Setting Up, Organizing, and Utilizing a Classroom Library

What’s Here

Classroom libraries are such an important resource! On this page, you’ll learn how to obtain inexpensive books for children, organize them, level them, create book labels, and organize them in book bins. You’ll also find resources to help you introduce your class library to students and teach kids how to care for and utilize the books.

Cornerstone Cross-Reference

Self-selected reading guidelines are covered in-depth in The Cornerstone book and eBook: you’ll learn what students should be doing and how to teach them your procedures, as well as how to assess progress through reading conferences. You’ll also find tips for using individual book boxes, keeping meaningful reading logs, and more!

Ch. 7: Maintaining a Class Library
*How to choose books that kids will want to read (and how to obtain them on the cheap)
*Quick and inexpensive ways to categorize, level, and arrange your books into baskets or bins
*How to spend just ten minutes setting up a self-running book checkout system
*Solutions for the great debate: should you allow students to take books home?
*5 simple lessons that teach your students to care for and maintain your classroom library
*Creative ways to give kids ownership over the class library

Ch. 20: Managing Small Group Instruction
*Organizing your area and materials: photos and tips for setting up your reading group location
*Deciding on the number of groups and materials for each
*What to do with the kids who don’t fit in any group
*Flexible reading groups: how to manage your routines while pulling only the kids who need to work on a particular skill
*How to select your small group components and create a workable rotation schedule with limited time
*Is self-selected reading a waste of time? What the research says, and how you can apply it to your reading procedures
*Self-selected reading guidelines: what students should be doing and how to teach them your procedures, how to assess progress through reading conferences, using individual book boxes, keeping meaningful reading logs, and more!

Class Library FAQs

How can I create a functional display for my books?

My classroom library was fabulous in the days before fire marshal starting cracking down. How many violations can you spot in this photo?  Couch, carpet, rug, curtains, lamps…these days are long gone.  Sigh.

When you’re setting up a classroom library, consider having books displayed in other ways than just spine out. These early-childhood-style shelves are great for displaying lots of books with the covers facing out, and can be used for author displays, student book picks, etc. I nabbed this shelf one year when a kindergarten teacher retired.

Several years later, I used this type of shelf to feature different types of books. Each row has a category: Student of the week’s picks, Mrs. Watson’s picks (books I want the kids to read that they might not choose otherwise), social studies connection, science connection, and genre of the week (other books of the same genre we are reading in our anthology for whole class reading instruction).  Kids can put these in their book boxes like any other book in the class library.  Each book has a color-coded bookmark inside so when the kids are done with them, they know to put them back on the special shelf and not the general collection.  I keep LOTS of extra bookmarks because they do get misplaced, and if a child accidentally puts the book on the regular shelf, I don’t mind, because I change the assortment pretty regularly.

Here’s one way to store menus, brochures, maps, magazines, and other texts that don’t fit easily or attractively on conventional bookshelves.  You can purchase this pocket chart here. There are so many classroom library ideas–be creative with your materials!

Should I level my class library?

It depends. Some researchers believe that a leveling system limits students’ reading possibilities (both real and perceived). Personally, I like to give kids a general idea of the difficulty of books before selecting them, so I have always used a very simple leveling system with color-coded sticky dots. I place green dots on the upper left-hand corner of my easiest books, yellow dots on the ‘medium’ books, and red dots on the most challenging titles. Some experts get even more specific (most notably, Patricia Cunningham, who believes leveling is a critical tool for helping kids choose books). If you agree with this theory, check out this free book leveling resources. Keep in mind that leveling your classroom library will takes a very, very long time, and don’t have to start the year with every book leveled. It’s okay to work on the project slowly.

How do I label and organize my books?

Regardless of whether you level your books, you’ll still want to categorize them. Here are free, colorful, illustrated classroom library labels for your book baskets from various sites: thematic early-childhood labels from Our School Family, thematic labels from Kelly’s Kindergarten, and versatile classroom library book bin labels from Teaching Heart (which are what I used in the photo–I just typed in the genres I wanted and replaced the pics). Book labels for a classroom library can be really simple to make!

How do I keep track of books kids have checked out?

I kept this simple, too. For books they read in class, I did not use a system for tracking book check-out. Books were not allowed to leave my classroom, so I lost very few over the years. For home use, I has a notebook with one page for each child in the class. In the mornings, kids chose a new book and signed it out. I’ve explained this system in detail in my book. You can find another interesting idea for check-out from Share2learn.

How do I teach kids to properly handle books?

Here is an adorable, free printable book from Cherry Carl called Madame Libearian’s Guide to the Care and Handling of Books (it’s a large PDF file and takes awhile to download, but be patient because it’s worth it).  You can also use this creative click-through online stories for kids on caring for books from Richmond Public Schools and a taking care of library books slideshare from William Breitsprecher.

Now What?

Return to the main Literacy page
Get ideas for creating and setting up literacy centers on the Center page
Check out tips for decorating and organizing your room on the Organization page
See how how other teachers set up, decorate, and arrange their rooms on the Classroom Tours page

My Favorite Literacy Management Ideas on Pinterest

Follow Angela Watson’s Teaching Ideas’s board Literacy Classroom Management on Pinterest.


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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laurie P. August 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Hi. Do you still have ‘speedie readies’? Mandy Gregory highly rec0mmends these on her website. Thank you.

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2 Angela Watson August 22, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hi, Laurie! Most of my literacy pages are under construction and not on the site at this time, but I can tell you about them. These were quick reads that students could read before reading groups started (while I was getting the other kids settled in) and after they finished tasks if they were waiting for others to finish something. I used very short books, such as the type that come with most basal reading series, and leveled them so there was one bin to choose from for each reading group. Hope that helps! :)

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3 kennedy T. White November 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

can you send me more information on how to create a school library.

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4 Angela Watson November 30, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hi, Kennedy! I don’t have any experience in this area, but if you email me (angelawatson [at] live [dot] com) and share specific questions you have about school libraries, I’ll try to help. :-)

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5 EdH September 17, 2011 at 11:12 am

I am not a teacher, but I like to use sites like these for Scouting (Den Leader for 13 years for all three of our boys). Do you allow (or encourage or maybe discourage) parents providing books not on your lists? We have a lot of books for younger children (hundreds?), and I want to make sure it would be appropiate to bring there. If not, we have an excellent Children’s Hospital nearby. Thx!

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6 Angela Watson September 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I think most teachers would be thrilled to receive books for their classroom library! I encourage you to bring the books to your boys’ school(s). What a generous donation!

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7 Katy Fox February 27, 2012 at 1:00 am

What is an appropriate number of books for a 2nd gr/ECE classroom? My principal says I have too many and he makes me take them home, much to my dismay and the dismay of my little bookworms.
I have worked very hard to build up my class library and then to be told to get rid of a bunch was heartbreaking.

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8 Angela Watson February 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

Katy, I have to say I have NEVER heard of having “too many books.” I had over a 1,000, for sure, and wish I could have had more. Maybe your principal is concerned that they are not well-organized for the kids and the collection is overwhelming? Are they sorted into bins by genre?

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9 Katy Fox February 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I am working on the sorting…have bins for various genres..poetry, award winners, feelings, class favorites, my favorites, jokes, historical fiction etc. I have a small bookshelf devoted to nonfiction which is being sorted even further. I am having the students help organize and color code. I want them to take ownership and have a sense of pride about our books. Every year I try to weed out damaged books. I have the leftover furniture as I am new to the school, so the shelving is not ideal but I am trying to make it work. I was also told I spend too much time on literacy… I think we just do not value the same things. Last year I taught a one/two combination class so I did spend a lot of time on literacy. This year I teach 2nd grade only. I still spend a lot of time on literacy. Maybe even more time as I now have 32 students as opposed to 25. I just try to smile and do what he says.

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10 Faustina F. Buenavista March 23, 2012 at 1:37 am

Hi Teacher Angela,

I am Teacher Tina from the Philippines. I am a librarian and at the same time a teacher. I fortunately came up to open your blog about the classroom library and I got some tips from it on how to arrange our school library to be more appealing to our students here at Light of the World Christian Academy of Makati, Philippines.

Thank you. Hope we can have time to chat . Can I add you as friend on my facebook account?

God bless.

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11 macam November 1, 2012 at 7:28 am

I am teacher and i got so much information for setting the classroom library so thank you very much

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12 Angela Watson November 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

You’re welcome!

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13 Elvis August 19, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hi,
This is great. I love it.
Elvis

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