So you’ve put in the hard work to acquire the books to fill your classroom library: now what? It’s time for organizing your classroom library in a way that makes the books easily accessible to your kids! In this post I’m going to share with you how I’ve organized my classroom library with 1st graders all the way up to middle schoolers.
Skip the Inventory
I know I’m likely going to upset many teachers with this tip, but save yourself the time and frustration. Don’t take inventory of your books. I thought I was doing myself a favor when I built a spreadsheet with every book accounted for, but when the end of the year came and I marked dozens of books as MISSING, I wanted to cry. This did nothing but make me protective of my classroom library the following year – which was NOT a good thing. Imagine giving a kid the third degree for simply asking if they can take a book home to finish it? I felt awful!
So if you skip taking inventory, what should you do? Give your books a big hug when you get them. Smell the pages. Imagine all the wonderful kids who are going to enjoy it. Then place it on your shelf and know that there’s a chance it won’t be there next year. Be at peace with that. It’s not the worst thing in the world if a book goes home with a kid.
Claiming Your Books
In one way or another, you’ll want to make sure your books have your name on them. Your books will find their way to the most unlikely of places. I’ve found my books in lost and found bins, the school library, student lockers, in the hallways, and even in the town library. But I always know they’re mine because I mark them!
You can mark your books several different ways. Here’s a list of recommendations:
- Write your last name with a black sharpie on the outside of the pages or inside the front cover.
- Print out labels with your name and put them on the cover. Cover them with transparent contact paper to make them last.
- Purchase a book stamp and stamp the first page and the inside of the back cover of each book. I personally love these “Read it, Love it, Return it” stamps from Simply Stamps, or these stamps from A Small World Called K on Etsy.
If you want a set of free farmhouse labels to place on the covers of your books, you can download a set here. Just make sure to uncheck the “Scale to Fit” box and print them on Avery 5160 Labels.
Finding Shelving for your Classroom Library
I’ve worked in schools where the building manager could find anything I asked for and in schools where there was literally nothing extra. (I even cleaned the carpets myself one summer). Start by asking your office manager, building manager, or even custodian for what you need. They can check the storage spaces in building as well as at the district. They also have the inside scoop on what other teachers are trying to get rid of. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that. Don’t be scared to scour community spaces. If it’s not serving a good purpose (read: kids), move it into your room.
If your school has nothing extra to give, check Facebook marketplace. Book cases and cube shelves come up frequently for $10-15. Target and Ikea have cheap bookshelves that you can put together. They won’t last forever, but they will do the trick. I don’t recommend tall book shelves if you can avoid it. The books above student eye-level will receive no love. But if tall book shelves are your only choice, turn the top shelves into storage for class novels, book club books, bins of supplies, etc. Whatever you find, make sure they are secure and don’t present a safety hazard.
Bins or No Bins?
When it comes to organizing your books, of course you want it to look nice. If it looks nice, it’s going to draw student interest, which is the goal! But keep your library organization and decor functional.
To bin or not to bin? If you teach K-3, bins all day! They are easy for students to grab off the shelf and flip through. You can get your bins at Dollar Tree or Big Lots for less than $1-3 a piece. I bought mine from Bed, Bath, and Beyond my first year and spent $6 per bin. <cringe> Don’t do that. Get the dollar bins, and spend your hard earned money elsewhere! The dollar store bins are made of a flimsy plastic, so if you overstuff them, the books will tip out when students pull the bin off the shelf. Again, functionality is key, so get extra bins instead of overstuffing.
Once you’re teaching a grade level that requires more chapter books than picture books, skip the bins and put your books directly on the shelves with the spine face out. Older students prefer to read the titles and choose. They don’t spend time combing through bins. (I’ve done a mix of both – trust me!)
Organizing Your Classroom Library Books
It’s time to put the books on the shelves! But wait – how should you organize them?
Categories – When I taught younger grades (K-3), I sorted my books by categories like Junie B. Jones, Dr. Seuss, Bernstein Bears, Little Critter, Sports, Animals, and so on. I’d recommend sorting the majority of your books by topics. Then, if you have large sets of books by a specific author or in a series, you can have separate bins for those. Younger students are still exploring and experimenting as readers. The topics will appeal to them more than specific authors or genres.
Genres – If you teach 4th grade and up, I recommend sorting by genre. Students are starting to develop their identities as a reader and need to be able to find their preferred books more easily. Sorting your classroom library by genre will also help you pinpoint weaknesses in your collection. My sixth graders love graphic novels. When I sorted by genres, I realized I had 8 graphic novels. No wonder they always needed to go to the library! I also realized I had 12 thrillers. This was another large group of students whose preferences I was not meeting.
Alphabetically – My teaching partner has a classroom library that’s far more substantive than mine. She sorts her books alphabetically by author’s last name so she and her students can easily find specific books. I don’t see any problem with sorting your library alphabetically.
Whichever method you choose – make sure it works for you and your students. Pay attention to student habits and trends and adjust your systems accordingly.
Labeling Your Books
Your students love your library. They love the books. They are reading like the little bookworms you always imagined they would be and your heart is full of pride and joy. Then two weeks in, your library is a disaster. The bins are overflowing. There are piles of books where there shouldn’t be piles of books. Nothing is in order, and you want to cry.
If this sounds familiar, you know the importance of what I am about to say. If you’ve never experienced this, then whatever you do, don’t skip this final step when organizing your classroom library.
For students to put the books back the way you want them, you need to make it as easy as possible. Yes, you should absolutely practice routines and procedures until students can do it with their eyes closed. But when Teagan isn’t sure whether Hit and Run is a thriller or a mystery, she’s going to guess. And when Trevor places NFL’s Greatest Hits in the sports bin instead of the nonfiction bin and this happens over and over and over again, you end up with a disorganized mess and a weekend spent reorganizing it again.
So what’s a teacher to do? Label each book with the category or genre that it belongs to. Make sure the label you place on the book matches the label on the bin. If you don’t have bins, make sure the label on the book matches the label on the sign for that section.
What kind of labels should you use? Something easy and effortless! You can use round circles stickers like these on the top of each spine or at the top right of each cover. If 15 colors isn’t enough, you can add a shape to the circle like diamonds, hearts, squares, etc. Yellow diamonds = graphic novels, red squares = sports, etc. Just make sure you put the same label on the bin as what is on the book.
If you have older students, I highly recommend genre stickers like the ones below. I had a teachers aide apply them to all of my books and place a strip of clear contact paper over the sticker so it would really stick. This makes reshelving the books a breeze for kids!
I hope you found this post helpful as you’re thinking about how you’ll best set up your classroom library this fall.
Up next: managing your classroom library. I’ll share tips and ideas for piquing student interests, creating a checkout system, and more. See you soon.