Setting the scene

The University of St Andrews Library holds over 800,000 books, a growing e-book collection, more than 11,000 print and electronic journals, academic databases, and an extensive collection of DVDs. The majority of the Library’s resources, such as books and print journals, are physical items held in the stacks. Accessibility to these items is key to maintaining excellent Library service.

The Library Reshelving Team ensures that once a book is returned, it is back on the appropriate shelf and available to students and staff in the shortest possible timeframe. They keep the collection accessible to readers.

The University has a scarcity of shelving space for its rapidly expanding collection. Crowded bookshelves make it harder for readers to find the material they are seeking, increase the risk of damage to each volume, and increase the amount of time and effort required to service the collection.


State of the selves pre-intervention
State of the shelves pre-intervention



Following the initial processes of Scoping and Planning, a Quad of Aims were identified by the Reshelving Team and the following success criteria were produced:

  • Items are to be reshelved within at most 4 hours of return
  • A consistent ‘return to shelves’ processes is to be in use
  • Adequate staff resources are to be available

Weekly reports on activity are to be produced


What we did

During a 3-day blitz event the Library Reshelving Team identified a series of issues with their process that could be improved upon to reduce staff hours and the return-to-shelf time, and to address the difficulties in monitoring staff undertakings. Lack of available data concerning the reshelving process was identified as an area to be improved upon.

Prior to the blitz event, a single book was handled 10 times, sorted 4 times, and the return-to-shelf time for each item fell somewhere between 2 and 7 hours.

Through detailed process mapping the team was able to recognise points of over-processing and unnecessary handling.

During the redesign process, steps were taken to reduce the repeated transportation of books between sprites, floors, and reshelving bays, as well as to reduce the size of reshelving batches, which encourages staff rotation and reduces delay times. The introduction of smaller, categorised sprites and new ergonomic trolleys, in addition to the allocation of a larger space for sorting, accessible from the returns desk, were all crucial to the realisation of the aforementioned aims.

The new process anticipated that a book was to be handled only 6 times and sorted 4 times.



After the blitz event the Reshelving Team began to keep a record of data such as: book returns on a daily basis, occurrences of lift breakage, and staffing days and hours worked. This enabled the team to judge how busy the library would be during certain periods, and therefore estimate the number of book returns and thus how many staff hours would be needed.


  • Library shelves post-intervention 2
  • Library shelves post-intervention



Team members described the implementation process as ‘smooth sailing from the start’ and that it now ‘seems too easy’. Two years on from the successful adoption of the new process the team report that the return-to-shelf time of 4 hours was met on all but one or two occasions. The team met all of their additional success criteria.


Moving Forward

The current library redevelopment project will see much of the redesigned reshelving process being carried forward. In conjunction with this, the process is being further improved by the introduction of a sortation device, an idea which had been raised during the Lean Project. This will further streamline the process of reshelving into the future.

“Good ideas and suggestions came out of the discussions. We were able to say what we really meant.” – Library Shelving Team Member

The general outcome was great. Looking at [the] process [was] interesting.” – Library Shelving Team Member