This is not a comprehensive “how to” list because it has been my experience that when people begin with, “I need to work on my classroom library . . . ” they have, at the most, a twenty minute attention span before they can’t absorb any more. There is a lot to consider and time to process is necessary.
*I am often asked to share a photo of my classroom library. The thing is . . . my classroom is a library. Where is the library within the classroom? Where is the classroom within the library? Who knows? Throughout this post, I will share various photos from my classroom library. Will I capture every part? Probably not.
Thinking classroom libraries? Have 20 minutes? 20 points to consider
#1 Read the books in your classroom library for pleasure, just like you want your students to read them. Appreciate the illustrations. Giggle. Reread amazing lines. Fall in love with the stories. Don’t just read with lessons and themes in mind.
#2 If you haven’t read the books or you don’t know about the books (familiar with the author, series, have read detailed reviews, etc.) you won’t be able to talk about the books. Unless your students are familiar with particular titles already, they won’t read them. They need your blessing, your expertise and eventually, your guidance in cultivating their own ability to be each other’s reading community.
#3 Book talk, book talk, book talk. And then book talk some more. Read an excerpt. Rave. Show a book trailer. Have students or guests share what they love.
#4 Organize your library like you love it (and don’t you?). All of those special books need special places to be.
#5 Weed your collection. If it’s old and falling apart, it needs to go. If it is never read and you wouldn’t want to read it, pass it on. If it is well loved, falling apart and still circulating, try and replace it.
#6 Reflect your readers. Their interaction and use of the books is what makes it a functioning library. It can be beautiful. It can be organized. If nobody is reading the books, none of that matters. This year, I will have a younger group so I spent some time moving some titles more suited to intermediate readers into temporary storage bins. If I notice that my new readers are crazy for a particular genre, author or series, I will try and add more of those titles into our collection. The library is not fixed, it’s fluid.
#7 Give a library orientation. Make sure your students know how to find the books they are looking for. They won’t know by osmosis. Bring out the bins, do mini tours, give them time to explore and then lots of time to read what they find.
#8 Systems matter. The labels, the bins, how to put books back, how to borrow books (if they go home) how long you can have one particular book, etc. All of it matters so everyone has access and the library runs smoothly. A few of my “tricks”: stickers on the back that correspond to stickers on the bins, lots of review with how to use the system and a “chapter book return” and “picture book return” bin in case the students don’t remember where to put the books. There is no one way to do it. Figure out what works for you and your readers.
#9 Match bins (if you use bins) for a visually less busy look. Some people have all uniform size and colour for bins. Others have one kind for picture books and another for novels. I ended up with numerous bins – some with multiple sections that are quite expensive so I don’t want to toss them all out and start new. In my library, colour is connected to genre. Red is fiction (picture books). Yellow is for buddy reading and beginning titles. Blue is for series. Green is for comics and graphics. Clear is nonfiction. There is no reason for this other than it worked for the books and the bins I had.
#10 The importance of outward display can never, ever, be over stated. The covers can be seen? Those books will be read more often. Guaranteed. If possible, have multiple book shelves where you can display the covers. Ledges, mounted rain gutters, tops of white boards – all of these things work too!
#11 Keep track of what books in a series you have. When you are in the bookstore and there is a sale, you will not remember if it is Baby Mouse #14 or #15 that you still need. You really won’t. I have a little notebook where I keep lists of titles I have and titles I need and throw that notebook in my bag whenever I go book shopping.
#12 Sometimes when a reader finds a series, it is meant to be. While they are hooked, make sure they can find what they are looking for. Keep series together where they can easily be accessed.
#13 Students don’t have to have access to all the books all the time. It’s okay to have a read aloud collection. Just don’t store those books and forget about them. Share them. Keep them circulating.
#14 Know books – not just the books in your collection, but the books that could be a part of it in the future. Keep current! Read blogs that book lovers keep. The #IMWAYR and #nfpb2015 community (follow those twitter hashtags) will keep you in the know. The Nerdy Book club blog (you are following this blog right?) also has a list of blogs on its site.
#15 Add to your collection. Everyone loves new books! It is always exciting to share them. New titles bring renewed life to your library. Unveil them and bring them in with some kind of ceremony and lots of gushing and students will be rushing to read them.
#16 A classroom library requires ongoing upkeep. It’s like a garden. You can’t plant it and expect it to flourish all on its own. It will take time both during the year and possibly on some school breaks to keep things running smoothly and to make necessary changes.
#17 Spend the time being reflective and thinking about organization – as your library grows, you want to still be able to lay hands on a title you are looking for. If your organizational systems makes sense (to you) this will always be possible.
#18 A library is an investment. It takes time. It takes money. If it takes less money (outright spending), it will take more time (sourcing titles, dealing with donations, writing wish lists, visiting garage sales, etc.) There is no way around this.
#19 You will never be done. Creating a classroom library is a labour of love. Enjoy it. Tinker. Fiddle. Sit in the middle of the floor and read a book. Make new favourites. Revisit old favourites. Move things around. Watch your readers to see what’s working. Get back in there and change some things again.
#20 Whenever you feel a little bit of book shopping guilt, think about the number of readers who will love each title. Each book, really, is priceless.
There are some things I didn’t touch on here that I often get asked so let’s make it 25 things 🙂
- 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.
- Yes, I do spend a lot of my own money. When I can, I access donations, gifts, books passed on. Sometimes, I am blessed to receive books for my room from a variety of generous people. There can never be too many books and I do my best to pass on books to other classroom or school libraries when I can. But I believe in very big ways in having a room full of books for students to access and I don’t ever regret investing in making this happen for the children I teach.
- Yes, I do make changes to my classroom library every summer. Sometimes, minor, sometimes more extreme. I do have it all figured out for about five minutes every year and then I get some new ideas or learn something new and . . .
- No, there is no perfect book purchasing list out there for you. It does exist, but you have to make it and realize that it will change over time to reflect your readers and their interests.
- Yes, I would love to hear from you! Anything to add? Your own helpful hints? Please share in the comments so that we can continue the conversation.
You may also enjoy:
My Classroom Library: Beyond the books, ten important features
Celebration: Talking Classroom Libraries
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A room full of nonfiction
Literary Nest Building 101