One of the main tasks in my job years ago as a student assistant in the library was shelf reading. And, oh, is that boring, shelf by shelf, checking to make sure every book is in call number order. You’re supposed to just look at the classification numbers but I usually would look at the titles on the spine, also. You had to do something to make the job a little easier.
Later, throughout my library career, like all librarians, I spent a lot of time browsing among the stacks, reading a lot of titles on the spine and not thinking much about how those titles were positioned.
Top down or bottom up?
One of the things I love to do in Buenos Aires is to browse among the many great bookstores in this city. On my first visit to the bookstores here in Argentina I noticed something odd but it took me a minute to figure it out. Then I went home to examine the books in English that I had brought with me from the U.S.: almost all of the Spanish-language books in Buenos Aires have the titles on the book spine printed from the bottom up. All my English-language books are printed with titles from the top down. (I only have about 100 or so English books here but the spines are all consistent).
Honestly, I don’t know if there’s some kind of international standard for this type of thing or if it’s just convention in different countries or publisher preference. (In the library world there seems to be an ANSI standard for just about everything!)
The Impact: browse from left or right
The direction of the title on the spine isn’t that big of a deal but you do notice it when browsing in the bookstore or the library – which way you stand, which way you tilt your head, which way you step from side-to-side or around the customer browsing next to you.
Yet, I have noticed in Spanish-language books that there is a little lack of consistency: 90% of the Spanish-language titles I see have spine titles printed from bottom to top but a few are the opposite.
I took a photo of one of my shelves at home to illustrate. Look at the Saramago books: the English version of The Stone Raft next to the Spanish version of Ensayo sobre la ceguera. But then just a couple of books over is ArqueologÃa de Buenos Aires.
(Click the photo to see a larger size).