Whether you are a new teacher or a teacher switching grade levels, acquiring books for your classroom library can be a stressful process. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of practice building classroom libraries and have a few helpful tips as you start on the journey.

The Classroom Library Series, Part One: How to Acquire Books for Your Classroom Library

The summer before my first classroom teaching job was a wondrous time. I was preparing a first grade classroom in a beautiful district, and I was so incredibly excited. However, living in a remote corner of Wyoming made acquiring gently used classroom resources, specifically books, quite difficult. Facebook Marketplace wasn’t a thing yet. Craigslist existed for Wyoming only on a state level (and had like 5 posts per month), and yard sales were really antique sales. So I resorted to buying book lots on eBay.

Building a Classroom Library Without Breaking the Bank
My classroom library for my first year of teaching.

I got many great book lots and filled my 1st grade classroom book bins to the best of my ability, but I spent far more money than I should have. As I have turned over my classroom library twice since then (1st grade to 3rd grade to 6th grade), I’ve gotten far more efficient at acquiring books at lower prices to build a classroom library that kids love and WON’T break the bank!

Tip #1: Put Up an Ad! Wanted: Unused Books

How to acquire used books for FREE!

The cheapest and easiest way to get books for your classroom is to offer to take unused and outgrown books off of someone’s hands. Over the years, I have had many parents reach out and ask me if I will take the books their kids have outgrown. My classroom library has tripled in size due to donations. Many families have hundreds of books sitting in their basement that their kids have outgrown, and they don’t know what to do with them. Offer to take them! Put a post on your community Facebook group or on Craigslist. Tell your audience a bit about who you are and what you need. (Don’t forget to tell them you are a teacher. People love helping teachers). Desired authors and popular titles are more helpful than asking for a certain grade level or reading level. Don’t be picky – take what you are offered and you can always trim it down from there. 

Tip #2: Ask Your Admin and Librarian

Using your administration and media specialist to build your classroom library.

Many districts offer a stipend for new teachers. It is worth asking how your stipend can be used and if your school receives any significant discounts from book retailers such as Scholastic, Follet, etc. Your office manager is the best person to ask for school purchase orders. Look for summer outlet sales and use some of your stipend to purchase books for your library.

Next, ask your librarian if they have any duplicates or donations they would be willing to part with. Many librarians have thousands of Scholastic points from school purchases and book fairs and may be willing to donate some in order for you to buy cheap paperback sets as long as they stay with the school if you leave.

Finally, you should ask your admin if there are any retiring teachers who may be willing to donate their books or if there are teachers moving grade levels who might have books they no longer need. It happens more frequently than you think! When I moved to 6th grade Language Arts, the teacher whose place I was taking was moving to Social Studies. He didn’t want any of his books, so I inherited hundreds of YA chapter books!

Tip #3:  Watch for Teacher Clearance Sales

How to get books from other teachers to build your classroom library

When I resigned from my teaching position in Wyoming, I took a job teaching third grade in Northern Colorado. I also entered the world of a thriving Craigslist and community Facebook Groups. Luckily, we moved in May which happened to align with the end of the school year. There were so many teacher yard/garage sales where teachers were clearing out their resources! Some were changing roles while others were retiring. Many teachers offered their books at “fill a bag” prices. This often meant getting books for $0.25-$0.50 each, which is a great deal! Seek out the community sales and get there early. The best books will go first!

Tip #4: Host Your Library Project on Donor’s Choose

How to use crowdsourcing to build your class library

I’ve had several projects funded through Donor’s Choose, and in my experience the first project is the easiest! You’ll have to do a bit of creative work to get your project launched, and be sure to follow the guidelines Donor’s Choose recommends. Once your project is ready, bite the bullet and share it with your friends and family on social media. Getting those first few commitments, no matter how big or small, is KEY to getting your project funded. Every project of mine has been initially funded, like less than 10%, by a few close friends (or my husband), and then closed out by a company! I don’t believe those projects would have been funded by large companies had they not had initial “investors” putting money down. Also, be sure to watch when “Match Offers” are available (like the Gates Foundation, Dicks Sporting Goods, etc) as the projects will fund quickly when that happens!

Tip #5: Scour eBay

Using eBay to find used book lots for your class library

While eBay is no longer my go-to marketplace for most things (thanks to Facebook Marketplace), you can still strike a good deal if you look hard enough. You’ll want to search for book lots – grade level X or reading level X to find them. Many books are still in great condition and you can expect to pay around $1.00 each. The benefit of using eBay is that you find a cohesive and curated lot of books to fit exact needs, like sets of Junie B. Jones or Gary Paulsen books.

Tip #6: Scholastic Book Clubs

If you aren’t a Scholastic Book Club member, you want to join ASAP! Even if you have zero plans to distribute student flyers, you will still receive fantastic rewards for each order you place which equals FREE BOOKS. I often comb through the flyers for my current grade level, the grade level above, and the grade level below looking at the dollar deal specials. You can also go back and forward a few months!

Tip #7: Check Out The Local Library

Libraries will frequently have sections with books for sale that have been removed from circulation for around $0.25. They might have water damage or torn covers, or may be an older version. It’s worth a look through, I’ve found several treasures for my classroom library this way!

There you have it: the secret to acquiring books for your classroom library. But don’t forget the most important part of building your classroom library: take the time to read the books. Your conversations with students and recommendations will be so much more authentic and meaningful if you actually take the time to actually read them. More on this later…