English teachers dream of classroom libraries that transform reluctant readers into lifelong bookworms. Libraries that nourish the soul and the imagination from September to June year after year.
Building and organizing a classroom library, though, is no easy task. Do you label by category or difficulty level? Do you use bins or not? Is it better to assign a student librarian or do it yourself?
And what about budget? We’d all love the library of our dreams, no expense spared. But few teachers have bottomless pockets.
Below you’ll find a simple, straightforward approach to how to organize a classroom library on a budget.
Classroom Library Labels
Every classroom library needs labels. How many and what kind will depend on the teacher and the classroom.
Types of library labels:
- Alphabetical by Author Last Name
- Subject & Genre
- Fiction vs Non-Fiction
- Classroom Specific Categories (Read Aloud, Mentor Texts, etc.)
You can divide and subdivide endlessly to suit your needs. For our purposes here, though, we’re going to recommend classroom library labels that nearly every teacher will find useful: colored book spines.
Colored book spines work well for organizing by author name, although they can be adapted for a host of categories. These labels are cheap and easy to use thanks to educator Molly Maloy.
Classroom Library Categories
- Action Adventure
- Alternate History
- Award Winners
- Black Lives Matter
- Buddy Reads
- Fairy Tales
- Folk Tales
- Graphic Novel
- Historical Fiction
- Literary Fiction
- Realistic Fiction
- Science Fiction
- True Crime
Classroom Library Dividers
Even with colored book spines, classroom library dividers can help guide students to the section they want quickly and easily. There are plenty of fancy, colorful, more expensive options online, but since we’re on a budget, we recommend purchasing standard card stock and designing dividers yourself.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it?
If, like us, your artistic skills leave something to be desired, have no fear. Sign up for a Canva account.
Canva offers an impressive array of graphic design options for everything from posters to bookmarks to book covers. Their software is incredibly easy to use, even for someone who doesn’t have an artistic bone in their body.
Plus, you can signup to road test their software for two weeks for free.
Classroom Library Ideas:
Bins or No Bins?
Classroom library bins are all the rage. They look cool. They simplify organization. They make it easy for students. What’s not to love?
But all those bins can be expensive. If you’ve fiddled away an hour online searching for “cheap book bins” or “cheap wire baskets”, you know what we’re talking about.
It’s also fair to ask: are bins the best choice for my students?
After all, no public library is organized with bins. No college library either. Instead of helping students, are all these bins actually hindering them by not preparing them for the real world?
Bins have other drawbacks too. They make it easy to ignore critical information, like the name of the author. Let loose in a public library, many students suddenly struggle to recall who wrote the books they previously found in a bin labeled only: Mystery A – F.
Books at the bottom and back of bins often go ignored. This leaves many excellent stories untouched and unread.
Still, maybe bins are your thing. They do have a lot going for them. But if the expense of all those bins is simply too much, no worries. There are sound pedagogical reasons not to use them.
On a tight budget, we found $2 book bins. Ten bins will let you yank a few choice selections from the stacks.
Classroom Library Checkout System
Keeping track of the books coming and going from your classroom library can be a real chore. What you need is a library checkout system that is simple, efficient, and puts the least amount of burden on your students.
We recommend Booksource, which offers teachers completely free software for managing your classroom library. There’s time and energy invested upfront to log your books into the system, but the payoff is significant.
Students can quickly and easily check books in and out. Booksource tracks every book and every student, allowing you to manage your library, discover gaps in your stacks, and better understand your students’ reading history.
Students can find books by typing in the titles or authors and selecting the right book. Or you can get fancy and hookup a barcode scanner barcode scanner (although you’ll still need to enter some books manually, as certain publishers print books with barcodes).
Cost: Free / $25 Barcode Scanner
Classroom Library Rules Poster
Every classroom library has rules for how to check books in and out, how long books can be held, how to treat books in the library, etc. Creating a Library Rules Poster is an easy way for students to reference those rules whenever needed.
You can pay for nifty rules posters online, but chances are you’ll want to make your own. That way your rules reflect your specific classroom library.
You can make a poster by hand, or you can check out the options on Canva. As mentioned above, you can get a two-week free trial. There are hundreds of poster templates to choose from, or you can start with a blank sheet and do it all yourself.
What We Created
We have basically no artistic or graphic design abilities. Even our stick figures are hideous. But in under an hour, we created the nine posters you see here using Canva’s poster templates. It’s that simple.
Total Cost for Labels, Bins, Checkout & Posters: $63.50
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Nifty Classroom Library Ideas
Grand Opening (and Re-Opening)
Nothing builds anticipation quite like being told you can’t do something just yet.
Build excitement with your students by roping off your classroom library at the start of the year (or semester/quarter). Put up a sign declaring a Grand Opening of your library.
A Grand Opening allows you to single out your classroom library as something special and worthy of extra attention. You can turn the usual dull and boring explanation of the library rules and procedures into an exciting event.
Top off your Grand Opening with contests, prizes, snacks and more, and your students will look at books and reading in a whole new way.
Bookstores and libraries across the country have embraced Staff Picks as a way of engaging readers. You can do the same in your classroom by having students write their own recommendations on card stock and displaying their selections in your library.
Not only does this provide guidance for students looking for their next read, it also creates buy-in for every kid in the room by communicating that their opinion matters.
You can go one further by displaying the actual books students recommend in their own bin or on their own shelf.