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Simple Solutions for an Organized Classroom Library

By Genia Connell on January 17, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Over the past 10 years, I have probably redone my classroom library five times as I looked for the best and easiest way to organize my large collection of books. At the beginning of this school year, I had no intention of redoing my library again. After seeing some cute new blue and green bins at the dollar store, however, I couldn't resist changing up my library one more time. The system I'm using now is one that has been tweaked many times over the years, and I think this latest incarnation's a keeper.




Make Book Shopping Faster and Easier

For their independent reading time (IDR), students are asked to select books that are in their "just right" reading range. Although all of my book baskets were labeled for genre and more than 75 percent of my books have a guided reading level written on them thanks to Scholastic Book Wizard, students were still spending a great deal of time shopping for books that both interested them and were at their appropriate level. I decided to change my basket labeling system to better reflect what my students were looking for when searching for a good book. Here is how I manage my library in a few simple steps.

Fiction is broken into several categories, such as "Fiction: Girl Main Character," "Fiction: School Setting," "Fiction: Sports Theme," etc. This gives students more information and allows them to go directly to a basket that matches their interests.

Nonfiction is also divided further to reflect the content area covered. Categories might include "Nonfiction: Life Science" or "Social Studies: Geography."

Popular baskets are broken down into guided reading levels to make "just right" book selection easier.

Book baskets for series books are no longer labeled, saving me time printing and laminating. Each basket only contains books from that series, and series baskets are all stored in the series area of our library. Students can tell what's in the basket by simply looking at it. I think I finally realized that I had never had a student look inside a basket filled with Flat Stanleys or Cam Jansens and ask, "What books are these?"

When it comes to books in a series, there's no need for me to label the obvious!


Each book is labeled with an adhesive sticker that matches the tag on the basket where the book belongs. This helps students easily put books back in their place. 

Author baskets are labeled with the same label that goes on the book jackets, and they're stored on the same bookshelf so students can locate their favorite author easily. These baskets are especially great when I recommend an author I think a student may enjoy or when a student discovers an author he likes and then wants to read every one of the author's books. Students have even asked to take home whole author baskets during breaks! 

Guided reading levels are written on the top edge of my books in permanent marker. Students can easily find their level when browsing through a basket without having to take the books completely out to look at the side or back. 


Battle of the Book Baskets

Look familiar? Book baskets gone wild.

For years I have expended great amounts of time and energy keeping my book boxes organized. Even though every single basket is labeled, and every book has a label that matches its basket, students would still carelessly toss books in the wrong bin or put them in backwards or upside down. I'm not sure why that bugs me so much, but it does! Having classroom helpers in charge didn’t help much, either. This year, however, I had a stroke of pure genius.

I assigned every single student one or two baskets that they are in charge of for the entire year. Handing over “ownership” of the baskets has made a world of difference. Students do not want anyone “messing up” their basket. It’s not uncommon now to overhear students saying things like, “Hey, who put a Geronimo Stilton in my Magic Tree House?” as they put the offending book back where it belongs. A list of who “owns” what basket is posted on one of the bookcases for quick and easy reference. My classroom library has never been as neat and organized as it's been since I started this in October. 

I think everybody has their own personal style when it comes to organizing their classroom library, and you need to find the method that works best for you and your class. I gave up trying to track, record, and catalog every book I own long ago, even though some of my colleagues were doing it; it was much too much work for me without enough payoff. I like things easy! The method I've settled on, at least for now, is one that is simple to manage and easy for my students to navigate, and best of all, it's working! Please share what you are doing with your classroom library in the comments section below. 

Comments (14)

I use baskets and labels too. I love the idea of students in charge of their own boxes. For OVERSIZED books I use magazine holders. I found some nice plastic ones at Big Lots one year and have used them successfully. I label them more generally, such as "science", "nature", "picture books", "people" since I don't have as many oversized books. I put them top shelf above the similar baskets shelved below.

Hi Genia,
Your library looks fantastic! I'm looking into buying some of these baskets for my library, and I notice there are a few similar ones with slightly different measurements. What are the dimensions of your baskets?
I'm also going to take your advice and assign baskets to certain students. My one classroom librarian could never keep up with it anyway!
Thank you!

Thanks! I love Dollar Tree baskets for library, student supplies and general organization--and the colors are fabulous! I REALLY like the idea of the basket care-takers! I have one question: What do you do with those books which do not FIT in the book baskets? I seem to have an ever-growing pile of Science, Social Studies and "cultural" books which are sitting on top of the shelves and have no way of being contained. Any ideas???

You have so many books! Did you personally purchase them or do they belong to the school? Also, how are the books leveled--- by grade?

You are a genius! It's the simple things that make life grand! Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas about classroom libraries. Happy teaching!

You are a genius! It's the simple things that make life grand! Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas about classroom libraries. Happy teaching!

OK! Thanks so much for the "book basket caretaker" idea. As a 5th grade teacher, I am always looking for ways to make my students more responsible and this is a great idea. I am hoping that my "caretakers" will read more and recommend from their baskets.

My classroom library looks exactly like this. I have books in baskets that are labeled by themes, series, and authors. I use matching label stickers on my books as well. I have "Librarian" as one of my classroom jobs so that students can help keep it organized. I have a display book shelf that house the books on topic that we are currently learning about. My question is: Have you ever used a digital inventory of your classroom library? I would love to be able to have a digital copy of what books I own, organize them by topic for go-to lesson planning, and be able to scan them in easily with my smart phone. I have found sites that do some of what I want, but nothing that completely satisfies my need. Do you have a suggestion?

This post is full of great ideas - thanks! I am not sure where I would find all the space in my classroom for such an extensive library, but it is something to aspire to. Have you ever thought of publishing your documents that make the book labels and categories? That would be interesting and potentially save me quite a lot of time.

I love your system! Did you find all the bins at the dollar store? I especially love the thin ones that hold your roald dahl, louis sachar, etc. books.

Hi Kim,

Thanks for your comment! Every single bin you see in the pictures came from Dollar Tree. I bought them last summer but noticed they still had them a couple weeks ago. I'm thrilled by how sturdy they are too! Genia

The idea of assigning book baskets to kids as owners of the basket--great! Had you thought of sharing the list of all the book baskets with teachers--since you have done all of this great work?

My method for organization is similar to yours. However, you have taken it a step beyond. I had not thought to have baskets for favorite author's. I also love your idea of assigning baskets to students. I am going to do that this weekend because my baskets are a mess and I remember organizing them a week ago.

Hi Jennifer,
Assigning the baskets to "caretakers" has made the greatest difference in my library this year. I can't believe I never thought of it earlier! For years I've been frustrated trying to keep them organized by myself. Hope it works for you too! Genia

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