Steel Shelving vs. Wood Shelving in Libraries – Pros and Cons

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right type of shelving for your library–ranging from durability to aesthetics to space constraints. The most common choice is between steel shelving and wood shelving. They both serve specific purposes in the library, but they also both have their pros and cons–so it’s important to weigh all your options before making a decision. Let’s explore the benefits and disadvantages of both steel and wood shelving, so you can make an informed decision about which type is best for your library.

Pros and Cons of Steel Shelving

Steel shelving is often chosen for public and educational libraries because it is highly durable, offers easy shelf-adjustment, and extremely versatile. Additionally, steel bookshelf designs come in a variety of colors and/or with decorative end-panels which can make them more aesthetically pleasing than in years past. But they also have a few drawbacks. Let’s look more closely at some of the pros and cons of steel shelves versus wood shelving.

Steel Library Shelves with Wooden Ends


  • Steel shelving is highly versatile. It can accommodate a wide range of materials, including books, periodicals, DVD/Blu-ray discs, etc.
  • Librarians often prefer steel shelving vs. wood shelving.  It adjusts extremely easily with brackets as compared to wood pins that are easier to lose.
  • Steel shelving is highly durable, fire-resistant, and easier to clean and disinfect than wood shelving. (In the age of COVID-19, this may be considered a more poignant consideration than in years past.)

Steel Library Shelves with Wooden Ends


  • Rising steel prices have made steel shelving much more expensive than in the past.
  • Steel shelving can give off a cold, industrial aesthetic that some libraries, especially traditional ones, may wish to avoid.

Steel Library Shelves

Pros and Cons of Wood Shelving

Wood shelves have been a popular choice for libraries for many years because they offer a warm, inviting, classic look that can be stained and/or customized to match the décor of any room. However, some consider wood shelving to be less durable than steel and more difficult to clean. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of choosing wood over steel.

Dark Wooden Library Shelves


  • Wood shelving is aesthetically pleasing. It creates a warm, inviting ambiance that encourages users to linger.
  • Wood shelving can in many cases be more economical than steel shelving.
  • Wood shelving can be accented with integrated crown molding.

Light Colored Wooden Library Furniture


  • Wood shelving does not over all the accessories that steel shelving does. It cases where shelf types other than flat or sloped shelves are desired, there are some limitations.
  • Shelves do not adjust as easily as steel shelving. Librarians generally prefer to adjust shelves with steel shelf brackets as opposed to pins.
  •  As a natural material, wood is susceptible to grain inconsistencies and/or puncture by sharp objects. Of course, this is not a problem in most libraries.

Wooden Library Furniture Set

Which Is Right For You–Wood or Steel Shelving?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. At Creative Library Concepts, we provide our clients with both types of shelving depending on the desired aesthetic and application. As long as you choose a quality product, both wood shelving and steel shelving will last for the multiple decades that libraries need them to. Please Contact us today to learn more about our product offerings.

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