The Problem of Oversized Books

oversizeMany of my posts start off with a strong opinion. Here is today’s: I HATE OVERSIZE BOOKS! Coffee table books belong on coffee tables. There, I’ve said it. Well…I don’t hate oversize books themselves. They’re gorgeous. What I hate is the problems they cause when casually interspersed in regular non-fiction collections in public libraries.

As I was weeding the 500s, I found a lot of oversize books: huge books with color photos of the animals of the African safari, enormous tomes of pictures of ocean life, ginormous volumes of rain forest photography, and a gigundus atlas of the constellations in the night sky. Really beautiful books. Really, really, really in the way. My library doesn’t have a separate section for oversize books, so they get piled on the bottom shelf closest to where they would have fit numerically. In trying to shift the books off of the top shelves of the section, I needed to use those bottom shelves. I couldn’t forfeit an entire shelf, or even half a shelf, for one large book that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Here’s the other thing: I checked the circulation statistics on most of them, and they don’t circulate very well. People may browse them in-house, but they aren’t lugging them home.

Not to mention the cost. Oversize books are expensive! Worth every penny, for what they are, but when given the choice between an oversize book and one that fits nicely on the shelf with the same information in it, I’ll take the small one 9 times out of 10.

There are a few exceptions where oversize books are OK in public libraries:

1. Art books. They don’t come any other way, so you don’t really have a choice. The whole point of art books is to see the art in all its glorious detail.

2. Atlases. Again, they just come in huge sizes. Atlas stands are a thing of beauty because you can keep atlases separate from regular-sized books.

3. Where there is a section devoted to oversized books where they don’t get in the way of all the other, regular-sized books. That comes with its own set of issues. Patrons have to know to go to that section or risk missing out on the glorious books it holds, for one thing.

Here are some ideas I have on what to do with these oversize books.

1. They aren’t circulating, so taking them away from their current location probably won’t hurt the statistics any. How about scattering them around the library on end tables, displays, and coffee tables? They’re more likely to be browsed that way, at least.

2. Loan them to nursing homes and waiting rooms around the community. The library where I used to work had an outreach program called “Read While You Wait.” They took donated paperbacks to waiting rooms and put stickers on them with the library name. People could start reading them while waiting, and then just take the book home to finish. If they wanted to return the book to the library – great. If not, they could just keep it. The library replenished the pile every now and then. Since oversize books are not likely to be carried home (too big!!), they would make great “Read While You Wait” books. Nursing home residents, senior center members, coffee shop loiterers – anywhere people hang out – are good places for an outreach collection of oversize books.

3. If you had space, you could put those tall, skinny carts at the ends of some of the non-fiction rows and fill the carts with oversize books. This is sort of an impromptu, mobile solution to a separate oversize section. It would get the oversize books out of the regular non-fiction section (where they stick out into the aisles, tripping people) and make them more noticeable by being at the forefront of several rows.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Oversize books are beautiful, but they just don’t work well when interfiled with regular-sized books. I avoid buying them unless they are so special, so irreplaceable, and so unique that we simply must have them. In other words, rarely.



Originally published at on 8/10/2011.

Image creative commons:


  1. When I started as a page we put our oversized books under the shelves in the general area where they would be if with the regular books. So one would have to bend down and reach underneath where all the dust and spiders are to get them.

    Then someone decided to put all the career books in with the regular books instead of having a special careers section and make that the oversized book section.

    The problem is – no one told me this. So I was putting the oversized where I was originally told and one day one of the librarians started yelling at me about this. All I could do was look at her and say “But – no one told me that.” To her credit she did right away shut up but she never apologized.

    We eventually got rid of those shelves entirely as one of our managers felt they were a safety hazard since they were so close to the computers and I don’t think we have many oversized books anymore other than art and some history ones.

  2. I can not agree more!
    As the collections manager, I go out of my way to not buy oversize. I get so mad when I accidentally order one. Publishers some times get the size wrong and such. No one, not one student ever wants to check them out. We are at the point, we are going to move the rare, or expensive ones out from behind the desk and into the circulating oversize books. Since no one ever checks them out, what fear do we have with the ones be hind the desk?

    We also hate books that are completely loose with no binding. But that’s another complaint for another day.


  3. We have a special “reading room” area in my library with comfortable armchairs and good lighting. We buy relatively few oversized books, and the ones that we do purchase (generally art books, those space books that are all photos, etc.) go there, on end tables and face-out displays. Patrons are free to check them out if they want to, but they rarely do. I used to work at a library that left larger-than-normal space between the shelves and did interfile all but the hugest of the oversized with normal books, but even in the normal stacks they had horrible circ. Few people want to lug one of those things around.

  4. If what’s in the picture is what’s giving you trouble, I’ll pay shipping and handling for you to send them to me. I’ve been begging for comics and graphic novels to use in my classroom (I teach Comic Art), but I can’t seem to get any without spending big $$.

    1. Nope, that’s just a creative commons image I used from Flickr. Link at the bottom of the post. (Those ARE cool, aren’t they?!)

  5. I used to love going to my academical library’s “folio” department and look through them because they had such a high percentage of cool.

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