Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom Library

Just like the kitchen is the heart of your home, the library should be the heart of your classroom.

I saw this amazing classroom library while I attended a Donalyn Miller event

When I sat down to write this post, I really had to rein myself in. Classroom libraries are one of those topics that I could talk for hours about: how to acquire books, how to organize them, how to get students excited about them, and probably a dozen more things. And since my engineer husband doesn’t exactly share (or understand) my love of setting up a classroom library….it all gets written on here to share with you!

I was with some of my girlfriends this past week, who happen to all be educators, too….an AP, a 2nd grade teacher, a high school PE teacher, and a HS child development teacher (who is currently at home enjoying some newborn baby snuggles). Anyway, my friend and I started casually talking about classroom libraries, because what else do teachers talk about when we get together, and she casually just said something about who knows if we can even have our students using the books in the library due to COVID. Now, I know that school is going to look completely different from anything we’ve ever seen before, but I never once thought about the books not being able to be used due to possible contamination. I’ll be fine with a mask everyday, staying 6 feet away from everyone and I can even get on board with the other new things we’ll have to do, but I’m not going to lie….thinking about not being able to share books with students, crushed me a little.

Miss Morgan organizes her spine out so her students can easily see the titles

But…I’m choosing to remain optimistic and believe that our classroom libraries will be up and running normally, just maybe with an extra pack of wipes near it to clean books as they get returned. So for all of you other optimistic people, I’m just going to start with some of my favorite tips for setting up your library!!

  • Find your ideal flow. Check out pictures online for inspiration and think about the setup of your classroom. Be realistic in what you need to make your library feel successful. Don’t try to set it up like your neighbor, choose a flow that will work well for YOU!
Miss Rosendahl’s library
  • Categorize books that will support student choice. Organize the books in a way that students can easily find something the interests them. Genre, topic, theme, or author, are all possible ways you could think about organizing them. Students should be easily able to find something they are interested in, or should easily be able to find something new to try.
  • Decide on buckets, shelves, or both! Are you going to be using buckets to keep them in or maybe you’re ditching the buckets and just putting them straight onto the shelves, spine out. Again, decide what is going to work for you and commit!
Mrs. Klukas used a mix of buckets and shelf space in her library
  • Create an organization system. This is my absolute favorite part! When I taught kindergarten, I had a picture on the front of the shelf for each topic, and then each individual book had a matching sticker with that picture on the back, ensuring that even my little 5 year olds could figure out where to correctly put them back. You could also use colored dot stickers for each genre or theme. Find a system that will work for you and your students!
Mrs. Lulek organized hers using colored dot stickers and created this key to help her students
  • Leave some space to display different books. Kids will gravitate towards books when they can see the cover. Plan on leaving shelf space open for different displays. Maybe you display outer space books one week for science, and then poetry the next week for ELA. Or just keep a permanent section open with your favorite book recommendations.
  • Don’t put all your books out at once. Now I know storage is limited in most classrooms, but try not to put all your books out at once. Being able to rotate new books in and out will add to the excitement and get your students excited!
  • Check your collection for gaps in representation and fill them in. Windows and mirrors. Ensure that your collection allows students to see themselves in your books and see other perspectives, too. Include books of different race, cultures, LGBTQ, and more.

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