Classroom Library Organization Ideas

The classroom library plays an important role. This page will explain how to organize a classroom library. As a veteran teacher, I have experimented with setting up and organizing my books in many ways before finding the best way to organize them. Read on to see how I set up my classroom library in a way that truly works!

When I think back to my first “library”, I have to laugh. If I didn’t laugh, I would cry. It was nothing more than a milk crate with some books the teacher I took over for left behind. I was young. It was my first job. I had just relocated from Boston to sunny Florida and could barely afford Ramen Noodles for dinner, much less books to stock a classroom library. Instead, I checked out TONS of books from the public library each and every week. I have such vivid images of driving around every Saturday morning with a stack of books several feet high on the passenger seat of my 2 seater Miata convertible.
But you know what?

My kids devoured those books. Mondays were super exciting because they knew there would be new books available and that they would need to take advantage of them quickly because they would soon be returned to and re-shelved at the Winter Park Public Library.

Over the years, my library grew and grew and GREW. It grew to thousands of titles. There were books for all levels and books for all seasons. That was the good news. The bad news was that it meant I had thousands of books to organize and manage.

And as much as I love me a good organizational project, it became daunting. I spent many a summer day sorting, leveling, categorizing, and labeling. Then school would start and I would need to teach my elaborate system to my new friends as part of our procedures and routines. But, I noticed that while I had a very full, well-organized library, it wasn’t being used to it’s full potential.

This post explains how a veteran teacher finally figured our how to organize her classroom in a way that made it easy for her students to use and manage.

Why Some Classroom Libraries Don't Work

It’s kind of like that saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I had some friends who would spend FOR.EV.ER browsing through my library. They were spending more time “shopping” for books than reading books. I struggled with how to help those kids and took some time to think about the problem and brainstorm some solutions. That’s when I thought back to my first year of teaching, and my sad little library. I realized that the ironic thing was that those students were actually more excited about reading and read more books than my more recent students because they had less to choose from and new books were spotlighted often.

I had the answer I needed! While I didn’t purge my library back to a single milk crate, I did make some changes that changed everything for the better. Suddenly, my classroom library was easier than ever to manage. Students spent less time thumbing through shelves of books. They were excited about the books that were offered. Most importantly...they were READING more! Here’s what I did:

How to Set Up a Classroom Library

  • I scaled back the number of books available at any one time.
  • I broke my library up into different sections (picture books, non-fiction, chapter books, and temporary books) and stored them in separate areas of the classroom. Instead of one oversized library, I offered mini-libraries around the room. This made it possible for several students to look for new books without feeling crammed in too tight which decreased off task behaviors, lowered the noise level, and prevented behavior problems proactively.
  • I regularly used the games and activities in a Teaching Students About Genre Resource I had created to have my students regularly help me sort new books that were brought into the classroom. This provided real world practice of the skills and helped them navigate the library easier throughout the year.
  • I stopped leveling the books that were accessible to the students to pick on their own. The real world does not group book by reading levels, so it was important to me that I create an environment that would prepare them for selecting books at the library and book stores. I did keep my own personal leveled library in my guided reading area and had the students select from the appropriate baskets after our reading conferences, but they only had access to those books as part of my balanced literacy program for their “just right book bags.” I feel strongly that students should be regularly reading books at the level that will help them grow and progress as readers, but that they also need ample opportunities to pick books for pleasure, based on interest, and that are both above and below their reading levels as well.
  • I developed ways to showcase new books so that my students had a list of desired books they knew they wanted to read and weren’t wasting time sifting through my collection. I did this in a few ways. Whenever a new box of books from our class book order arrived, I would gather everyone together in our class meeting space and make a production out of unboxing the books one at a time. I also continued to regularly check books out of the town library that I would bring to school in a canvas bag. There was always great excitement when they noticed I had a full canvas bag next to my desk in the morning. I always kept these books standing up along our back shelf with the cover facing out.
  • I rotated books throughout the year. Books were constantly changed out to reflect seasonal interests and units of study. Keeping things new and fresh made my friends want to get their hands on the literature before it was gone.

Why does this library set-up work so well?

I loved these changes because they increased the students’ interest in books and reading, decreased the amount of time spent sifting through bin after bin of books, and made it much easier to keep the classroom organized and student-run.

Having the library spread out to other parts of the room was a great change for me. While I encourage you to try doing the same, my recommendation is not to break down your existing library today, but rather to start small and experiment with moving a section of books to a new area in the classroom and find the systems that work best for you.
This post explains how a veteran teacher finally figured our how to organize her classroom in a way that made it easy for her students to use and manage.

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