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Organizing My Classroom Library: The Never-Ending Story

By Alycia Zimmerman on September 14, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

As I set up my classroom this year, I was so proud of myself. I had carefully organized when I packed up my room in June, so my room looked “livable” in just a few hours this fall. “Wow, this is smooth sailing,” I thought smugly. Then I approached my classroom library, and I didn’t emerge until 8:30 p.m.!

The hours disappeared as I labeled book baskets, leveled new books, culled through my collection, and planned new library routines. This was certainly time well spent, but I have to tell you, sometimes my “librarian hat” feels heavier than my “teacher hat.” That said, I feel that much of my success as a reading teacher can be attributed to my classroom library. Join me on a photo tour of my classroom library, as I reflect on my organization systems and what works for me.

The Evolution of a Library

First Year LibraryThis is what my classroom library looked like my first year teaching. It's not particularly organized or all that inviting, with not-very-full book baskets. During that hazy first year, I could barely keep up with lesson planning; organizing my classroom library was far beyond me. I gratefully adopted shoddily leveled baskets from a retiring teacher, and we made do.

“Who cares how my library looks? That’s just aesthetics,” I thought. However, throughout the year, I realized something wasn’t working. The library became less and less organized, my students were not careful with their books, and independent reading was a chore. After speaking with colleagues, reading everything I could get my hands on, and thankfully stumbling upon Beth Newingham’s website, I realized that in order to rehab my reading workshop, I first had to revamp my library.

Welcome to Our Library!

As I grew as a teacher, I realized having an inviting, organized classroom library is an essential part of managing reading workshop. My students take an active role in maintaining our organized library, books are accessible to all of my students, and best of all, my students fall in love with reading as they discover books that speak to them. This is what it looks like:

Nonfiction Baskets

Nonfiction 1  Nonfiction 2

Nonfiction is currently enjoying its turn in the spotlight, thanks to the Common Core State Standards. I am looking to give nonfiction a boost in my classroom library — my library used to be very fiction-centric. My class is two-thirds boys this year, so I have extra impetus to ramp up the nonfiction collection.

NonFiction Bigbooks


I'm planning to swap nonfiction baskets every two to three months throughout the year to keep the topics fresh. I've also set aside a shelf for large-format nonfiction picture books. These books don't fit in my library baskets, but they are some of the most popular books among many of my boys.



Leveled Baskets and More

 Leveled Baskets  Poetry

I only level about a third of my library collection. Leveled books are an excellent scaffold for my developing readers. It helps my students feel secure while choosing their books, and it gives them a sense of growth as they advance through the levels. However, I try not to overemphasize reading levels in my class. Many of my students have made incredible leaps as readers when they have struggled through a book that was above their reading level but that deeply interested them.

Try using the Scholastic Book Wizard (also available as an app with a scanning function) for an easy way to level books.

The clear basket on the bottom shelf is our "book hospital" for damaged books. I also include a lot of poetry in my classroom library, an often overlooked genre.

Series and Author Baskets

Series Books   Series 2

Book storageSeries books are very popular among my third-graders, and I find that particular series become "fads" for a while among my students. Part of keeping my students interested in reading is gauging when their series interests wax and wane. After many of my students have read through a series, I swap out those books for another series, usually on a higher level. I refresh my series and author (blue) baskets at least three or four times throughout the year. Series books that are not in use get stored away in our closets. (This isn't glamorous, but here's a peek behind the scenes of my classroom library.) The spinning racks available through Scholastic Reading Club are perfect for displaying series books together.

Magazines and Reference Books

Magazines   Reference Books

Magazines are awesome! They provide high-interest short texts in a wide range of genres (think authentic test prep). I get my subscriptions through DonorsChoose: Click, American Girl, and National Geographic for Kids are particular favorites among my students.

Audiobook Collections

Audiobooks   Ipod Reading

These shelves have our books that pair with audio recordings. Books with the yellow sticker pair with mp3s on our class iPods; books with the red sticker pair with our CD collection. I also load our classroom iPods with podcasts and audiobooks that do not match up with our hard-copy collection. Sometimes it is OK to just listen to a book without reading along. That's how I listen to audiobooks, after all.

My "Teacher Books"

Guided Reading   Read Alouds

Guided Reading StorageHere are my guided reading shelves. I keep the books that are on my students' current levels on these shelves, and swap them for higher-level books throughout the year. Keeping only the relevant levels out helps me focus when deciding on a book for a particular lesson. (I use labeled bins to store guided reading books that I don't currently need — photo at right.)

The other shelf houses my collection of read-aloud picture books. I used to keep these mixed in with the students' books, but books were often missing when I needed them for a lesson. This bookcase is now hands-off for the kids. It makes them all the more excited to hear these titles when I share them with the class.

Reading Notebooks

Readers NB 1   Readers NB2

My students use reading notebooks to track their reading progress, take notes, collect interesting words, and much more. We store their notebooks on top of a bookshelf, and I use plastic file racks to keep the notebooks neatly in place.

Book "Check Out" System

Reading Check Out   Book Pockets

I taped library pockets to the sides of two bookcases for our "Look What We're Reading" book check-out system. Each time my students borrow a book from the library, they write the title and the basket on the top of an index card and slip it into their pocket. When they return the book, the remove the corresponding index card and drop it into a "used card" basket. This system helps me track what my students are reading at a glance, it helps my students keep our library organized, and it is very simple to manage.

Some Helpful Links

I would love to hear your tips for organizing your classroom library, as well as any questions you may have about my library. Please comment below.

Comments (21)

The Library labels are awesome! Thanks for organizing them so beautifully!

I laughed at the way you started this article - it sounds just like me! My classroom library never seems to be to my liking. It is a constant "work in progress." I loved your ideas and are going to try them. Whenever I tell my friends that I am going to work on my library, they roll their eyes, laugh at me and, say "AGAIN??!!" Wish me luck! Thanks so much for sharing this info!

Hi! Great Article! Thanks for the tips on how to manage a classroom library! Can you give me more information about your Readers Notebooks? How do you use them? What types of data sheets go in them? Please respond when you get a chance. I am returning to the classroom after several years out and am looking to refresh my knowledge!
Thanks so much and I hope to hear from you! Feel free to send me to email message to anna.gaiter@gmail.com.


Fantastic resource--thank you! Do you, or any of the other readers, allow students to bring books home on a daily basis? If so, how do you manage. I was heart-sick this fall as I was unpacking because I realized how many of my books were missing. I am looking for possibly a parent letter or other suggestions for maintaining records of books. Any ideas? Many thanks!

Hi Margaret,

Thanks for your comment! "Disappearing books" is an inevitable part of managing a classroom library. I do let my students take books home - it's the only way to really make sure that my students read every single night. (A minimum of thirty minutes of independent reading is a part of my daily homework for the students.) Of course books get lost and damaged, and I've tried many systems, but none of them truly seem to help. At the beginning of the year, I teach several mini lessons about respecting books, being responsible for the classroom library, and setting up a designated "borrowed bookshelf" at home for library books. I ask the parents to help me maintain our library and to stay on top of their children. I've tried using various "check out" systems - a binder with pages for each student, clothespins on the book baskets, and library pockets with index cards. However, I find that after the first few months, it becomes a burden to maintain the systems, and it doesn't really prevent missing books anyway.

The best solution for me is to just let the students borrow books as they need them, without a check-out system, and at the end of the year, I have a serious discussion with the students about missing books. I give them a guilt trip about how hard I've worked to build a rich classroom library and that I want future classes to also be able to read all of their favorite books. Then I make a deal with the students: For each "missing book" that is returned to the classroom, the students earn a minute of extra recess or playtime. During the last weeks of school, I can use the extra recess time anyway to help with the spring fever, and the students are highly motivated to find every single missing book (and some books that don't even belong to the classroom) to earn extra playtime minutes. I hope this works for you!

I love your ideas and would like to suggest one that I find helpful. I have a large collection of high-interest, leveled books that I refer to as the "Teacher's Special Collection." I use these with children reading below benchmark and they enjoy reading one of "the teacher's" books! I keep this collection near my small group table.

Thanks for this great suggestion! I too, keep "special" books in a closet, and my students are all eager to get to read my secret stash of books. Ah, the tricks of the trade.

Thank you for sharing this wealth of information. I am beginning Reading Workshop, and I am in the process of reorganizing my library. I have non-fiction books that are related to Social Studies concepts, and others I've collected. And yes, boys love Science picture books. Last year I had gendered based ELA classes. Now I know where to begin to become more organized with my class library.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am starting a new chapter of my life in a new school and a new grade. I took a wonderful reading class this summer that requires a year long project, and mine is setting up a functional classroom library that will increase both reading interests and reading levels. I appreciate the pictures and explanations.

Hi I have a 2 year toddler class, how can i organize my library for them? We are required to have books in all areas for the children and we use the High scope curriculum.
thank you,
Daycare teacher

For those of you with limited shelving, you can have white gutter material cut to size and screw them to the wall like shelves. Depending on how secure you make them, you can display highlighted or seasonal books or store more.

It was very interesting seeing your hard work and I will admit it looks very functional and something I would love to have. However, you have a lot more room for books than I have. I do have a very large library as I have been teaching for 20+ years; but I am in a portable with 28 desk and students, 7 computers,and space for a couple of book shelf. I would love to see how teacher do it with a very litytle space to work with.

Wow. As an "old" teacher teaching a "new" subject, I learned a lot from this. Thank you for sharing it. I kind of stumbled through my first year as an ELA-R teacher, as you said, with the few books I could beg, borrow, and buy, and always struggled with how to organize them. The students, of course, used my same system - none. I'm going to try a better system this year!

Thank you! This post will be so helpful to me this summer when I have time to revamp my library!! I appreciate the help!

I need help with this like you wouldn't believe! I've gotten some great ideas thanks. My problem is, however, I teach Kindergarten and I'm so unsure how to organize all my pre and early readers. Have any ideas?

Great ideas! I am taking notes right now. Seeing your library motivates me to make mine even better next school year!

Your library is truly impressive. What a great teacher!

This post has inspired me to organize my classroom library. I am ashamed to say that it has no sort of organization whatsoever, this is a large task in front of me. It is something that has needed to be done and now I have the inspiration to accomplish this mighty task! Thanks and wish me luck...

Wow! Thanks I just moved from 2nd to 5th and need to revamp my library. What do you include in your reader's notebook? And please post a virtual tour of your classroom in the future it seems like a wonderful set up:)

Elizabeth, thank you for taking the time to comment! I love your idea about displaying non-fiction books facing out so that students can see the covers. I am going to set up a non-fiction display tomorrow! You are spot on - I have so many wonderful non-fiction books in the room that don't get read because the kids don't want to dig through the baskets.

All the best, Alycia

I love reading posts on library organization. I am constantly changing my library as I add more books and change grade levels. I lay out many of my non-fiction books in book displays to entice students into reading more non-fiction books (I find they don't always take the time to sift through baskets). As soon as I display new non-fiction books, they "disappear" into my student's book boxes. It is also very visually appealing to have books with beautiful photographs displayed in the classroom.

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