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5 Steps to Organizing Your Classroom Library

By Tiffani Mugurussa on May 21, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

I have a confession: I LOVE books and I have tubs and boxes and several cupboards full of them. I once had a student tell me there was nothing to read in my room. Really? Hmm, I have more than 40 containers of books!

When you own such a vast collection, keeping it all organized so it can be used effectively is a must. But it's also a challenge. Finding the right system for you and your students can take a few tries before you get it right. Last summer, I embarked on a huge project, during which I brought my entire classroom library home with me. It took over my entire living room as I relabeled and reorganized. I also managed to downsize, donating to charity books that were seldom read.

This year, I will either discard battered books or send them to the book hospital (a basket for books in need of repair). I will also go through each labeled tub to make sure it contains only the books that belong there, enlisting the help of my students for this job. Now that they can recognize numbers, kindergarteners can help to reorganize and put books into the correct tubs.

Of course, before we start, I will read Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom! 


Creating a Library System

If you haven’t implemented a system or are looking to redo your library, organizing can be a daunting task, as well as a bit of an investment. First, decide on how you want to sort your books. Do you want them categorized by author, themes, or reading levels? I personally have a little of each in my classroom library. Go through your books to see what types you have. As you browse, you will get an idea of how you want to group them. 

Some of my tubs bear the following labels:

  • ABC Books
  • Numbers
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Weather
  • Colors
  • Everybody Reads (this is for a variety of fiction books)
  • Clifford
  • Arthur
  • Froggy
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Eric Carle
  • Leveled Books: Levels 1, 2, and 3
  • Multicultural
  • Farm & Plants
  • American Heroes


Choosing Containers

Next, decide on what you will keep your books in that will be easily moved from a shelf to the floor or tables. I have plastic tubs, which I've used for about 14 years. It was an investment in the beginning, but after all this time, I think I've gotten my money's worth. Check your discount dollar store for dishpans as they work well, too. 


Creating Labels

Once you decide on how to organize your books and what they will be stored in, you will want to make labels to place on the front of each container. Before you start making and printing them, consider the size of the labels and method for attaching. I use 8- x 5-inch index cards for the labels, and VELCRO® or packing tape for attaching them to tubs. Laminate your labels for durability, as they will take some abuse, especially if the containers are moved frequently.



Using Different Labels

Label each book with your name to ensure it makes its way back to your classroom. I invested in a rubber stamp that reads: This book belongs to Mrs. Mugurussa. You can also use address labels or make your own on your computer. 

You will also want to label the outside of each book so that students know where to return them when they are finished reading. In my classroom, each book tub is assigned a number and every book in that tub has a sticker on the upper right corner with the same number. You could place the number on the inside front cover, too, in case the outside sticker falls off.


Building Your Library

If you are a new teacher or you've changed grade levels, your classroom library might need a boost. There are a few easy and inexpensive ways to obtain additional books. Yard sales can be a teacher’s best friend. Make sure to tell seller you are a teacher; often they will just donate the books. Ask friends and family members who have children older than your students for used titles. I have received hundreds of books through this method. I also use my Scholastic book order points to feed my addiction to books.   


With the right supplies and some time, organizing your class library can be accomplished. Go slow and don't expect to be done in a few hours. You will be pleased when the process is complete and all of your books are categorized and ready for the next group of readers.

Comments (10)

Mary- I make mine in a word document. You can add text and a frame and graphics quite easily.

Hey there!
I work every year rearranging my library. Do you have any ideas on how to quickly make the labels for the outside of the books to identify which container they will go in?

Martha there are many free library labels available online. Doing a web search will bring up many different varieties. I created mine in word. F fun or fancy font and a text box around it will do the job.

I believe I got labels from Scholastic in the Bonus Catalog a few years ago.

For labels identifying my room - use a label program for address labels and personalize it for your room.... don't put your room number, you never know if you might move rooms or schools. I had over 1000 books (that's how many labels I printed out the first round) at one time and my students helped me put the "Return to Mrs. Wallace's room" labels on them one afternoon when 1/2 my class was out for testing. I also put on Scholastic Reading Counts labels - by the end of the year, all my books were labeled and sorted by reading level. Three years later I moved from grade one to grade five (and changed buildings). All I had to do was reorganize by Lexile and my books were ready to go for my fifth graders.

Don't forget to let the "kids" come up with a way to organize the books. Having them help organize them allows them to take ownership and they'll do a better job of keeping them in the bins themes THEY come up with.

I use dish pans- Walmart, they were less than two dollars. I had my son, very creative, use sharpies to label them! Most books fit either way, and the kids can carry them where ever they like!!

Do you have labels available to print? I am setting up my classroom library this summer. I am open to suggestions for labels.

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