Books, books, books, everywhere you look: Celebration and Slice of Life #19

Books, books, books, everywhere you look

My classroom is a library. You can’t miss this from the moment you step in the door. There are books everywhere. One child observed the other day, “No matter where I am sitting, I can see books.” This is intentional. I want our classroom to be a place where students immerse themselves in stories, in information, in any text that is going to enrich their learning and their thinking.

If you are a student in our classroom, you are a part of our reading community and you really know what all of these books mean. These books are yours. You have complete access. Everywhere you look, you see possibilities, opportunities, stories you love and stories you want to love. “It’s pretty easy to be a reader in this room,” a student told me recently. Yes. The books are here. The time to read them is made. The excitement is consistent. But it doesn’t happen by pure osmosis. We work on being readers. And sometimes the work is hard. But we become readers, surrounded by books.

I read Pernille Ripp‘s recent post about classroom libraries this morning: On the Need for Classroom Libraries for All Ages. She makes excellent points about the difference a classroom library makes for her Grade 7 students. It made me want to celebrate my classroom library because I believe pretty passionately in its existence. But some of the comments also compelled me to want to address how vital classroom libraries are – not in place of a school library, but as a complement. I wish, really, that the conversation wasn’t necessary but I know from comments I have heard over the years that some people believe that classroom libraries aren’t overly important. Or that they actually interfere or compete with a school library. The arguments include statements like these: classroom libraries are not all that well stocked, the books aren’t selected by a qualified Teacher Librarian, teachers don’t know how to weed, there isn’t enough diversity. Or the big concern: classroom libraries will mean less interest in the school library making school libraries unnecessary.

Books, books, books, everywhere you look

I would argue that the very people who have extensive, well-loved classroom libraries, are the very people who know there are never enough books and never enough expertise. We are the champions of well-funded school libraries. We revere our Teacher Librarians and seek out their recommendations and knowledge often, We ensure that our students get frequent time in the school library. We take out bins and bins of books and bring them into our classroom collections. We can’t imagine a school without a library. Just like we can’t imagine a classroom without a library. Just like we can’t imagine a reader without a book.

Classroom libraries mean each child is steps away from a book at all times. These libraries mean that we can get up when our mood switches – put down our novel and pick up a book of poems. We can immerse ourselves in a nonfiction text and come up for air five minutes before the bell rings to read a picture book. We can pass the book to the child next to us without any signing in, signing out time spent.

Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature. They reflect the interests, the questions and the passions of the readers in the room. Highlighted books will include favourite authors or illustrators, themes of study, books to inspire writing on a particular theme. In my classroom, we have a recently read shelf for both fiction and nonfiction books. If we read it, they can find it and quick. Often children want to visit those stories we have shared together again and again. A classroom library is an extension of its readers. It is their mirror. The bright shiny button on their favourite jacket. The delicious cookie in the jar almost, but not quite, out of reach.

There is an intimacy to a classroom. As teachers, we know our students. If we also know our books and have plenty to choose from, we can make those essential matches happen. My daughter wisely pointed out: “The teacher who owns the books knows you and so they know which book to recommend to you.” Of course, librarians know students too. Often very well. But remember this is not an argument for one library over the other. We are celebrating readers and access to books here.

I also think that those not in full support of classroom libraries, may not understand how workshop classrooms work. They may assume that reading happens during a silent reading block and then again in a reading period where the teacher supplies the material – a novel, an article, a reader. During silent reading, it is assumed, that students can easily be reading a book that they have taken out from a school library. During the reading lesson, students will be provided with reading material. While yes, this might be the case in some classrooms, it is not the way a Reading Workshop classroom works. During reading conferences, we leap up and make book recommendations, we help students select titles, we provide time to “book shop” in the collection. Peers recommend books to each other. We book talk titles and students make lists of what to read in the future. There is time to buddy read. There is permission to get up and abandon a book. All of this means books need to be available and organized – accessible in the moment for readers on an important reading journey.

This is hardly the first time I have talked about classroom libraries and it is unlikely to be the last. My classroom library is always changing because it needs to meet the needs of the students who use it. I keep writing about it and reading avidly all the while, because I want to offer my students the very best literacy experiences I can provide.

Today, I celebrate classroom libraries. I celebrate teachers who invest time, money and love into creating reading environments for the readers in their rooms. I know these teachers know books, know kids and keep reading and learning so that they can always learn more.  I celebrate those that invest in classroom libraries because they know how important that one book might be for that one child and that means many books for the many children who will pass through a room. I also celebrate the children who have classrooms that honour them as readers. Classroom libraries mean something. Something big.

If you, like me, are in the mood to celebrate classroom libraries, I include links to some of these other posts here.

Talking Classroom Libraries

How to Organize a Classroom Library: 20 points to consider

My Classroom Library: Beyond the books, ten important features

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A room full of nonfiction

Literary Nest Building 101


Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

This is also a celebration post.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


47 thoughts on “Books, books, books, everywhere you look: Celebration and Slice of Life #19

  1. Best celebration ever! I love subbing in Room 104 (my old room) because my rug, my colorful bins, and most of my book collection stayed there when I retired. It’s like visiting an old friend.

  2. Oh! Oh! Thank you for this. In the last twelve months, inspired by Pernille as well as Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, my classroom library has grown from one shelf to some 650 books. I started building it up last year, but then was lucky enough to be changed from ELA to specifically Reading Intervention this year, and I have even more time and money into it. I find I’m almost reluctant to apply for reimbursement, because if I don’t stay at my school, I want to take my library with me.

    We 100% need both classroom and school libraries. Coincidentally, our school library got a grant this year to add to the collection for the first time in a long time (other than in dribs and drabs) and our library aid asked me to help put together the order list. Such an exciting privilege. And I love having such a personal familiarity with our latest additions, so I can recommend them to students even if I don’t a copy in the room.

    I’m in my 19th year of teaching, and I am more exciting about my classroom library than I’ve been about anything in a long time!

    • I am thrilled to hear this! And also not surprised that you were asked to help with the order list. Your passion and knowledge is so helpful for all of the students who need a well stocked school library.

  3. Your passion for your library is evident throughout this piece! It is a beautiful celebration….and definitely well deserved. I see so many classrooms that have books on shelves and it makes me sad. You can’t call it a classroom library, because it is truly just books on shelves. There is no investment, no passion, no knowledge on the part of the teacher. Then, we have school libraries, but do not have teacher librarians. We did a few years ago & I hear we are going to again, but they are only at the school some of the time, so it is hard. My heart aches for those students because they are not having the joy of experiencing books like the students in your class clearly are!

    • It is so sad that schools run without a dedicated Teacher Librarian. Our libraries should be the heart of the school. I also agree with you that books on a shelf does not a library make. I spend hours and hours (really days and days and days) every summer in my library and work all year to add and make changes according to student interests and needs.

  4. I think classroom libraries are a must! I’m known for mine in our school. I am best friends with our librarian and we rely on each other to lead children to books. Our goal is mutual – we want our children to have books in their hands and LOVE reading. We work together to reach this goal. We are NOT competitors.

    • So well said Janie! Not competitors! My Teacher Librarian and I are very good friends and we also work together on many literacy initiatives. It is a relationship I treasure!

  5. I agree with every single thing you say here. Both libraries are important. My students love the school library more because they know which books they want to look for when my library does not have enough copies or is missing a book in a series because it disappeared. I think the work that we can do in workshop makes both types of libraries vitally important.

    • I can’t imagine our school without our school library, just like I can’t imagine my classroom without an expansive library. Avid readers will scour the shelves of both!

  6. A classroom library should be celebrated daily. You have created an amazing space for your students to grow as readers, but also as people. Books at one’s fingertips are essential.

  7. I love everything about this post! My classroom library is something I’m very proud of! The other day a student asked how I made the classroom library and why other classes don’t have one like this. This started a conversation about reading and books. Powerful!! Thank you!

  8. Carrie, the line that resonates with me is “Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature.” This makes me want to let my office library transform itself into a creature that brings me what I want to read when I want to read it.

  9. Yes! When I moved this year to my new school, I was very proud of my classroom library. I know it will be a point of conversation this next school year, but I am ready, and know how critical this piece is to our classroom. Thank you for this encouragement and reminder.

  10. I always loved that moment when a new student would come into my room and say, “Wow! Is this a classroom or a library?” Yes! Year after year, my students told me that what most helped them become a reader was the classroom library and the way I used it throughout class to support their reading. For me, the intimacy piece is huge. A classroom library is curated especially for the individuals in the classroom. My classroom library reflects the interests and needs of the people using it much more specifically and personally than a school library ever could. I confess, I’m a little perplexed that this even needs to be a conversation: of COURSE we need school libraries and of COURSE we need classroom libraries. And as the kind of reader and book collector who would choose books over food (at least until I got really hungry), I know for sure that there can’t EVER be enough books to go around!

    • It seems silly that this does need to be a conversation yet, , , But absolutely – there can never even be enough, we always need to be providing more and thankfully there are so many talented authors and illustrators who keep providing us with beautiful, important books.

  11. Oh, what would we do without the classroom library? Yes, it is a living and breathing thing! It is by far the most important part of our classrooms and can become an addiction in itself with all of our rearranging and revising! But, it brings such joy. . . and heartache. You have caused me to think not only about the joys of my classroom library, but also, the pains. I think I need to write about this. Thank you for the inspiration, Carrie!

  12. I LOVE everything about this post. I have been known as that book crazy teacher for years and my class library reflects it. Sadly I have known a teacher librarian or two who did not get that class libraries need to be awesome and that this does not take away from school libraries. Your paragraph about workshop classrooms makes this really clear (and is good for me to consider if this *discussion* ever comes up. Book love!

    • When I have heard that argument, it does always seem like there is a lack of understanding of how reading instruction and practice plays out in the classroom. I am glad this point helps Erika.

  13. YES! YES! YES! When I enter a classroom, the first thing I notice is the classroom library or lack of one. You are so right: “Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature.” A classroom library emits a kind of learning energy. On a personal note, my husband tells friends that I buy books instead of shoes.

  14. Every classroom at my school had their own library, and we have a marvelous librarian and library too. How we all love books, just as you’ve written so eloquently, Carrie, it takes both. And our students also borrow from other classrooms when they need a book not available in their own room. Love this especially: “I would argue that the very people who have extensive, well-loved classroom libraries, are the very people who know there are never enough books and never enough expertise.” Exactly!

  15. You said it all – just as our libraries say it all to our students. Thank you for the beautiful post and the resources. We plan to share this widely!

  16. Being neither a teacher nor a teacher-librarian, I’m curious – where does the money come from to buy books for a classroom library? Do you have a classroom book buying budget, or do you have to buy the books yourself? I can see why people might be concerned if there isn’t enough money for every class to have a substantial classroom library, because it might mean that some kids in the school have access to a better collections than other kids.

    • I could write an entire post just to answer your questions so I will attempt to be succinct. First, typically there is NOT a book buying budget – funds may happen your way for a variety of reasons: an earmarked donation, funds from the PAC, a classroom budget that you use to purchase books, parent gifts of bookstore gift cards. At least in BC public schools, that’s the answer. So, yes there is a lot of spending of one’s own money. Over time that adds up to a lot of money. And so yes, not every classroom has a substantial classroom library. To say none of us should for equity’s sake is in my opinion pulling things down to the lowest common denominator – where I don’t like to go. There are many issues here around funding education in general that we could talk about. There is also the reality that if some teachers were given money to spend on a classroom library, they wouldn’t know where to begin. Some teachers, not all. I choose to have a classroom library – to fund it and to welcome donations to fund it because I believe it is essential. I also choose to know books and actually read children’s literature because I believe that it is also essential. And, I truly love the titles I read. I know you too love children’s literature and imagine your might do the same if you were a classroom teacher with empty bookshelves 🙂

      • Sigh….Wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers were given a budget to buy books for their classroom, and have training and support on building a classroom library available if they wanted it? So frustrating. So many dedicated teachers are forced to spend their own money just to make sure their students get the support and resources they need to succeed. While all children benefit from being surrounded by books, it’s particularly important for children who may not be regularly have books available at home. The more opportunities children have to interact with book the better – whether it’s in the classroom, in the school library, at the public library or at home! 🙂

  17. I don’t know what I’d do without my classroom library. It’s vital to my room. I love the lines…Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature. They reflect the interests, the questions and the passions of the readers in the room. YES!!

  18. I agree! I really enjoyed the thoughtfulness in the argument you’ve prepared here in favor of classroom libraries. I love that my students are in arm’s reach of a book.

  19. I have a part of my room devoted to my library. But, your post has inspired me to spread out more and put the books everywhere! I, like you, love, love, love books. Teaching first and second grade means I have a large variety of books. I try to get the kids excited by putting some away and taking some out so they are fresh. But, I wonder how much I am trying to control how and when they find those books and if they need more access! I can’t wait to redo my library! Thanks for the inspiration to keep changing it and giving it a front row seat in my classroom.

  20. Classroom libraries need to be celebrated for sure. I can remember not too long ago another teacher telling me I had too many books! I couldn’t believe that!

  21. Thank you for your continued posts on classroom libraries! They are sooooo important! May I quote you on my blog? I love the part where you say, “We can’t imagine a school w/o a library…classroom…reader w/o a book.” Fantastic!

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