The highs and lows of physical browsing: How Shelf Position Affects Book Usage in Academic Libraries


academic libraries, browsing, books, shelf position


In most academic libraries, books are placed on shelves in an order determined by their Library of Congress call number. Many who work in libraries have had the general impression that books that end up on the upper and lower shelves are at a disadvantage for being used. Surprisingly, little research had been done to test this assumption quantitatively. This study sought to address that deficit by measuring 2.25 years of usage statistics of approximately 21,000 books correlated to what shelves they were on.

There was a clear preference for in-library use of items stored at the eye level of average patrons. For both checkouts and in-library use, items from the bottom shelf were used the least. When correlated to the different ways books could be discovered and then removed from the shelves, results indicated that physically browsing the shelves biased a patron to choose books at eye level significantly more often and to choose books on the bottom shelf significantly less often.

While done in a large, academic library, this research may be useful to any library where books are placed on bookshelves for patrons to browse.

Original Publication Citation

Broadbent, D. (2020). The highs and lows of physical browsing: How shelf position affects book usage in academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 46(1), 102074.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The Journal of Academic Librarianship




Harold B. Lee Library

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor