Creating and Managing a Classroom Library

The end of my fifth year of teaching is fast approaching (June 12th!) which means it’s time to reflect, relax, and read.  It’s also that time of year when I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get all (or most) of my books back and realize how much more my library has grown.  A week or so ago one of my Twitter followers suggested that I write a post about how I manage my class library which really made the wheels start turning.  My class library has grown SO MUCH since my first year of teaching, to the point that I’ve had to buy more book shelves.  Thinking about this, I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures so I could put this post together.

I want to note that I am by no means some kind of classroom library expert (if there is such a thing), nor do I think my way of doing things is the best.  Through Twitter conversations and other blog posts, I’ve discovered lots of ways that I’d like to improve my library and my system, but for right now my system is alright.


I decided to create a class library when I took my college Young Adult Lit class.  That may have been the first class I decided to keep all of my books and not sell them back!  After that, word got around to my family and friends that I was a Y.A. reading machine, so many of my friends and family bought me books as a graduation present.  I devoured those and then spent a big chunk of my summer job money at the book store buying more books and searching through the shelves at used book stores for more.  I started teaching the fall after I graduated from college, and I’m pretty sure my class library was made up of maybe 35 books.  I was the only one in my department with a class library, so my students weren’t quite sure what it was all about.  They caught on pretty quick though 🙂

My library before my first day of teaching.

Creating Your Library and Spending:

I’ll admit, creating and managing a class library can be expensive.  It’s just something that I’m willing and excited to spend money on.  Not only am I reading and enjoying the books I’m buying, I’m watching them read and enjoyed by my students countless times over.  If you’re just starting out as a teacher, I recommend creating a library budget for yourself so you don’t over do it or get too overwhelmed.  I also strongly recommend checking out Donors Choose and writing up a project proposal for books.  I’ve created at least three different fundraisers for books and all have been fulfilled.  It takes some effort on your part after writing up the project; you’ll want to spread the word to your family and friends, on Facebook, Twitter, at school, etc.  It’s free for you, and all you need to do after your project is fulfilled is have your students write thank you letters, take some pictures to post on your project page, and write a thank you letter as well.  With each project I created, I ended up with 40+ books added to my class library that I didn’t have to pay for.

Another way to add books to your classroom library is to let students know that they can donate their books.  Some of my students hand them over without my prompting because they won’t read them again.  Others like the idea of helping me out and adding to my classroom.  I can’t remember where this idea came from, I think it was Kelly Gallagher, but now when students donate books I add a label to the inside cover with the student’s name and his/her graduation year.  This way students can see who donated the book whenever they read that copy.  It gives students  a piece of ownership in my classroom.

Student donated book label. You can always write this in w/o a label.


My graphic novels shelf

When it comes to organization, I keep it simple.  For the most part, I have my library organized alphabetically by author’s last name.  That changes with series because I order those according to the series order.  Students are always asking me which order the series is in, and which books comes first, so I keep it that way to help them.  Last year I added colored circle stickers with numbers on them so my students know which book is next in the series.  I bought a pack of green, yellow, and pink dot stickers from Target for less than $2.  One thing I keep in mind is to avoid using the same color stickers next to different series to avoid series confusion.  Most of the time students know the difference in series because of author, cover design, etc., but you never know when someone might get confused.  My graphic novels have their own shelf so they’re easier to find.  My non-fiction titles start right before my fiction titles start (author’s last name starting with “A”).  Eventually I’ll have a separate shelf for non-fiction, but I’m not there yet.  I considered organizing my library according to genre, but my students vastly voted against it.  Most of them said that they like randomly picking a book not knowing if it’s the genre they’re used to or looking for.  For example, one of my freshmen girls reads pretty much only contemporary fiction.  She just finished reading Isla and the Boy Next Door, Bittersweet, and Anna and the French Kiss, so she wanted something similar to those.  I handed her The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer because I knew she wouldn’t pick that herself.  It may not have worked for her, but she came back a couple days later raving about it 🙂

Two series w/stickers

Two series stickered and in order by number in series.

Check-out System:

Check-out sheets

This is an area of my class library that I really want to improve, especially now that I have so many books (near 1,000).  For the past few years I’ve had a binder with check-out sheets that require the student’s name, the author, the title, and the check-out and return dates.  Last year many of my students were complaining because they could never find the sheet where they checked out their book.  This year I bought a larger binder and dividers to mark my four classes, plus an additional spot for my students that aren’t in my class anymore.  Each tab is labeled with the hour.  This has been much better for my students; there’s been less confusion and complaining.  I’d love to use an online resource, but I think I’d need a laptop or something in my room because I’d have students in charge of maintaining it.  Right now, though, this is working well enough.  Once a student checks out a book, I initial the spot.  When the book is returned, I check it off and initial it again.  This is a way for me to remember later that the student returned that book.  It’s an easy system that I introduce to my classes at the beginning of every new trimester.  The binder stays in one spot on my class-length bookshelf near my desk.

An important part of my check-out system is keeping my books labeled.  Every time I add a new book to my library, I grab a black Sharpie marker and write my last name across the top of the pages and along the outside of the pages.  The picture I included shows two different books with my name across the top and along the side.  If my books goes missing in school and someone else finds it, they’ll know it’s mine.  I keep a Word doc of all the books I put in my classroom as well.

I always label my books with my last name.

Sometimes though, books go missing.  Most times it’s because a student forgot to check out my book when he/she borrowed it.  When I notice a book’s missing and not checked out, I add it to my list of missing books on the board.  At this time of year I’m a little more serious about keeping up the list in hopes that all of them will be returned.  I’ve even given extra credit when a student finds one of my books or tells her friend that I need her to return it (if she’s finished).  Sometimes I don’t get them all back, and I figure of all things to go missing from my room, I’m glad it’s a book.

“Missing Books” list

Displays & Misc.:

When Borders was closing I took advantage of their sales and bought two of their shelves.  I’m pretty sure that I need to start adding books to those shelves now, but all this year they’ve served as display shelves.  I’ve used them to display newly added books, banned books during Banned Books Week (always a class favorite), student recommendations, and recently I’ve displayed books by genre.  The student rec shelves were popular because one a student would finish a book, I’d ask him/her to pick a colored note card and write a quick blurb about their thoughts.  Then I’d laminate the cards (to avoid bending/tearing), tape it to the shelf, and then place the book there for other students to read.  Even though most of my students didn’t want my entire library organized by genre, many of them often ask for specific types of books (funny, mystery, sports, etc.) which is why I’ve created this display.  So far, it’s been quite popular and has drawn quite a bit of interest, especially since the covers are face out.  I’ve also taped student rec cards with pictures of the covers on top of my shelf so students can choose books that way as well.

Last summer I was perusing the Target dollar aisle and found some cute plastic bottle bins in pink, black, and white (the colors of my classroom).  I bought them to use as additional book displays, which sit on my long bookshelf.  I’ve displayed them by theme, holiday, etc.  I just tape a note card to the outside of the bins so my students know what type of books they’re featuring.

My class library this year, along with plastic bin displays along the top.

If you ever receive or win swag (bookmarks, stickers, buttons), I recommend finding a place for it in your classroom.  I have a wicker basket behind my desk next to one of my shelves full of swag that my students know they can pull from whenever they want or need a bookmark.

Basket of swag!

I hope this is helpful to those who have classroom libraries or plan on creating one!  It’s been a work in progress, and continues to be, but I love my class library.  The books on my shelves and the displays in my room add a sense of warmth to my classroom.  My students don’t like this time of year when I start taking things down because my room ends up looking so bare.

My Library  Today:
*The pictures are a little off. There are four sections of shelves.**


  1. Randi M says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m currently in a Master’s program for a degree in secondary English education (leaning toward middle school), and this will be an AWESOME resource when I finally get into my own classroom! I have a bit of a book-buying problem – my excuse to my husband is always “but I’m building my classroom library!” 😉

  2. I do a lot of the same things you do, although I don’t have as detailed of a check out system. My first year, I just wrote my name on the inside cover of my books, but this year I wrote it on the top too since I noticed I was missing quite a few books. Hopefully the kids will be less likely to keep the books if my name is in black marker on the outside!

    I tend to buy most of mine from garage sales and library sales, but any time I get a free book, like from a convention or something, those always goes straight to my room. Like you said, buying books can be expensive, but it’s something that is important to me, so I don’t mind spending some of my own money. My department usually writes grants to try to buy more books and shelving–hopefully we’ll get one soon!!

    Great post! 🙂

    • I’m glad you mentioned library sales, because I’ve found lots of great books at those as well. I love attending NCTE and ALAN because all of the ARCs and the box of free books from ALAN go straight to my classroom as well. At least the ones I don’t want to read right away! 😉

  3. Thank you so much for this!!! 🙂

  4. Thanks for the great tips! I have a very similar system 🙂 Do you have any recommendatons for keeping paperbacks in decent shape? So many of mine get returned “well loved!”

    • I’m glad you asked about the paperbacks because I meant to include that in my post and forgot. I take my books to the library and they tape the edges and corners with their heavy duty book tape. I’m not sure where they get it from, but I’ve been considering buying some for them since they do this for me so often! For my hardcovers, I laminate the covers and then tape them to the inside book covers to keep them in place.

  5. I am so jealous of your shelves! They are the perfect size to display books on top. This year, I tried baskets a la reading workshop style but I didn’t like it. I am going to divide by author by genre. As for a check out system. I use library cards which I keep in a card box. The kids return them into a crate and I highlight their name on the card and then put the card back in. I like your binder idea, though. I wonder how it would work in my classroom. . . 🙂

    • I’ve seen other teachers using library cards as well, more often in middle school classrooms. Is it easy to keep track of which books are gone and which students have your books?

      • Rochelle says:

        I have used index cards in separate little baskets (by class) for years and it works Great! I teach students (Grade 6) expectations for signing out a class library book (they write the title and date checked out) and put on index card then in basket. Upon return they are responsible for bringing the book, the index card and a pen to me, I cross off and initial the card, and the student may return the book to its proper location. Periodically I review all cards with students to follow up on checkouts and at the end of the year nearly all books are returned or replaced if lost (students take this quite seriously) and the library has gotten a lot of great use

  6. This is such an informative post! I am a new follower (via Stacked) and am eager to dip into the archives!

  7. That is fab. I’m so glad you shared it with us. I’m always looking for better ways to get kids excited about reading. It’s sad that me, the social studies teacher, does a better job than the English. But better than no one.

  8. I have a classroom library for my JH students. I was using the index card system, until I learned about this FREE online system. I used it in since March. The kids love it and it made it very easy to see who has what book, etc. You don’t have to order books from the company. I saw the rep at the state reading conference and got one of their catalogs – they have great lists, especially if you are looking for CCSS lists. Anyway, here is the link. (By the way, I am not associated with them in any way other than I use their online book organizer.)

    • I also use this source…I have an extensive library in my middle school classroom. A few years ago I totaled the books I ‘lost’ and it came to over $250! Last year I started using the classroom organizer and only lost….1 book…!! I highly recommend it! There is an app for your phone. I just scan books in and out while on hall duty! So simple. They send you a weekly list of your ‘overdue’ books and I just print and hang it up.

  9. What a well-developed system! I’m a first-year teacher, and I am incredibly jealous of your library. My library will be my books from my YA lit class and any other books I happen to contribute.
    I have a question for you though–do you have any kind of a parent permission system for your books? I’ve seen some teachers rate the books on a G/PG/PG-13 scale and have parents check off what they’re comfortable with for their children. Do you do anything like that or has that not been an issue?

    • Thank you! My library my first year was primarily from my YA Lit class as well. Before the year started I went to a friends of the library sale to buy more books, plus some of my friends gave me new books as a college graduation present 🙂 You have to start somewhere!

      When it comes to parent permission, I don’t do anything like that. My library is just that–a library. I’m not forcing my students to read any of those books, so I don’t feel the need, especially at the high school level, to get permission from parents for my students to read certain books. I’ll probably never rate my books because that’s completely objective. What I think it considered “PG-13” might be considered “G” to one student or “R” to a parent. Students self-censor and know what they’re comfortable with. I haven’t had any issues with parents being concerned about the books in my library anyway. Most times parents are thanking me because their child is reading! 🙂

    • Hey, Lauren! I’m a second-year teacher at a small private school, and several of our parents often ask me about different books in my library–just to have an idea what the kids are reading. I appreciate this; it means they want to be aware of what’s happening with their students! Only a few have expressed what I’d consider extreme/unreasonable opinions or concerns.

      Anyway, our school library and my classroom library use the same system: any books that may have more mature content are labeled YA, so students must be in 9th grade or older to check them out. Middle school students just need parent permission to check out a YA book.

      I realize that is still a subjective system, and some books that we classify as YA honestly don’t concern me at all (The Giver, for instance). However, the system works well in our school community because most middle school parents trust their kids’ choices and grant permission, anyway. And for the parents who know their kids well and know that they might not be ready for, say, The Hunger Games (as one of my parents said about her 7th grade son), they have the option to be involved in their kids’ choices.

      I know this might not work as well in a bigger school, but like I said, it’s been a pretty good system for ours!

  10. This is an excellent post about your classroom library. I really need to work on my checkout system, as well as displaying books better (along with student recommendations). Thank you for your great ideas.

  11. I just re-read this post, and I come away from it knowing I need to label the series books in my classroom library. I’ve had that on my to-do list for over a year. I also want to take advantage of my new classroom space to create some displays like you described. Thanks for the great ideas! 🙂

  12. Michele Cooper says:

    I was so glad to read your post via Pinterest. I have been teaching 20 years and used to have a small classroom library, that I haven’t used since I moved schools. This has been an inspiration to start again. Thank you.

  13. Hi!

    First of all – this will be my fourth year attending NCTE (I did ALAN for two years as well) and I have amassed a HUGE classroom library. I am a floating teacher, so they are taking up space in my apartment until I have my own classroom (hopefully soon). Love the blog post!

    Do you ever have issues with parents / administration wanting to know about the content of your books? I teach at a fairly conservative Christian school and I’m not quite sure how to approach the idea of a classroom library when the time comes, as far as the content of the books go. I’ve read a lot of the books but not all of them. I’m just not sure if I should include books in my classroom library that I have not read before or can vouch for. How would you approach this?

  14. Thanks for your insight! I teach grades nine through twelve so my library is growing. Great organizing tips! I also post a list of what I’m reading in my classroom and share my books with the kids regularly. Especially like the donation label idea.
    I’m trying the card system this semester for sign out. Classroom and sign out sheets were hard to manage with ninety five students. One of my parents suggested using clear shelf liner to wrap some of the more “loved” books to keep them in good condition. Works well. Happy reading!

  15. If you’re a first-year English teacher, many of your friends and family members will want to help out or congratulate you on your new position. Create an Amazon Wish List of books to fill your in-class lending library, and publish on facebook. You’ll be amazed at how many books you receive in the mail.
    What I learned my first year of teaching – do not wait until the final weeks of school to track down books that are checked out from your class shelves, start reminding students to turn them in well before the final days of the school year.

  16. I received a $3000 grant last year to create a classroom library (my idea of heaven!) Since many of my students struggle to choose books, I intentionally chose books by collections. For example, I have a collections of books by various authors, such as Sarah Dessen and Gordon Korman. I also have collections on subjects–dogs, sports, military, adventure–and by genre-sci fi, fantasy, etc. In addition to putting my name on them as you do, I gave each collection a number. For example, every book in my Civil War collection is labeled with a 6. Then I number each book in the collection: 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, etc. This helps me maintain a master list, know exactly which book is missing, keep them organized on the shelf, keep the size of my collections balanced, and-most importantly-help my students move from one book they liked to another. Another thing that has worked well for me is having 2 “librarians” in each class. Students check out the books on notecards (they are colored according to class and numbered alphabetically for easy filing.) They put only the book’s number (6-1), the title, and the date they check it out. To return a book, they must give it to one of their librarians, who initials it has been returned and also puts it back on our shelves. Thanks for your tips–I hope these help others!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      Wow! That’s quite the system! I’ll have to try the librarians for each class; I like that idea 🙂 I think it’s cool the way you organized your collections.

  17. Tina Hawthorne says:

    I have been growing a classroom library for over 8 years, and have lost many books over that time. I use the Classroom Organizer app, so towards the end of the year I print a final “books owed” list. If a student has lost a book, I simply ask that it be replaced by any other new or gently used book. This way my library keeps growing, but there are no harsh penalties for unreturned books.

    I know in some cases the student just loved the book and wanted to keep it or loved that he had a brand new book of his “own” (maybe for the first time), and I never want to deny a student the chance to be thrilled by a great book.

    Also, I love the shelf organization. My library is similar, and I believe the students respond more to the cover, so I always try to face many covers out. I often rearrange which titles face out, if I feel that some books are being “neglected”. Haha

  18. This is a great source. My classroom library is something I am extremely proud to have built. Just as a reference, I use intelliscanner to keep track of my books. You scan each book and it creates a website with your library for students to look up books and do searches. There’s a built in check in and out system and super easy to keep track of books and replacement costs. The scanner was my best investment EVER! !!

  19. Bookbuddy is a great app I use to check out and check in books for my library

  20. I found your blog on Pinterest! This was such a good read! I am in my seventh year of teaching and have been trying to build my classroom library for the past two years. I have only had a room for the past three years. I love your ideas! I will definitely be using these in my classroom this year! Love your display ideas!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      Thanks so much! I’m glad this post was helpful. I’d love to see how your library turns out or any displays you put together 🙂

  21. Thanks for sharing! I am a first year teacher for SPED in high school and I really want a classroom library. I think I need a very wide reading level range for my class. What kind of range does your library have? And have you read every single book in your library so you know the content of them all?

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I have a wide range of books in my classroom. I don’t arrange my books by reading level though. I have middle grade novels like Hatchet included, as well as a section of picture books for my students to read. I like reading the picture books to them as well 🙂 For a long time I read every book before I added it to my library so I knew the content and which student in my class might want to read it. That’s become quite harder to do now, so I when I do include a book I haven’t read, I will often ask a trusted student to read it for me and let me know his/her opinion. I strongly recommend reading as many of the books as you can though! You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where a parent or administrator is upset about a book you have in your room and you haven’t read it to support it. Since you’re just starting your library, this should be a great time to read prior to adding.

  22. Sherri Silva says:

    I was wondering what teachers do when then get married/divorced! Name is on the books, but then you get married/divorced and now your name is different. Any ideas on how to avoid this dilemma? I love the idea of writing my name on the books, have been thinking of how to id them. Used a totally different system when I taught 4th/3rd grade, a labeling just like a real library. This won’t work with Junior High, they are more prone to walk off…so I like the name…just not sure if first name is good.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I’m really not sure about that, to be honest. Maybe you could write your room number instead? If you’re confident you’re going to stay at that school and in that room, that is. Or maybe write your last name so it doesn’t take up as much room just in case you need to cross it out and change it.

  23. I’m currently in a teaching program and I would love to have a class library, but I’m a little intimidated by the prospect. At this point, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the time it would take to keep and maintain. I think it could be very useful for building healthy relationships with students and I like your ideas around having students be responsible for some of the upkeep. What other benefits have you seen to your library? Part of me just wants to have a library to have an excuse to buy and read more books and maybe that’s a good enough reason. I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine. Thank you for detailing some of the nuts and bolts of your library. That helps my thought process a lot.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      A classroom library is absolutely worth the time and maintenance. I can’t keep track of the number of relationships with students I’ve built based on the books they’ve read that come from my classroom library. The fact that we read the same books really adds to that rapport. Also, my school doesn’t dictate school-wide SSR; it’s something I’ve always and will always include in my daily lessons. At my former district I saw my students every day and we had silent reading every other day. In my current district I only see my students every other day so we read every time we meet.

      Many teachers do “get along fine” without a classroom library, but a classroom library is an invaluable resource that adds a richness to the classroom that I can’t fully describe. I asked my students for some opinions and this is what they told me:
      “All of the books in your room make the classroom more comfortable and cozy. It’s like a book store.”
      “You know more about the books you have in here than the people working in the library. If I want to know about a book, you have recommendations and can tell me what you think since you’ve read it.”
      “It’s nice having the books right here in the room with us.”
      “Your books are more current. You’re always adding new books as they release and that we want to read.”
      “I didn’t read before I had you as a teacher. Now I read all the time.”

  24. Jessie Gregory says:

    I would like to thank you for this post. I am a student teacher and I have just started thinking about the best way to develop and manage a classroom library and, to be honest, the task seemed daunting. I love the idea of having a library budget, and I’m very excited about Donors Choose, which is a resource I did not know existed. I also appreciate your tips on organizing and keeping track of your books. You’ve given me some great ideas on how to start off building my own classroom library!

    What was most interesting to me, though, was your method of displaying some books. I’ve been in many classrooms with libraries—including my mentor teacher’s—and I’ve never seen displays like you picture in your post. What a great idea to gain student interest!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I’m so happy that this has helped you! It’s so much fun creating and managing a classroom library; students truly appreciate it. Once you get your own classroom I would love to see pictures of your class library and any displays you put together! Keep in touch and let me know if you ever need anything. 🙂

  25. Here’s a great resource you may be able to use to simplify the check-in and out process (and keep track of those books that are missing). I noticed this on Pinterest and immediately thought of you!

    This is what someone said: “It allows you yo use your smart phone and scan the bar code on your classroom books and then it inputs all of the info for you on a FREE data base. It allows you to let kids scan out the books and check out and check in them, separate them by reading levels and even put down their location in your class room.”

  26. Thanks for the advice. I’m starting my preteen teen library this year… So this was helpful

  27. Barb Petr says:

    I realize this article was posted years ago—but I’m getting geared up for the 2017-2018 school year already–I teach 9th and 12th grade English is a small school–and have amassed at least 500 books in my classroom. I am always trying to devise a new way to categorize them for the kids…I think I will use your article as my guide this year–and display some of the more popular ones with the fronts facing the kids and put the rest in alpha order by author. That certainly is much easier than trying to decide what category a book goes in….most of the YA books can be in multiple categories so I never know where to put them! Thanks so much for the time you took to assemble this article–it is so helpful…Barb


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