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.**

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