What is a Classroom Library?
Classroom libraries are many things, but at their core they are a small, controlled environment for students to engage in with appropriately-leveled texts and nurture not only a love of reading, but build on selective reading skills as well. This is especially important in schools that may not have a traditional library. Educators can provide a space for their students to become stronger readers, promote recreational reading, encourage independent reading, and introduce them to a range of genres, topics, experiences, and more! Kids can explore the bookshelves and book bins for new and exciting books on their own.
Why Should I Have a Classroom Library?
Now that you know what a classroom library is, you are probably wondering why it is important, especially if your school has a full-time librarian. There are a multitude of benefits a classroom library has and can differ greatly from what a general school library specializes in! A classroom library is specifically tailored for that class’s reading level and interest level, while still providing the opportunity for self-selection. Teachers know the levels of the books in their classroom, which allows them to accommodate their students with texts that will set them up for reading success. This encourages recreational reading and provides an opportunity for a student to share with others what they are reading.
The array of texts in your classroom library is a great way to broaden a student’s perspectives and ideas. The library should contain books for multiple reading abilities, student interests, and reflect diverse and inclusive texts (we’ll get more into this later on!). They should have not only books to encourage reading for fun, but also books that can tie into the curriculum for future research into topical areas.
A classroom library isn’t all books though! That’s right, a classroom library should also offer digital reading materials and audiobooks, which cultivates the development of technological literacy skills. Having digital materials available can provide a more accessible reading experience for kids who need more of an engaging or interactive experience to learn. Many digital materials provide search options to look up new words, read-aloud options, and different annotation options.
Other benefits of classroom libraries include:
- Teaching kids how to properly handle books and other shared materials
- Feeling confident and independent in choosing their own reading selection
- Developing literacy skills and strategies
- Providing students with a wide range of level-appropriate text
- Allocating a designated environment for both casual reading and assigned reading
- Promoting inclusion and diversity of identities, cultures, experiences, and abilities
- Initiating discussion between students about what they are reading
- Providing a central location for resources
Have we sold you on why classroom libraries are important? Let’s dive deeper into what books should be included in your library!
What Types of Books Should I Have in My Classroom Library?
The ultimate goal of a classroom library is to provide your students with a wide range of reading material that does the following:
- Gives them a broad array of genres and topics
- Promotes inclusion and diversity
- Encourages confident and independent readers
Each classroom library is different in that it is most effective when it adheres to the appropriate reading and interest level for the students. Depending on your curriculum you will want a mix of literature, science, history, math, STEM, and more. You know what subjects will be taught in your grade and be able to ensure you have the corresponding resource materials for in-class instruction.
The key is to have an extensive variety of books in good condition. For genres you may want to include poetry, realistic/historical fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, wordless novels, early chapter books, picture books, books in a series, and biographies. Ensure you have digital reading resources to accommodate students of all abilities. You will want to also include books above and below the reading level of your grade.
A diverse classroom library is essential for every student from elementary, middle school, and high school. Research shows that children become more interested in reading when they are able to see themselves in the work they read and the experiences are akin to their own. In addition, students from all walks of life who are introduced to diverse and inclusive texts are able to see new perspectives, ideas, and life experiences. Including #OwnVoices authors can bring an authentic and genuine voice to the stories. When a child sees themselves represented in a book or a character, they can connect better with the text which leads to building self-esteem and viewing themselves as a reader. It can broaden other students’ understanding and help them discover different experiences from their own. Developing different outlooks and perspectives is imperative to initiating discussion in students as well.
One thing that can be overlooked when building your classroom library is not only providing what is currently popular, but having more than one copy of the book or series. This allows multiple students to be reading the same thing at the same time and encourages discussion of the text with each other. Connecting with classmates through literature helps cultivate future bookworms! On a similar note, books should be relevant with the times, especially those of historical context.
If this is seemingly overwhelming, have no fear! You can find new books for your classroom library all over the place. Look over your current books and take inventory of what you have and what you are missing and create a wish list. Classroom libraries are continuously evolving year after year. New titles can be added, and old ones swapped out whenever you think it’s best. Some books will stay on your shelves for years, and others not so much. That is okay and part of what makes a good classroom library!
How Do I Organize My Classroom Library?
There is no right or wrong way to organize a classroom library. It is ultimately up to you. That being said, there are some tips and tricks that can help you discover what exactly is right for you and your classroom!
The first thing to decide is where you would like your classroom library located. This should be in a spot that you are able to designate as its own area. It can be in a little nook or off to the side or even in the front of the room —whatever works for your classroom and your students. It should be very apparent that it is in its own, designated space for reading, reflection, and imagination. You’ll want it to feel cozy and welcoming, so students feel encouraged to go grab a book rather than intimidated. Some ways to do this are by having a colorful and inviting rug, comfy chairs or beanbags, fun pillows, bright posters, plants, a globe — there are no rules when it comes to making a welcoming space for young readers! Imagine your own dream reading nook. What about it is calming and allows you to become fully immersed in your book? What about it makes reading fun?
To bin or not to bin? This is a common question that educators ask themselves. Some swear by keeping books in bins, others prefer spines out, and still others prefer displaying books with the cover facing forward with a wedge bookshelf. You can even do a combination of all three of these displays. Make these decisions based on what you think is best for your students, not what is most aesthetically pleasing or simply because someone told you this was the correct way.
Bins are a great way for younger students to become acquainted with looking for books. Bin labels help students find books that are interesting to them and also gives them a visual of which bins are the emptiest (the most popular books in the class) which can prompt a curiosity to read. Bins can also bring ease for students to quickly shuffle through books to find a particular topic. In addition, we all know the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But the truth is, we DO judge books from their covers and kids are no different. An enticing cover could be just the thing for a reluctant reader to become a full-fledged bookworm.
A spines-out approach can be a great way to introduce older students how to navigate in traditional libraries and bookstores. Students can then learn how to look for books by author or genre. Bins can also become dusty if students aren’t interacting with it. Spines-out allows for students to thumb through all the books to find just the right one.
Wedge bookshelves face the covers of books outwards. This is a great way to showcase certain books. Maybe it’s February and you want to highlight books that celebrate Black History Month and Valentine’s Day. Maybe you are working on physical sciences in class and want to showcase books about magnetism and force. You can make it your own topical newsstand to get students engaged in books that they may have normally overlooked.
Once you have decided on how to display your book collection, you will want to sort them. We suggest first sorting each book into fiction and nonfiction piles. Once that has been accomplished, you can then break them out into sub-groups however you please. You can sort by genres, topics, themes, Accelerated Reader levels, guided reading levels, or author. Always be asking yourself: What is best for my students to engage them with reading?
Should My Classroom Library Have Rules?
Yes! Just like a traditional library, your classroom one should have guidelines for your students to follow. This keeps your reading nook clean and organized so it continues to be beneficial to all students. You’ll first want to spend time devising a check-out and return system. You can use a notebook, a sign out sheet, or a bulletin board. Some educators operate purely on an honor system of the students checking out books and returning them. However you decide, make sure you are setting time aside in your curriculum to go over the process.
Ask yourself if you want to have a limit on the number of books students are able to check out. Classroom libraries are smaller than traditional libraries and you’ll want to make sure no one student has all the books. Additionally, classroom libraries come in an array of sizes and varieties. Is one book or two the limit? Is the limit extended for research projects?
Another rule to enact for your classroom library is how to treat the books. No drawing, coloring, or annotating books. These books are shared by all the students in the class and even future classes for years and need to be able to make it from one student to another. On the flipside, things happen. Maybe juice got spilled on a book or a child brought the book home and the new puppy got a hold of it, there needs to be a process of what to do if a book gets damaged that allows for when accidents happen.
Some other rules to think about depending on how you want to organize your library are:
- Is the classroom library area a whisper only area?
- What do you do if you find a book in the wrong place?
- How should you store books you’ve checked out?
- How do you return books to the correct bin or shelf?
- Who is in charge of returning books to the correct place?
- How will you keep the classroom library tidy?
- If a student checks out a book and they don’t like it, can they return it without finishing?
- Are their consequences for mistreating the books?
Once you have your rules down, make a big poster to hang up so your students have them readily available or any other way to make them easily accessible.
Your classroom library is there to provide the best possible environment for your students to become engaged and confident readers. Picking out a location, developing how you will sort your books, and organizing your rules may change over time as you learn and grow with your students. Classroom libraries are always changing, but as long as you keep your students at the forefront, we know you’ll achieve your classroom library dreams.