The library is one of the most important parts of our classroom. When I first started teaching, I inherited a handful of used books from the teacher who retired the year before. I sorted the books into four small tubs of picture books and one spinning rack of chapter books, roughly organized by genre and topic. It was sad. Fortunately, I was able to check out two crates of books from our school library and I rotated the selections frequently. I knew right from the start that providing students with interesting choices inside our classroom was key to getting them to read.
I purchased more books slowly over the next two years. Books are expensive and new teachers (and experienced ones for the matter!) don’t make much money. Instead of going to the mall for shopping sprees, I started hitting up the used book stores. Scholastic Book Clubs also helped. I usually purchased $20 of books each month from their Lucky catalog and a few titles from SeeSaw and Arrow as well. This $20 minimum was the magic number to unlock free books and bonus points each month. If a student ordered on top of that, I was thrilled. Gradually, my library grew. It was time to reorganize.
First, I needed more storage. I picked up used bookshelves on CraigsList, plastic tubs from the Dollar Tree, and book pockets to hold check out index cards from a local teacher store. Then I purchased a large carpet remnant on sale and cheap pillows to keep it cozy. I also made t-shirt pillows from our school shirts. I wanted the library to feel inviting so students would want to curl up with their books and stay a while.
It was time to get organized. I sorted my books by topic, genre, and series. Each tub was clearly labeled to help students browse. I initially used color-coded dots on the back of the books to make returning books easier for the students. However, as my library grew I ran out of options. Now I stick small return address labels on the back corner of each book. Students simply match the sticker to a basket’s label. I know in Utopia students are expected to return books without the stickers as part of the learning process, but in the real world it was just easier to sticker the books than constantly have to clean and sort the library. I say pick your battles.
The final thing that has helped keep my library organized and relevant to my students’ needs is cataloging my books. I keep an excel sheet of every book in the library. It was a pain to initially log my library, but now I just update the list as I purchase new books. I can easily sort my books by genre, theme, series, author, etc. This makes pulling books for units fast and efficient. It’s also been useful to have this list while trying to fill the gaps in my offerings. For example, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough biographies after I sorted my books by genre. Using the list, I’m able to spend money wisely and purchase books that will make our classroom library more well-rounded.
Setting up a classroom library is a lot of work, but maintaining it is easy once you have a system in place. You can do it!
Book Labels I use orange for fiction, yellow for nonfiction, and pink for poetry and jokes. Students can easily browse the library by genre this way.
Excel Book List Template I include title, guided reading level, AR level, genre, author, series, basket, theme, teacher, and number of copies. I have sorted by all of these fields as I’m looking for books for a specific unit, child, etc. The teacher field is useful if you’re sharing and trading books with different classrooms.
T-shirt Pillow Tutorial Learn to sew quick and easy pillows for your classroom library. They’re inexpensive too!