Organizing your classroom library is probably one of those things you never thought of until it was time to put it together. That’s how I was. I had accumulated a decently sized collection of books, and then I walked into a classroom where I was also given a good supply of books for my classroom library. I also had zero built in space for a library and I knew I needed to be shelving and create a library organization that was student friendly and easy to use. After changing buildings, and adding a ton more to my collection, I have been able to keep my classroom library system consistent, keeping my yearly focus on cycling books in and out and keeping the quality high.
Classroom Library Storage
I need a large shelving system because I have so many books, and already knew I needed that when I first put my library together. I already had several cheap bookshelves from Wal-Mart and have used them for various things over the years in my classroom, but knew they wouldn’t work best for me. Much of my collection is picture books and those don’t display well on the small shelves if you want the books to be cover side out. Picture books are generally too tall, as well. These shorter bookshelves are great for a chapter book collection where you want the books facing spine side out and I have seen some great libraries where they’ve been utilized.
I use the Kallax system from IKEA for my bookshelves and I love them. I bought the Glossy White because they’re easy to wipe down when they get dirty and they just look better over the years. Mine still look great and I’ve had them for 6 years. I’ve wanted to try them out as a dry erase board as well, but haven’t been brave enough! I’ve used two of the two shelf sets and that helps me create a corner with existing furniture I’ve had. That doesn’t fit all of my books but in my current classroom I do have four built in bookshelves and I use two of them and a ledge for student selection.
I use Sterilite dish pans to store my books in on the shelves. I buy them in store at Wal-Mart and they have them listed online for cheaper than Amazon. I buy them in two different sizes and in both black and white. The black and white goes with my color scheme, but the main reason I buy both is to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction. My fiction texts go in the black bins, but the non-fiction goes in the white. Since fiction and non-fiction are organized separately in a library, this is my way of doing it in mine. The 12 qt. bins fit well inside the slots. The 18 qt. bins fit as well but are very tight on the sides. I use those on top and that’s where I store my picture books, or when I have too many books to fit in the smaller bins.
The bins make it easy to store picture books so their covers can be seen as students go through them. They can hold a ton of books and can be picked up and moved if needed. I always prefer to have books cover up as much as possible.
The bins also work well for chapter books stored vertically. The covers can be seen as a student flips through the books, but the it’s also pretty easy to see the spines and find books that way as well.
I organize my fiction books based on author, similar writing styles, and genre. I find this helps students in choosing books, learning new authors, and finding new series they may enjoy. I don’t use a hard and fast system for this, and essentially just started sorting books into bins as I came across them in ways I thought they may fit. Books are also similar levels in each bin. While it’s not precise, and I don’t use or believe in organizing a library based on level, if a student enjoyed and was successful with one book from the bin, they would likely be successful with another from that bin. When students are looking for a new book to read, they often gravitate towards specific bins that they’ve previously found books they like and organizing this way gives them an easy way to find more books.
This basket features some authors that write with animal characters. It’s organized by author so it’s possible that one of the books in here wouldn’t have an animal character, but they all do. This bin includes the If You Give A series by Laura Numeroff, the Scaredy Squirrel series be Melanie Watt, the farm series (does it have a series name?) by Doreen Cronin, and the Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner.
I have all of my mystery series stored together in two bins. These include Cam Jansen, Horrible Harry, Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hilde Cracks the Case series that’s just come out as part of the Branches Scholastic series. I have another bin that has the entire A-Z mysteries collection along with a few of the Calendar mysteries. These are just separated this way because I have so many books from the same author. Even though they’re chapter books, I have them in the large bin because I have so many of them. Most of my chapter books are stored spine side up so the kids can quickly find the series they’re looking for.
I have my non-fiction books organized by genre or topic since that’s similar to how it is in the library. So, my folk tales and fables are in the non-fiction section as are Magic School Bus despite neither truly being non-fiction. This bin is my animal bin and is probably the single biggest category of books that I have. I also have a bin for biographies, a section for poetry, and have seasonal bins.
Sometimes I struggled to identify what books went together in non-fiction but ultimately settled on categories that somewhat made sense to me. So, space, Earth, and weather are in one bin together, whereas places are in another bin on their own. Short of organizing according to the Dewey Decimal System, which often doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t think there’s any one way it should be done.
In an ideal world I’d have every bin labeled by it’s author or category. And my first year in my classroom I did. But I have had to rearrange bins over the last few years, and I’ve cycled some books in and out- especially as I looped with the same group of kids from 1st to 3rd. So not every bin gets labeled, and books don’t always get returned to the spot they’re supposed to. But I don’t stress it. And my type A personality doesn’t get too bothered by it unless it’s a big mess.
A few times a year I’ll choose a few students that know our classroom library well to go through bins and adjust books into their correct bins and leave a pile for me to do that they’re unsure of. This helps and keeps me from spending too much time on it. As I add in books during the year, I also go through that bin and move anything that needs to be moved. This takes just a second and helps keep it from becoming a large task at any one time.
I also use checkout sticks for my students. Each student gets two and they place them in the bin of the books they’ve chosen. When they return their book they get their stick back. I wish I could tell you that this has solved all of our problems on what books go where, but it doesn’t. But it does help give my kids a bit of accountability with making sure they’re returning in order to take a new one. I have my book checkout sticks as a free download in my newsletter exclusive library. To download them, click the image below, sign up, and then look for the login details in your email just after. There’s also several other items available and I’m working to add a lot more.
During the year I add new books on a fairly regular basis. Typically these are ones I’ve gotten from Scholastic book orders but they also may be from friends, bookstores, Ebay, or Donors Choose projects. I try to show my kids the new books so they get excited about them and look for them in our classroom library. I’ve found that spending a few minutes highlighting new books helps them get chosen quickly and not looked over in the mix. I also added these “new book” tags into the bins when I added the books. I’d take them out when I remembered (I do a lot intentionally and precisely, can’t you tell?) or when I had new books to add.
This has helped my kids find the books that are added a little more easily. It’s also nice to bring attention to a bin that maybe hasn’t been getting as much. I created mine quickly one morning and just printed them on Astrobrights paper and laminated them. But, I’ve made new book tags that match the book checkout sticks so you can download these from my free library as well! Just click the image below to head to my newsletter sign up to access them.
I hope this post has helped give you some ideas on how to organize your classroom library. It’s not a quick or easy task, but it pays off when students are excited about reading and use your library often! You may also be interested in my Reading teacher tees. I love to wear these to school on Fridays! I love to showcase my love of reading to try and build the idea, in my students, that adults read and enjoy reading on a regular basis. Click here to check out my Reading tees.
Wow! I love this system! Question- How do you monitor appropriate book leveling for students who are checking them out, or don’t you? Can your students check out any level of book since the focus is genre?
I don’t monitor it. I don’t want my students to feel like they can only read books at specific levels, and I want them to build a love of reading through book choice. My school does AR and so my books are stickered in that way. However, my kids aren’t restricted to only choosing those books. The stickers can help guide them, but they can choose any books they want to read.
Thank you, Tessa! I’ll send you a pic of my set up! I have the Ikea shelves, book bins, books, and now just to organized them, and label the bins. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas!
what bins did you use for your books?
They are Sterlite dish pans! They’re pretty cheap and hold up pretty well. I bought them from Wal-Mart.
What size are you black Sterilite dish pans?
I’m not positive, sorry. I have 2 different sizes. My larger ones don’t fit as well and I use those along the top, and then the smaller ones fit inside the squares. I would assume there’s not too much variation in sizing from them, but I’m not positive.