The Goodwill on Dearborn Street. Whenever I was feeling stressed as a first year teacher on my way home, I’d take the Dearborn exit and snap up a few dozen books. I was often feeling stressed during that first year. Oops.
Today, we have nearly 3,000 books in our classroom library. But the only way we were able to get to that number and retain our nicest books was to have a manageable, effective organization system.
Our classroom is embarrassingly cluttered. But our books are always readily accessible. Many teachers have insisted they couldn’t possibly set up a library like ours because I must have spent an inordinate amount of time setting it up. I disagree. It has taken me a while to get our library to where it is today, but that’s largely due to the number of books we have, not due to the process. To get started, you’ll want to invest in these essentials BEFORE you begin.
TRUST ME. I tried setting up our library without these, and I wound up completely redoing the library a year later.
1. Library pockets. Demco is probably the most familiar library supplies company, but the pockets at Kapco are cheaper.
2. Index cards. You can also cut up construction paper if your school has that in greater quantity. Construction paper has the added bonus of giving you the option to color code your books.
3. PERMANENT mailing seals. These are necessary if you’re storing your books in bins. If you don’t get ones that specify permanent, you will be putting new stickers on every two months. This is not an exaggeration. I was originally irritated that the seals I link to have perforation down the center, but in four years that has not seemed to impact their performance.
4. Book shelves. Pick shelves that aren’t too deep (wasted space), aren’t too tall (unless you have older students or need book storage for yourself), and aren’t too expensive. That said, if you find sturdy bookshelves for cheap on Craigslist, get them right away. This year, when a 2nd grader was leaning against one of our pressboard bookshelves, it toppled over on our AmeriCorps volunteer. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
5. Plastic book bins. Plastic so you can wash them with disinfecting wipes. I’ve found that the size of book bins is critical to helping my students take responsibility for keeping our library organized. If our books don’t fit into the bins, it’s much more tempting to just shove them in any which way. I have hundreds of the Sterilite Ultra containers. The Small size is perfect for novels, and the regular size is great for picture books. They’re not as deep as other plastic bins, so they fit better on inexpensive bookshelves, and they’re a little wider than other plastic bins, so graphic novels and other wider chapter books fit in nicely.
6. A check-out book. Most teachers I know use a 3-ring binder, but you can also use a pocket chart or a notebook. I prefer a small format 3-ring binder because it takes up less space on top of our bookcases.
7. A cataloging system. This isn’t necessary, but I find it helpful to have a list of all the books in our library. I use LibraryThing, but you can also use Shelfari or GoodReads, or just make an Excel spreadsheet.
8. A pencil, a pen, and a permanent marker. I’ll explain why you need one of each in our next installment, Getting Started.
More to come!