copies of something very fashionable could leave you with tons of unwanted stock later on (e.g. multiple copies of Fifty Shades of Grey).

Displays and end of bay units

Use display shelves (“slopers”) for fiction ideally on a ratio of at least 1:5 display to storage.  Don’t worry about slopers on non-fiction shelves (except for biographies and true crime). Aim for end-of-bay units for your fiction rows of shelves but not for non-fiction.  Again this is because people hunt for non-fiction but browse for fiction.

Think about what is going on your end of bay units: you need at least 30 books to choose from.  Any less and you will find the dumpbin empties of books far too quickly.  Don’t spend too much time on displays – you should, rather, aim to change them every month in order to keep a fresh look for repeat customers.

On the slopers themselves, ensure you have a maximum number of books allowed – perhaps five or six per shelf.  This is to stop the display shelves being overly packed and putting people off, which is the opposite of what should happen.  Also, ensure that the slopers are not used for storing big fat books (due to tightness on the shelves) or old tatty ones.  Make sure that the displays are changed regularly, because otherwise the only things that are going to be displayed on them are the unsuccessful books that failed to be loaned.

You will find that users will donate a lot of supermarket-bought books.  This will be mainly popular fiction and celebrity biographies.  Utilise this by not buying as many of those with any stockfund you have but purchasing stuff less likely to be donated instead (non-fiction being the main thing here but also less “popular” fiction). Think about whether you’re going for popularity (number of books issued) or education (quality of books, classics, etc) and stock accordingly.  Most libraries are a balance between the two.

Speaking of balance, look at the ratio of adult fiction/non-fiction/children’s fiction/non-fiction etc that you have and ensure your budget matches this split … unless you are very brave and want to change your clientele (there can be perfectly valid reasons for doing so) or one section is notably tattier/emptier than the others.  Bear in mind also non-fiction lasts longer than fiction (it gets taken out less and so survives longer).

Children’s library
The children’s library – a toy kitchen will be an instant hit (make sure it’s plastic, though, as wooden ones break too easily) as will be colouring in sheets.  Ensure low tables and little chairs.  A rug for rhymetime is always good too.

Ensure that children’s stock is on low shelves – simply because children are, well, short.  For the youngest children, the stock should be in kinderboxes for easy looking through while sat on the floor – these will be almost all picture books. Ensure all sides of the kinderbox are acessible and that picture books on both sides are facing their “front”, that is, that the picture books in the front section are facing opposite the books in the back section to allow easy browsing from both sides.

Think about separate displays for boys and girls – they are very gender-specific in junior and high school (not at all in infants) apart from a few like Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter.

Weeding of stock – this depends on how much money you have.  I aim for looking at all books over 2 years old – check for condition, number of issues (should be around or over 5 p.a. for fiction, 2 p.a. for non-fiction) and duplication.  You will need to discard at least as many books as you take in (a simple enough rule but this can be heartbreaking to the “every book is sacred” school of library management).

Aim for a 80% to 90% “full-ness” (check out the technical term) to your shelving.  That is, avoid completely filling the shelf with books – this leads to the shelves being overly tight as the temptation is to put just one more book in there.  The ideal, after weeding, is for there to be enough space for a hardback book to be put front-faced on the right end of the shelf as a display title.

Try to get a man and a woman buying your books.  There’s a lot of gender bias and, remember, men use libraries as much as women but it doesn’t feel that way because they don’t talk as much and they’re quicker (hunters rather than gatherers): it’s not sexist if it’s true.


Getting rid of withdrawn stock can be challenging.  Decisions should be done on this basis: (1) does another library need it? (2) Check for high-value items for Ebay etc  (3) Sell at full sales cost (whatever that may be) (4) Sell at special offer cost (be careful with this – too low a price will upset people and give the impression your stock is valueless) (5) Sell to a specialist book service (like Revival) but be aware their prices are quite low (6) Anyone else you can give to that is not somehow detrimental (7) recycle. 

Display rules

Don’t blu-tack anything, you’ll never get it all off and the word “tacky” is highly appropriate for the way it looks.  Only put posters on noticeboards, ideally stapled on.  Make sure there is space around each poster – crowding them makes it look noisy and discourages use. Only put leaflets in leaflet dispensers or shelving.  Handwritten signs should not be allowed, including for “out of order signs”.

Final tricks

  • When deciding which books to put on display, don’t put out the books that jump out at you.  Those are going to be borrowed anyway (they jumped out at you, didn’t they?).  Choose others instead – having them face will multiply their usage.
  • Walk around every day and replace anything broken. This could be a loose staple from a poster or a book laying on top of others (“horizontal shelving”) or any level you want to go to.  Get everyone to notice litter on the floor etc when they’re walking around – it’s a simple thing to stoop down and pick up some litter.
  • New eyes are the best eyes: get anyone new to look around and tell you five things they like and five things they don’t like.  Change the things they don’t like – you’ll often be shocked by what they have noticed but you have got so used to, you don’t “see” it any more.
  • #1 written by Mike roberts
    about 10 years ago

    As an ex Librarian of many years – who got made redundent in 2008 (christmas eve was my last day – gor bless you Newham Libraries) – This is the most sensible straight forward piece of advice/information on stock management I’ve seen. Great stuff.

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