Building and Maintaining a Successful Classroom Library

Study after study has proven what we as educators know, the more contact children have with books, the better readers they become. Is this the only factor that affects comprehension? Of course not, but providing our students with a well-stocked, organized, and accessible classroom library should definitely be a priority in our classrooms.

With that being said, it is much easier said than done. After talking to many teachers and seeing what they need, here are a few tips to help you get started!

It is extremely important to have a wide variety of books, and to constantly be updating our classroom libraries with relevant literature. But books are expensive.

Top places/ideas for purchasing books cheaper:

  • This website offers used books in good condition, for a fraction of the cost. My only hesitation with this site at times is that the authors don't receive the full royalties, but it is a great way to get relevant books cheap.
  • Amazon used books:  If you search for a book on Amazon, there is almost always a used option, and many of them still offer free shipping! I have had very good luck with the quality of these books
  • Scholastic Points: I don't have parents that routinely order from Scholastic, but when they do I am happy to use the points for books in our classroom! Also, if there is a deal of the month (like last April it was Hello Universe!! ) I stock up on copies for my library. 
  • Scholastic Warehouse Sale: These aren't offered everywhere, but a few times a year Scholastic opens up their warehouse and discounts books. And, there is usually a BOGO sale, too! This is a great time to stock up on new books.
  • Half-Price Books: This is a great place to shop regularly for reasonably priced books, but did you also know you can get books here for FREE?! Half-Price books offers a BOX of free books to teachers each year. To apply contact your closes Half-Price Books here to see if they participate. Ask for and fill out a book request form (half sheet). Turn in your form and let the employee know the grade range of your students. Get excited and thank them profusely when they bring them your 1, 2, and sometimes 3 boxes of free books! The Brown Bag Teacher introduced this to me a few years ago and I am forever thankful!
  • Library Book Sales: Our public library has friends of the library sales multiple times a year. This requires focus and time from me to peruse the books closely, but I always walk away with good quality literature for incredibly cheap.
  • Prime Book Box: This is a new subscription that I've really enjoyed so far. For $22.99/month you get either 4 board books or 2 hardcover picture books or chapter books. They are divided up into age group categories, and you can choose to have them shipped monthly, every 2 months, 3 months, etc. The books are newly released or best sellers! 
  • Ask for donations: This is probably my least favorite thing to do, so I completely understand if you're not comfortable with this, but it never hurts to ask. I've had parents, family, friends, etc. ask what I want for my classroom or for Christmas gifts, and I always respond with books. I have a wishlist on Amazon I refer them to. I always write in the book who purchased it for our classroom and the year, and I absolutely love it when a future student sees it and asks about the student/friend/family member (story) behind the book.

Books should be windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. If you've never read the article about this by Dr. Bishop, I highly suggest reading it now. Every student should find a book in your classroom library that they see themselves in. Actually, not just one book, many books. And not just their personality, but how they look, feel, their culture; they should be able to find characters or real people like them.

Now this is something that as an educator I am constantly learning more about. So I am always open to more suggestions on how to make my library more inclusive. Here are the steps I have taken to help my students find themselves in books in our classroom:
  • I started with what I had: I actually worked with my students to look at books we already had in our library with characters from diverse backgrounds. I looked at each and thought about the type of diversity they represented, and made lists of holes in lack of representation.
  • I Involved my students: I asked my students what they felt was lacking in our library. Many suggestions focused on ethnicity and culture, but also other themes such as Standing up for Yourself, Families (including books about different types of family situations), Girls in Power, and others.
  • I Seek out knowledge from others: I constantly check these sights to learn more about books I need in my classroom:
      • We Need Diverse Books: an organization that recommends books that reflect the lives of all young people
      • Project LIT: encourages students to have book clubs and gives ideas for diverse books to read
      • Lee and Low Blog: Examines race and diversity within children lit and has a lot of valuable posts to learn from
      • We Are Kid Lit: Publishes a great summer reading list each year
      • Also, I follow these amazing teachers (and more) on Instagram for book suggestions: Vera from @thetututeacher, LaNesha from @apron_education, Katie from @queenof1stjungle, and Juan from @teaching3rdwithmrg
  • I do my best to book shop and share intentionally: I don't have a set frequency or amount that I book shop for, but when I am seeking out new books for my library, I always check the above resources, first. I make a conscious point of purchasing inclusive books with characters or real people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, families, and cultures each time I make a book purchase. I don't have a set "ratio" for this, but if I am placing a book order, I always make sure to include books from these resources. *Many times I am purchasing books because of one suggested in the resources above. This includes books for my library and for read aloud. I book talk and read aloud inclusive books frequently in my classroom. (I also remember that even my best efforts and intentions every day are not enough, and I am constantly trying to do better!)

In addition to making sure you have a wide-range of diversity in your books, also make sure to be balancing your fiction and nonfiction. This is something I am constantly working towards, because my library tends to be heavier in fiction. I make it a goal each time I book shop to search for nonfiction books first.  As I get to know my students, I keep a list in my desk of their interests (for example horses, sharks, motor cross, etc.) and then I look for nonfiction books that are age-appropriate on these topics to add to our library!

I could go on, and on, and on about organizing classroom libraries. But instead, I am going to try and narrow it down to the ones I feel are the most important, and what I got asked the most questions about!
  • Color-code your fiction and non-fiction. This might seem simple and not important, but it has been crucial to helping my readers find books and genres that they like quicker and easier. In my current library, all of my fiction books are in black bins, and all of my nonfiction books are in white bins. (Previously I had blue and green for fiction/nonfiction)

  • LABEL your books. This does not have to be a complicated system. I highly suggest choosing a simple symbol/color/picture/ etc. for each sub-genre and putting that on each book AND the corresponding bin. This keeps our classroom library so much more organized because students can look at the picture and match it to the bin. I use a combination of these amazing labels from Lady Bug Teacher Files and labels from my Black and White with Pops of Bright set. 

  • Really think through your sub-genres. Here is a list of many of the current ones in my classroom (and as I stated before, we add more as myself or my students see the need)
    • Fiction: Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Families, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery, Strong Female Characters, Humorous, Graphic Novels, Traditional Literature, Poetry, Scary Stories, Sports
    • Nonfiction: Informational Text, History, Government, Animals, Weather, Biography/Autobiography, Engineering, Travel/Geography, Video Games, Weird! But True

  • Have specific bins for popular series and authors. By separating these out, I have found it is much easier to keep track of each, especially when they have to be read in a certain order. I can help a reader much more efficiently when they are all together. Here are some of the current series/author bins I have in my classroom:
    • Series: Serafina, Tomorrow Girls, Great Illustrated Classics, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Narnia, The Shadow Children, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Percy Jackson, Wings of Fire, The Babysitters Club, I Survived, Amulet, 39 Clues, Gregor the Overlander, Magic Tree House, Big Nate
    • Authors:  Margaret Peterson Haddix, Gary Paulsen, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds

  • Establish a simple check in/check out routine, but don't sweat the small stuff. This took me years to finally figure out, but I love the way our library system works now. I got the idea from Sandy from Soaring: Teaching & Tech Ideas. She has a post all about it here that explains it in full detail.  Basically, I create a google form with basic fields: Student Name, Book Title, Date, and a Check in or Check Out button. I share the link to the form with my students at the beginning of the year, and I also turn it into a QR code and post it around our classroom. When students want to check out or return a book, they pull up the form and fill it out. Simple as that!  I don't check the spreadsheet constantly, but it does allow me a way of seeing what students have checked out so I can find books easily. Also, it holds them accountable. *I "hire" two classroom librarians for each class at the beginning of the year, and they keep this job all year long. I share the rights to the Google Form with them so they can also keep track of check in/check out. They are also responsible for keeping the library organized, and putting away any books in the To Be Filed bin. I choose very responsible and organized students for this job! 
  • I encourage my students to take books home. It means they are reading. If I lose a book here or there, oh well, it is the price I am more than willing to pay for passionate readers!
  • Students can check out 1-2 books at a time. I don't allow them more than this because their bags get too heavy, and they tend to not focus on finishing a book. 
  • I weed out old books monthly. I also ask my librarians to bring me books that they see are old or outdated (this doesn't mean I'm throwing out classics like Where the Red Fern Grows or Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry). But it does mean that I get rid of books with biases such as The Indian in the Cupboard. I try to do a quick sweep through my library once a month to get rid of books that clutter our selections, and I do a big sweep at the end of each school year.
  • All of my bins are the picture book or chapter book bins from Really Good Stuff. These bins are INCREDIBLE. I love how they keep my books separated, hold so many books, and are SO sturdy. Chapter Book Library Bins With Dividers - 12-Pack Rainbow
  • I keep Read Alouds in a separate place. I have a cabinet behind my desk that houses all of our picture book read aloud, and bins on my shelves with novel studies. I have display book shelves on the windowsill where I display our weekly read aloud or related titles separately than in our classroom library. Students can still "check out" from here, but they don't use the computer system. They just have to return them at the end of each class time to the display shelf.

I hope I have answered all of your questions and helped you in some way with your classroom library! If you want to pin this post for future reference you can use the image below! :)


  1. Thanks for sharing. Needed some motivation to move back into using genre categories. :)

  2. Great tips. Thank you!

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  4. I love the picture books you use! I taught 6th grade LA, math , science and 6-8 grade health for 14 years before switching to lower elementary 3 years ago. I am always looking for picture books to enhance my curriculum. I love your picture book units. I don't suppose you have a list of your books? I got your week one books but lost the link for the rest! :( Thanks!

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