At the start of the school year, teachers around the country are busy setting up their classrooms. Often, that includes figuring out what they need for a classroom library. But creating or updating a classroom library can be a time-consuming and expensive task.
The Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project advocates for classroom libraries to make books easily accessible to students. Although they shouldn’t take the place of regular visits to the school library, classroom libraries are a great way to offer students additional access to books.
Classroom libraries are not just for elementary or language arts classrooms. When students finish a math test early or can’t fully participate in planned PE activities, they can reach for a book. Teachers want to have books on hand that are high-quality titles students actually want to read, but that can be a challenge.
Below are some ideas on how you can be sure your classroom has a good supply of books.
- Consult with your teacher-librarian. He or she can help select titles for a range of reading levels. You can check the books out for a few weeks at a time, allowing you to have a classroom library without spending any money on it at all. If your school has a well-stocked library, the librarian may even be able to include several titles related to your curriculum.
- Consult with a public librarian. Many schools don’t have a credentialed teacher-librarian, but the librarian at your local library should be able to recommend good titles to check out (or purchase).
- Library book sales. These sales are a great place to pick up a lot of books (sometimes by the bagful) for students at very little cost. Many libraries have sales several times a year.
- Online booksellers and distributors such as Better World Books and First Book. Better World Books sells used books and donates a portion of its profits to literacy projects. First Book offers free and discounted books to educators at schools with a significant population of low-income students.
- A book drive. Ask students to bring in books they've finished reading to add to the classroom library. Or partner with another teacher (maybe a class with older students) to bring in their used books. Students donating books can write reviews on sticky notes and put them on the inside covers to promote the title to students browsing for a good read.
- Know your students. You don’t want stacks of books that kids aren’t interested in reading. Two-dollar bargain biographies of John Denver aren’t likely to fly off the shelf. Along with enlisting students and librarians to suggest books for your class library, there are plenty of online resources you can use to find titles that interest kids at the reading levels you need. Your students might even be interested in more controversial texts, like those which have appeared on the banned books list for one reason or another.
- Nominees for your state’s book awards are a good resource. And don’t forget to look at award lists for other states, too. Most states have their own book awards and many are nominated and voted on by kids. In California, for example, the California Young Reader Medal offers three nominees each year in picture book, middle grade, junior high, and YA/high school categories. Only students are allowed to vote for the winners. The CYRM site lists past nominees and winners, making it a great resource to find quality titles that are likely to be popular with kids in your class. It also offers teaching resources to help promote the books.
- Nominees from your state for the previous year and the upcoming school year would be great additions to a classroom library and are likely to become dog-eared with many readings.
- Check out what the Project LIT Community is reading. You may be inspired to start your own book club.
Keeping Track of Your Classroom Library
Once you have your classroom library established and updated, you'll want to find a way to keep track of the books. Whether you're borrowing a rotating set of books from the school library, have a set of free books, or have titles you purchased with classroom funds (or, let’s face it, money out of your own pocket), books have a tendency to disappear without a system in place to track them.
There are plenty of simple, quick, paper-and-pencil ways to keep track. You can set up a notebook and pen by the class library where students write down their name and the title of the book, or trade an index card or post-it note with the student’s name for the book on the shelf.
No system is perfect, however. On the rare occasions that books disappear from our library, we try to remember that a student wanted it badly enough to take it. I like to assume it has been read over and over again.