Classroom Library: Getting Started

To view previous posts in this series, see below.

Classroom Library Part 1: Supplies

Now that you’ve got all your supplies collected, take a look around your classroom. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when you’re thinking about what your classroom library will look like. That doesn’t mean you need to agonize and ponder endlessly over ideas, but it does mean you want to be intentional with the decisions you make. Some points to think over:

How old are your kids? The kindergarteners in Mrs. Terry’s class wouldn’t have a chance if they wanted to pick out books from the bookshelves in my classroom. And my kids probably wouldn’t give the books on Mrs. Terry’s lowest shelf a second glance. The physical size of your students will impact their browsing patterns. I’ve actually found that books tucked away in a corner get a ton of traffic from my kids because they often like to cuddle themselves up in corners to work independently.

How big are your books? Kindergarten teacher Ms. Nietering uses blue bins from IKEA to store her books, and it has worked out well for her the past few years. If I were to use them on my shelves, there would be a tremendous amount of wasted space. Plus, my kids would have a difficult time seeing the covers of novels. I do have a few blue bins for some of our picture books, but I still prefer the Sterilite Ultra bins I mentioned in the last post.

How much space do you have? Ms. Stock once told me that if she put all her books in buckets, they would overrun her whole room (kind of like in my room, huh? :)). That was probably especially true when she was in our school’s diminutive portable. Her 3rd-5th graders pick their books out from a clearly labeled library nook. She also has the advantage of working with students who are more likely than average to investigate books when only the spines are visible — cover visibility is pretty much the only reason I switched to book buckets.

How big is your budget? If you don’t want to drop a ton on new bookshelves or book buckets, look in your school’s or your district’s surplus collection. Servicable book bins can be found at dollar stores or in the dollar section at Target. I can’t remember the last time Miss Turner bought a bookshelf, but she still has plenty of space to store her classroom library. Our school has a tradition of putting any unwanted furniture in the hallway at the end of the school year, so it’s always nice to go hallway-shopping for a new shelf or two.

How many books do you have? How many do you want? When I started my classroom library, I began with more generalized buckets — Mysteries, Silly Stories, Animals. Then, as I added more books and the buckets became full, I created more series-specific buckets. I added a dog books bucket and a dinosaur books bucket, and I replaced the book bucket labels on the backs of my books whenever I made a change.

How involved will your kids be? A few great texts on classroom libraries highly recommend that your students put together their classroom library at the beginning of the year. Several teachers at our school do this, but I’m a bit of a control freak. Whenever I add new books to our classroom library, though, I do always ask students where they think the books should go.

Next up, Filling the Shelves.

Many thanks to my talented, book-loving colleagues for allowing me to photograph their classroom libraries.


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