Guidelines for Shelving Bound Volumes

by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler

Document Conservation Laboratory
NARA Preservation Programs

These guidelines should be followed when shelving bound volumes. The needs of bound records are the same, despite differences in shelving equipment.

  1. Vertical Orientation
    1. Volumes should be shelved vertically if:
      1. the height is 22" or less;
      2. the thickness is 4" or less or, if greater than 4", standing upright does not cause the volume to slump or the textblock to fall away from the boards
      3. the condition is sound and the volume is capable of standing with the support of adjacent volumes and/or bookends
    2. Volumes shelved vertically should be oriented with the tail or bottom edges resting on the shelf. Volumes should not rest on either their spines or fore-edges.
    3. Volumes must not be placed horizontally on top of a group of vertically shelved volumes.
    4. Volumes of similar height that can help to support one another should be shelved vertically as a unit. Interspersing short and tall volumes in a vertical unit must be avoided, since the taller volumes need the support of their neighbors to avoid warping.
      1. To avoid interspersing short and tall volumes, small volumes should be placed in standard archives boxes if possible. This will also help to avoid the problem of small volumes being pushed to the backs of the shelves.
      2. Another approach is to physically separate groups of short and tall volumes on the shelf, using multiple bookends to separate and support the groups.
    5. All shelves containing volumes shelved vertically should be equipped with bookends that hang from the shelf above.
      1. Bookends should be positioned at the end of a group of volumes to hold them in a true vertical orientation.
      2. Sufficient free space should be left at the end of each shelf to permit access to the bookend so that it can be adjusted when volumes are removed from the shelf and when they are reshelved.
  2. Horizontal Orientation
    1. Volumes should be shelved horizontally if:
      1. the height exceeds 22", and/or
      2. the thickness exceeds 4", and/or
      3. the volume is in poor condition or noticeably distorted (examples: boards detached or loose, textblock sagging, etc.)
      4. the volume is a scrapbook, album, or similar composite structure with mounted elements that can be damaged or lost if they sift to the bottom of the volume during vertical storage.
    2. Volumes shelved horizontally should not be placed in stacks higher than 6" or more than three volumes high. Thus the thickness of the volumes will determine if one, two, or three volumes may be placed in a stack.
    3. Large volumes should never be stacked on smaller volumes. Only volumes of similar size should be stacked on top of one another so that volumes are fully supported and prevented from warping.
    4. Volumes should not extend beyond the edges of shelves