Setting Up Your Classroom Library

Aside from your main meeting area, your classroom library is one of the most important sections of your room.  One reason, of course, is that it will take up a substantial space…one that will grow over time.  But more than that, the way your classroom library is set up is an opportunity to send the message “we are a community of readers who value books”  to all who enter your class. But, it can also be confusing. Read on to learn what to do!

Where to begin-placement:

After your meeting area is set up, take a step back–maybe even go all the way to your classroom door.  When you look inside your room, envision where your books might go.  Ask yourself:

  • Where can I place my library so that anyone walking in immediately sees that in this class, we are readers?
  • Where will there be enough space for my book shelves?
  • How can I ensure that the shelves are secure and won’t wobble or fall?
  • Do I have enough shelving to display my books AND to allow easy student access?

After that, try some different placements until you can confidently answer each of the above questions.  Low shelving units can be used to create a visual border around your meeting space.  Consider using two shelves, back to back, for added stability. 

Consider traffic flow.  All too often, the classroom library is shoved into the furthest, smallest corner of the room, but kids have to weave through an obstacle course of tables and chairs to get there.  

Then when they’re in there, it’s crowded–which leads almost immediately to misbehavior.  Allow ample space for everything, and think about how kids will be using that space all year.  Spreading your shelving units out might be a better way to go.  

Display Options

This is a huge consideration.  Think about going into a wonderful local book store, or a huge one like Barnes and Noble.  Notice that you will naturally gravitate toward books that are facing out, on display.  They almost audibly beckon to you “pick me!”  Your eyes also naturally go toward all the books that are facing out, so you can easily see the covers.  Most people only give a cursory glance at the rows of books that are tightly packed in, spines out.  This is why there are tables and tables full of books that are fully visible, often with a sign saying things like “staff picks” or “new releases.”  

People naturally gravitate toward those displays.

Your students work the same way.  To create an inviting library that pulls kids in, display your books in similar ways.  My favorite way is to use clear plastic bins, mostly shoe-box size (super cheap!) that can be turned either way. 

I arrange the books in each bin with covers facing out so kids can easily flip through them all.  The front of each bin is also clearly labeled so students know exactly what’s in there.  (More on this in another post!)  I like to reserve some space on my shelves; usually the very top, to stand some books up–often, these are read alouds we’ve done, or books that haven’t been read in a while.  Anything on display becomes what’s sought after!  

How many books do I need?

There are varying schools of thought on this, but in general, I like to use Dick Allington’s guidelines–roughly 1,000 books, with a variety of genres, are needed to make a strong classroom library. 

This takes years!  

But before you know it, you’ll be there.  

As you collect books, be choosy.  They must be in great shape, pretty current, relevant, and ones that kids will really want to read.  I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen bins and bins full of old, musty books with covers so outdated they’re older than me in classroom libraries.  That’s OLD!  Just because you were given a set of books from someone does NOT mean you should or have to use them.  It’s ok to say no…or save them for kindling for the fire pit on a lovely fall evening.  

In another post, I share tips on exactly what books to put in your library, as well as the age-old question:  to level or not to level?  

Where to find all those books

For now, check out garage sales, Goodwill, thrift stores, neighborhood Facebook groups, public library sales, places like Half Price Books, and yes–those donations that will inevitably find their way to your classroom.  Just aim for a wide variety, with many types of genres that you think kids will love.  

You can always borrow from your local library (teachers often have a huge limit on checkouts vs the general public), your school library, and your school’s book room.  

Some teachers even swap books for a few months to really increase variety.  This is especially great if, say, you’re a first grade teacher in need of books for early in the year.  You might borrow some bins of books kids were reading in spring of last year from the kindergarten teachers.  This would not only increase the amount of books you have available, but also offers students a variety of familiar stories to confidently start out with.  

After your classroom library is in place, along with your main meeting area, the rest will fall into place easily!  

Want some help analyzing your reading assessments or figuring out how to use all the information?  Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together!   And,  join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!

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Related Posts: Where to Start with Room Set Up: 7 Things to Consider, To Level Or Not to Level?

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