Challenge #2: Make sure your classroom library is in tiptop shape, well-stocked, well-organized, accessible, and appealing. Then make a plan for how you will introduce the library to your students in the early days of school, gradually inviting them to explore particular baskets, shelves, or sections.
“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” -Henry Ward Beecher
How Does This Help Grow A Community of Readers?
Want to cultivate a true community of readers? It all starts with books. And that means giving the book collection center stage in your classroom.
Classroom libraries aren’t just a fad or fun idea. A great deal of research provides proof that they make a difference in the lives of young readers. Students in classrooms with well-designed libraries interact more with books, spend more time reading, demonstrate more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement (NAEP, 2005). Also, access to an abundance of books within the classroom results in increased motivation and increased reading achievement (Kelley, M. & Clausen-Grace, N., 2010; Worthy & Roser, 2010; Guthrie, 2008; Routman, 2003).
The basics for classroom library organization are simple. Collect lots of great books. Organize them in meaningful categories, find an appealing and accessible space to display them, and help your students think about and try different ways to find what they are looking for.
Whether your classroom library is a humble little bookcase with two or three shelves to start, or has been built from enormous resources over the course of many years, all classroom libraries need continual care and nurturing. So, before your classroom library is back in business this fall, take some time to give those beloved books some love and attention.
Below, we’ve included a wide array of ideas and links for organizing and maintaining a classroom library.
Ideas to Get Started
- Make sure your classroom library is located in a place where it is easily accessible. Changing the location of the library once the school year has started can be truly challenging, but in the summer time, your classroom is a bit of a clean slate. So if you haven’t been in love with the location of your library in the past, now is the time to make the move.
- Organizing books in baskets (by genre, topic, author, series, etc.) with labels that describe the contents not only make finding books easier for students, but also save on wear and tear since books aren’t being shoved back into shelves. If you don’t have baskets and are on a tight budget, Dollar Tree has a $1.00 basket that can be a great starting point. They won’t hold up forever, but they will definitely get you started.
- If you have a more dollars to spend, we recommend sturdier baskets from Really Good Stuff or Target.
- Even if you’re not moving the library, you might need to allow yourself to tear things apart and make a bit of a mess before putting them back in order. What seemed like a logical system of organization and labeling at one time can quickly change as your collection evolves.
- Consider allowing your students to make labels for baskets as you introduce them. We know some teachers who encourage students to adopt a basket of books for the year. This means they label, advertise, organize, and periodically check the basket for books that have been placed there by accident.
- We also recommend leaving a couple baskets empty with signs on them that read something like, “What kind of book basket would you like to see in the library?” or “What’s missing from our library?” By doing this, you will engage your students in the creation of library baskets, which will help foster ownership and care of the library. The library will not be only yours to take care of and maintain, but it will be an ongoing community project.
- Maintain a wish list of titles you’d like to add to your classroom library (Amazon makes creating a wish list simple!). Post it on your classroom website, in your weekly newsletter, or simply share your Amazon link with those who may be interested in donating to your classroom.
Questions to Consider
- What about location? Is my classroom library easily accessible? How many students can comfortably browse at a time? Are the books easily in reach?
- Is the library appealing? Is it well lit? What fun touches might add a little charm? A rug? A lamp? A few floor pillows? Rather than going out and buying these items, we suggest asking friends, family, or community businesses for items to donate. You’d be amazed with what people would love to just give away!
- How are the books organized? Are there some categories that have grown to the point of being able to be split?
- What supports will you provide to help your readers find what they’re looking for and return books to the right location? Labeled baskets? Labeled shelves? Stickers, symbols or other markings on books that correlate with their basket or shelf?
- How might you engage students in helping to care for the library?
- What categories have seemed most popular in the past? What can be learned from that?
- What is the ratio of nonfiction to fiction?
- Within nonfiction and fiction, are different genres represented: for example, historical fiction, realistic fiction, prose, etc.?
- What favorite authors might be highlighted?
- What series are featured?
- What is missing? Although you may not know who will be in your class, do you have an idea of who is missing from your library? Do you think your students will see themselves in the books you have on the shelves? If not, these missing books should be a priority. All students have the right to see themselves in the literature we promote in school.
NCTE Position Statement on Classroom Libraries
Simple Starts Appendix A – A free download from Kari’s book Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom from Heinemann.
Creating a Classroom Library from Reading Rockets
Gradual Release of the Library Choice Literacy article from Bitsy Parks
15 Free or Cheap Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library from We Are Teachers
Five Major Functions of a Class Library from Scholastic
Ten Tips from Laura Robb: Classroom Libraries and Access to Books
How to Organize a Classroom Library, 20 Points to Consider from Carrie Gelson
Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Series from Carrie Gelson:
We’d love to hear from you. What are you going to try differently this year in your classroom library? How will you start to make this challenge come to life? We’d love to hear your ideas over on our Facebook group. Come and join us!
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