In my opinion, having a classroom library is one of the BEST parts of teaching reading. Maybe it’s because I literally played “librarian” when I was little, but I love adding new books, organizing them in a way that students find easy to use, and watching students discover the books they love.
However, making an amazing classroom library is no easy feat, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Because I believe that all teachers who teach reading should have a robust library, I’ve put together a list of tips to help you get your library up and running. I’ve given each tip a “time” rating and a “money” rating. Building a library can be SUPER expensive if you’re shopping from bookstores, Target, or even from Amazon. However, if you invest time each week or month to seek out books for your students, you will be able to have more books for less money. Read on to see how!
1. Set up a “books” collection on Instagram (low time; no money)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Instagram is the place to be if you’re a teacher looking for inspiration. There are TONS of teachers who share what they’re doing in their classrooms, and more importantly, what they’re reading! I recommend creating a “Books” collection by tapping the icon that looks like a flag in the bottom right corner of a post whenever you see a book that looks interesting. This way, you’ll have all the books you want in one place, making it easy to look for specific titles when you’re on Amazon (see tip #3) or at a store (tips #2, 4, and 5). You can add to this collection each time you’re on Instagram, and then remove titles from the collection once you’ve added them to your library.
2. Stalk the clearance section of Half Price Books (high time; medium/low money)
I’m pretty sure the employees at my local Half-Price Books locations know me by name, because I’m there so often. However, there’s a method to my madness. I pretty much only buy things that are on the clearance shelf, making each book only $1 or $2. By going often, I make sure that I’m catching all the newest additions to the clearance shelf. I have saved a TON of money this way and added some amazing titles to my library. For example, I scored a pristine copy of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile for just $2 off the clearance shelf—and there was a copy on the regular shelf for $6! Many of the books on the clearance shelf are there to make room for other books, so there’s a good chance that you will be able to grab some high-interest titles. And if you strike out in the clearance section, it’s still worth perusing the kids’ section, because prices will likely be lower than regular book stores and sometimes even Amazon.
3. Make an Amazon wish list (medium time; no money)
This tip is similar to the first, because you’re saving titles that you’re interested in adding to your library, but not actually buying them–yet. Amazon lists are great because they are sharable with other people. Think of it as a DonorsChoose project, but without all the extra paperwork. You can make a list of books you want and then share it with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, email, etc. Chances are, you have at least a few people in your network who would be willing to help you out, and even if they can’t make a big donation, they can probably afford to pay $7 or $8 and buy a single book from your list. Just like Instagram, you can add to this list whenever you want, and Amazon automatically removes the titles once they have been purchased.
4. Check Goodwill and other thrift stores (high time; low money)
Goodwill and other thrift stores will likely be more hit-or-miss than Half-Price Books, because they don’t focus just on books. However, if you’re willing to spend some time sifting through their shelves, you can find some amazing titles for even less than Half-Price Books clearance prices. I’ve scored a brand-new hardcover copy of The Crossover for a $1.50 at Goodwill, in addition to some graphic novels and the Weird but True series. I recommend making a Goodwill trip part of your weekly or monthly routine, so that you snatch up the best titles before anyone else!
5. Sign up for the Scholastic Reading Club (medium time; low/medium money)
I didn’t sign up for the Scholastic Reading Club during my first year of teaching, and it is one of my biggest regrets. I thought it was going to be too much work to run book orders in addition to everything else on my plate—but I was totally wrong. Scholastic Reading Club is great because it gives low prices to both teachers and students, and with every order you or a student makes, you earn bonus points that can be used towards any future purchases. It’s basically like making money as you’re spending money.
If you teach at a Title I school like me, I really encourage you to use Scholastic Reading Club. Each month, they have a book priced at $1 for each grade level, which is ridiculously affordable. I also found that my students were piecing together their own dollars and change to buy books, and it was amazing to see them taking ownership over their reading life like that! My final pro tip: if you use book clubs or literature circles in your class, scoop up 4-5 copies of the $1 book each month—you’ll have plenty of book club choices in no time!
6. Create a DonorsChoose project (high time; no money)
I mentioned DonorsChoose in an earlier tip, and while it does take some time to get projects started, it can be worth it to get hundreds of dollars of books—for free! DonorsChoose will require you to describe your school, your classroom, what you’re asking for, and why you need it. Then, you go on Amazon and select the items you want.
Just like your Amazon wish list, I highly recommend publicizing your DonorsChoose project—people can’t donate if they don’t know it exists! I have had four DonorsChoose projects funded and the majority of the donations came from friends, family, or family friends. It may seem uncomfortable or unnatural to ask for money at first, but publicizing your project gives it the best possible chance of being successful and getting new books into the hands of your students.
7. Host a Book Swap or collect donations from students (medium time; no money)
At the end of the school year, consider collecting book donations from students who would like to leave their mark in your classroom library. This works especially well for students in the highest grade at a school and should be done on a completely voluntary basis—don’t force any kids to donate!
One great way to facilitate this is by hosting a classroom book swap. Students bring in a book (or two, or three, or four!) that they no longer want and can swap it out for a book that is new-to-them. This way, each kid leaves with at least one book that they can read over the summer (take that, summer slide!) and you end up with some extras that can be added to your library for the next school year. Again, I highly encourage you to try this even if you’re teaching in a Title I school–I was amazed by how many books my kids brought in.
8. Befriend Veteran Teachers (medium time; no money)
This tip may seem a little random, but hear me out. Older teachers at your school will inevitably move schools or retire, and chances are that they won’t want to lug all of their books with them when they go. By establishing a relationship with these teachers, it’s more likely that they will offer some of their books to you before they leave. This is a win-win: you get to learn from a more experienced teacher, and you get free books! There’s nothing better.
BONUS TIP! FirstBook.org (Title I Educators Only)
I scored all of these books during a FirstBook sale!
If you teach at a Title I school, you can create an account on FirstBook.org and receive special access to an online marketplace of books. The selection is sometimes limited, but you can get a lot of titles for very little money. I once ordered the entire “Heroes of Olympus” series by Rick Riordan for 93 cents a book! Shipping is pretty quick and I’ve received most of my orders within a week. It’s definitely worth checking out and cost-comparing with Amazon and Half-Price Books. If you sign up, you will also get alerts for book giveaway events in your area. I’ve gone to several events hosted by FirstBook and gotten to pick up to 50 free books each time!
I hope you found at least one of these tips helpful as you start thinking about how to create a strong classroom library for your students. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them! Happy reading!