Why do we have books in our classrooms? So that children have books all around them that they want to read. Each and every reader. Lots and lots of books. But as important as the books? The organization and display. Those readers need to be able to find the books they want to read. While you are thinking about the amazing, diverse and relevant titles that should be in your classroom library, don’t neglect the organization piece. That’s what this post is all about.
Note: This is the fourth post in a series. Missed the previous ones?
The most important thing to know here? There is not one magical organization system. What works in my classroom might not work in yours. It won’t match your class environment. Your space. Your books. Or your readers. So my systems are merely suggestions. Don’t get obsessed with tape colours or types of stickers. Instead, think about key things: display, rotation, access, organization, tours, systems.
During the summer, I have time to get to those bins of books that need to be labelled, think about book display and work on other organizational tasks.
First let’s get some important things established.
- I have blogged about classroom libraries before and I stand tallest behind these words:
No, I don’t level the books in my library but yes, I know how to find the right books for the right readers when difficulty level is an issue. Students are readers and they need to feel like there are lots of possibilities, not lots of limits.
This means a few things
- You need to know your books.
- You need to know your readers.
- You need to watch your readers because they will grow and change and develop new interests and new needs.
- Your classroom library needs to grow and change along with your readers and/or have places for your readers to grow into.
- Books need to be organized. So that your students can access them. So that you can find them. Finding a book on a shelf with no systems is about luck and it takes time. Locating a book on a shelf with a system gives readers the gift of more reading time.
- Systems must be taught (more on this below)
- New books need to go through a process before they become part of the library (more on this too below)
- It’s okay to have a classroom collection and a read aloud collection (that you rotate through the classroom collection so students have access)
- Putting systems into place takes time but setting up systems so that everything has a place saves time later!
Some questions I think about that might be helpful for you to ask yourself:
- Are there specific areas of the classroom library for all the different kinds of books (fiction, nonfiction, graphics and comics, picture books, chapter books, other formats like magazines, etc.)?
- Do students know how the classroom library works?
- Can students put books back properly? And if not, what system is in place for this?
- Is there a place in your classroom for new books to be housed before they are labelled, etc.?
- What kinds of display spaces do you have available? Outward display is key! Where is there space for this in the room?
- Can books rotate through display shelves or specific bins?
- Where will students keep books they are reading? What are the systems and guidelines around this?
- Who gets to read the newest acquisitions? How does this work?
- Can students take books home? What kind of expectations does this involve?
Below are my answers to the questions above. I have included these not because these are the “correct” answers but simply to give you some potential ideas or to start your thinking:
- Are there specific areas of the classroom library for all the different kinds of books (fiction, nonfiction, graphics and comics, picture books, chapter books, other formats like magazines, etc.)? I have spread shelves around the classroom so that everywhere you look, there are books! I have a graphic and comics shelf, a nonfiction picture book shelf and a set of shelves for fiction (chapter books and picture books) I also have bins of picture books in 2 other shelf areas of the library. In the photo below (taken in the fall of 2016) you can see that fiction shelves begin at the bottom with picture books and as you go up the shelves, the books typically become longer and more complex. I simply tell students that the books on higher shelves might take longer to read.
- Do students know how the classroom library works? I spend a lot of time in the fall helping orient students to the library. We explore particular bins of books to learn about genre. I book talk a large variety of books and explicitly show students where those titles or others like them “live” on the shelves. We learn that book spines have tape or stickers which correspond to genre and that books are grouped by genre on the shelves. This Browse by Genre idea came from this post by the thoughtful Tricia Ebarvia.
- Can students put books back properly? And if not, what system is in place for this? For those students who struggle with remembering where to return books back on the shelves or for students in a hurry, I have a large bin labelled Book Return and students place books in this bin to be later shelved by keen library helpers or myself. Most students do know where to return books though because of spine or back cover labels. Chapter books have genre labels and stickers on the spine and so books can be placed back with other titles with the same label. Picture books and nonfiction picture books all have back cover stickers that correspond to bin label. With some series, books are housed in a bin with that series labelled on the front. Once this is taught, it is easy for students to navigate.
- Is there a place in your classroom for new books to be housed before they are labelled, etc.? This is important! I have a few clear plastic bins that I place new books in when I acquire them. I try to tackle these new titles every few weeks – even if I have just 10 minutes and get through just a few books. When the bins fill up, that’s a clear message to me to devote an hour or so to getting those new books out into the collection. Each book is labelled before it becomes part of the classroom library system. My name goes on each book – either in the first few pages with a book label or on the back cover with a simple white sticker.
- What kinds of display spaces do you have available? Outward display is key! Where is there space for this in the room? The photo below shows a few options. This was taken during our Mock Caldecott unit and all of the picture books we were considering were displayed on magnetic ledges on the whiteboard. I also have three low display shelves (purchased through Scholastic) which hold our #classroombookaday titles and other picture books I read aloud. Two shelves hold fiction titles and one holds nonfiction titles. I have another wire display shelf on the nonfiction shelf which displays nonfiction titles.
- Can books rotate through display shelves or specific bins? The display shelves above hold books that I read aloud to my students. When they fill up, I return the books to specific bins in the classroom or to my read aloud collection to make room for more. I also have recently book talked books displayed outwardly on the book shelves or in a basket for students to find.
- Where will students keep books they are reading? What are the systems and guidelines around this? My students keep books they are currently reading in their book boxes. We have general guidelines that we shouldn’t have more than 3 novels/graphic novels in the box at a time but our book enthusiasm often means the boxes are stuffed. When this happens, we have a book box clean out and add titles to our “Books I Want to Read” lists and find them later on the shelves. With younger students, I had a guideline that we tried to keep no more than 5 books in the box at a time. I teach students to keep books spine out so that we can find books and not to jam picture books that don’t fit into the boxes.
- Who gets to read the newest acquisitions? How does this work? When I book talk new books, I display them on the ledge of the white board and students who are interested in reading the book add their name to the list. I then make a list adding student names randomly onto a sticky note that is kept on the inside page of the book. Students pass it to the next person on the list when they finish reading the book. Some people do book draws to create even more excitement.
- Can students take books home? What kind of expectations does this involve? I don’t allow students to take books home at the beginning of the year while we are learning to care for books and keep them organized. At this point, I encourage students to take books home from our school library and to visit the public library on a regular basis. Mid way through the fall, I do allow books to go home and simply keep track on a notepad. I do have a few guidelines though. Graphic novels don’t go home because there is too much wear and tear. I ask students to only have one book at a time at home. If students can not be responsible about returning books, we have a conversation. I have a few books that didn’t come back in the last week of school but hopefully I will see those titles in September. Our “loose” system worked just fine. If a few books go missing but students are reading avidly, I am perfectly fine with that.
Key things I have learned
- Scotch tape is your friend. I cover every sticker, label or spine tape with scotch tape to ensure everything stays put!
- Devote teaching time to learning the systems. It will pay off when you witness your students using the library with ease and keeping things organized.
- Always be thinking about new creative ways to display books and to work book talks into your daily schedule. Advertise, bless and love these books!
- Every time you are sure you have it all figured out, you will get a new idea or new inspiration and start thinking about changes . . .
Up next? It’s all ready. Or is it? Reaching out . . . Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 5: Sourcing