The classroom library is one of the key parts of the classroom. As Debbie Diller would advise, this should be one of the main focal points in your room and something your kids see as soon as they walk through the door. Yes! Unless it’s a mess. Let’s talk about how to organize an elementary classroom library.
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The classroom library should be full of books of all levels, races, genres, languages, and abilities. If you want a good resource for finding diverse book recommendations for your elementary classroom library, look no further than Vera @diversereads.
In addition to a diverse library, you need an ORGANIZED library. An organized classroom library makes it easy for the students to access, pleasing to the eye, and ultimately- it entices your little readers to devour books on books on books!
Filling a Classroom Library
Before you can create a warm and cozy library environment, you need some books. Half Price Books is always my first recommendation when it comes to filling up that classroom library. They will give BOXES of books to teachers.
They gave me four boxes of books in my first year of teaching. I had to weed through them and pick out the ones I wanted, but it was way better than buying. I also got almost the entire Harry Potter series FO FREE!
Garage Sales and online sale groups are also a good place to snag up a bunch of books for a cheap price. Know of any teachers leaving or retiring? No one should hoard hundreds of books in their garage for the sake of “just in case” (cause that’s not very organized, ya know ;). Take those books off their hands!
The first thing to do when you get your big collection of books is to organize them out into sections. You can start general with fiction and non-fiction to get a sense of which topics you have in your pile.
As a new teacher, taking the time to do this helped me to get familiar with my books, how to organize them, and what know what books I already had for future read alouds.
As a teacher who has been teaching for a few years and already has that under her belt, I think allowing your students to organize the classroom library is a really good experience for them!
How to Organize an Elementary Classroom Library
You can choose to organize your library in a few different ways. Probably the most popular is by topic. You can also organize books by levels. I have even see teachers screw the boxes and bins (save money!) and setup their library like a real library.
Organize by Topic
This is how I organized my classroom library. When looking through my books I separated them into topics.
In my classroom I had two big bookshelves and one smaller. You can see in the picture below the two big bookshelves. These held all my picture books.
One set of shelves held fiction books and the other held non-fiction. Then, within each of those bookshelves, I had smaller categories like animals, jobs, history, etc.
The third bookshelf held my chapter books and I organized these by author last name.
Organize by Level
There is also an argument for organizing your classroom library by leveled books. This takes a bit more setup time because you have to actually look and see what level each book is.
All through my years of teaching, I had people encouraging me to do this so I could ensure students were getting books on their level.
It didn’t sit well with me, so instead I decided to handle that issue by allowing students to pick 3 books from the classroom library. The other books in their book bag were books from our guided reading time- those were leveled.
Organize by Dewey Decimal System
If you want to get really fancy, you can organize your classroom library by the Dewey Decimal System. Or, at least by author name.
I recommend this for the older kiddos or chapter books, as pictured above.
Maintaining Classroom Library Organization
No matter how hard you work to create an effective way to turn in books, organize books, keep them in the right category, it won’t be kid-proof. It is inevitable that you will find a non-fiction book about lions in the poetry section.
I have tried different methods of keeping books organized:
- giving students clips with their number on it to clip onto the bin they take a book out of
- scanning books into an online system to check books in and out
- I have teacher friends who have tried using the colored dots to put on the back of books that all go in one section
- Other teachers have tried putting those little book check out things inside the front cover of the book (ya know, the ones that used to be in library books a long time ago before I was even really checking out books at a library).
Really I think it’s all a waste of time. At the end of the day, the kids are going to put the books back wherever their little hearts desire. That’s why involving them in the organization process is so beneficial.
The best way I found to keep the classroom library organized is through utilizing classroom jobs. One of my classroom jobs is the “Librarian.” His or her job at the end of each day is to check the library to ensure that it looks nice and clean as well as skim through the bins and fix any books that are not put back correctly.
How to Create a Welcoming Classroom Library
As I mentioned at the beginning, the classroom library needs to be a focal point and a place the kids WANT to come to! I do this by making it visually appealing to the eye.
When I walk into teachers classrooms and see books thrown in boxes, different colored/sized boxes, it is overwhelming and uninviting. I recommend using baskets or bins that are the same color(s) and same general size.
I talk about baskets and bins a lot on the blog. When it comes to baskets or bins that are going inside cabinets, I say forget about the cohesiveness…it doesn’t matter.
But, when it comes to organizing materials that are out for all to see, I think it’s worth the money to buy baskets or bins that match. Here are a few I recommend.
In years past I have created a “library nook” in my room, which I LOVED!
It took up too much space and Debbie Diller’s voice is always ringing in my ear “everything up against a wall.” I definitely agree with her on that point.
Once I moved my library up against the wall, I felt my room really open up. However, if you are going to have items in your class protrude out from the wall, I think the library is the one place you can do it.
I love the way this teacher set up her library. It looks and feels like a mini school library with “featured books” sitting up top and the cozy little nook with a carpet in the middle.
The classroom library is often one of the most favored parts of a classroom, so spend some time getting it organized and setup in a way that you and your kids enjoy.
You can learn more classroom organization tips and tricks in the Classrooms that Spark Joy Virtual Training where I teach you the 6 things you need to create an organized classroom.
Until next time,