Once you’ve gathered a collection of books, a system for organizing them is a must. No matter how small or large your classroom library is, organization counts!
If you want your students to browse and easily choose books from your classroom library, organization and appeal need to be considered. And, as your collection grows, the organization and storage system you choose will pay off because you’ll have a space and place for all those books!
Organizing your classroom library is key to growing your library and helping students find books easily. Grouping books can be done in many different ways. The larger your collection is, the more categories you’ll need. Some common categories include: author, topic, new releases, multiple copies, student picks, all-time favorites, various genres, fiction, nonfiction, informational text, chapter books, reading levels, and books into movies.
Next, you’ll need to think about how to store and display your books. Even if your classroom library is currently small, think of storage systems that work as your library grows in size and diversity. Many teachers find that baskets or bins work well because they allow flexibility and, as your collection grows, it’s simple to add new bins and create new organizational categories.
- Baskets/Bins: One way to group and organize books is to place them in baskets. Baskets allow books to be grouped easily, and students can easily grab a basket for browsing. In addition, you can easily add new baskets as your collection grows and new categories are added.
- Colored Baskets: Another way to organize books is to use several colors of baskets. For example, start with red, yellow, blue, and green baskets. The colors allow you to group books into several categories. Then place all the fiction selections in red baskets, chapter books in yellow baskets, how-to books in blue baskets, and nonfiction and informational text in green baskets. Students will be able to easily locate books with this simple organizational cue. In addition to being attractive, the example shown here displays how easy it is for students to locate books.
If you teach primary grades, half shelves work well because students can easily browse and reach books. In addition, low shelving can also be used to divide an area of the room for quiet reading and the back of the shelves can be used for displaying student work.
Ryan Batsie, a middle school English & Language Arts teacher, uses a tall rotating rack to display books (see image). It’s convenient since it holds and displays numerous books in a small place. Rotating racks also lend themselves perfect for browsing. “New books” can be displayed there as well as “favorite student picks”, for example. Higher bookshelves work well for secondary students, too, since they’re taller and can reach baskets and books on the higher shelves.
Once books are organized by topics, categories, or genres, you’ll need to label the baskets and books. Label each book in a manner that makes sense for your purpose. For example, you may want to include the topic, author, genre, and basket/bin that the book belongs in. You may also choose to color code the labels to match your storage system, for example.
Next, label the baskets according to the category/genre/author and perhaps an image to represent the category (see image). An easy way to label baskets is to first laminate the label and then punch two holes near the top of the label and, using metal rings, hang the label from the top of the basket. That way you don’t have to think about labels not sticking very well to baskets. Whether or not you choose baskets, you’ll need to choose or develop some type of labeling system so that it’s easy for students to locate and return books.
What about leveling? First, it’s not necessary to level all the books in the classroom library.. While leveling can help students, choice is more important. Have conversations with students about how to choose “just right” books, and then let them choose what interests them. I recommend leveling about 30% of the books and organizing them by levels. The additional 70% can be organized by topics, authors, and genres.
There are many different ways to display books – use your imagination. I’ve seen inventive teachers make “gutter shelves” to display books using rain gutters (see image). These can be displayed at any height and in varied lengths. Gutter shelves also allow you to display books with the covers out to help keep students interested in books. Rotating racks are great as well and can sometimes be found when stores are closing or at Goodwill.
Many teachers feature different authors each month and highlight their books. Creating a bulletin board or some type of visual display putting the spotlight on the author and their books is a perfect way to create student interest in an author or genre they may not typically consider. Don’t forget to “booktalk” specific books and then watch them fly off the shelf!
Along with organizing your collection, check-out systems quickly become necessary. You’ll probably want a check out system that matches the size of your classroom library. If your classroom library is still rather small in size, a simple system of cards or a clipboard and check out sheet may work just fine. However, as your classroom library grows to a size of 300-600 books and reference materials, you’ll probably need a more advanced tool to support your growing collection.
While paper and pencil systems can work, today’s digital tools can assist teachers to organize, check out, and get books back to where they belong. Listed below are three digital tools that will help you organize and create a check out system that will help you and your students live happily with your growing resources.
1. Intelliscanner: The Intelliscanner is my go-to tool that keeps my growing collection organized so I can easily find my books for personal and professional use, and to quickly grab a book (or 2 or 3
or 12) to share with teachers. Put simply, the Intelliscanner is an electronic scanning system used for organizing books and media.
database of more than 136,000 titles, this app is intended to support both teachers and parents in helping students choose books.
With the cost at less than a cup of coffee, the Book Retriever app is one cool tool worth checking out!
3. Classroom Organizer: Booksource, a K-12 print and eBook source for classroom libraries, features a free web-based Classroom Organizer that allows users to maintain and inventory books and eBooks in their classroom library.
A classroom library is a vital component of the literacy-rich environment in your classroom. Keeping it growing and well organized to support balanced literacy instruction and independent reading
These 5 simple ideas can help your classroom library grow both in quality and organization. It takes work, time, and effort to create a quality classroom library but the payoff – students reading independently and growing in their love of reading – is well worth it!
Want to read more about the nuts and bolts of classroom libraries?
I’ve written frequently about all things related to classroom libraries – building on a budget, displaying, creating interest, and more. Additional classroom library posts are featured in the Teacher Toolkit.
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