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Organizing My Classroom Library . . . Again!

By Alycia Zimmerman on October 18, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

The classroom library is the heart of the reading workshop classroom — it's where the magic happens and regular kids are transformed into super readers. Anything I can do to get more books into my students' hands (and ultimately brains) is well worth the effort. So, after thinking about some of the under-utilized parts of my classroom library, I scoured the Internet (especially Genia's blog post) and my colleagues' brains for solutions. Then I put out a call for parent and student volunteers, and working together we gave several sections of my library a makeover.

Check out our new and improved classroom library in this video tour! If you want to see more "before shots" and learn about how my library used to be organized, check out my blog post "Organizing My Classroom Library: The Never-Ending Story." In that blog post, I explain the rationale and management systems for my library. My library is evolving, but plenty of those ideas live on in my classroom.


Classroom Library Labels to Download

I create my book basket labels in Microsoft Word using text boxes and clip art. Here is a blank template you can download to make your own book basket labels. 

You can also download all of my book basket labels on my class website. I print the labels onto cardstock and laminate them before taping them to the baskets in my classroom. The tape peels off the laminated labels easily when it's time to switch the baskets around. 


Download My "New/Timely/Special Books" Label Set 

Here's the collection of mini stick-on labels for the individual genre books. They are formatted to print on 1/2" by 1-3/4" labels like Epson 5169/8167. 

Download My Mini Genre Labels

I'd love to hear about your adventures with your classroom library! Share your ideas and questions in the comments section below. If you want updates about my future blog posts, follow me on Facebook or Twitter!

Comments (18)

Hi Alycia,

Thanks so much for posting this. My library will be a lot more organized this year. I love your sub-genres, they really do help kids find books that they are interested in. One thought about the labels/potential request for the future, when choosing pictures for labels, maybe thinking about how the pictures do or do not reflect the population of your students and population of the larger urban community? I downloaded the majority of your labels which are amazing, however I had to pass on the newly posted set since there was not as much diversity represented on the labels that is present in my classroom population. Again, thank you for sharing, I really appreciate it.

Hi Alycia,

Your library looks wonderful! My question is how do you handle returns to the library? Especially for the book bins like "HOT books" which are probably not labeled as such on the book itself, how do you ensure that books get back to where they belong?

Thanks so much!
Rachel (5th grade)

Hi Rachel - great question and thanks! So, that's the part I'm not so great about. I don't label any of the books themselves. It's really a matter in my classroom of trusting the kids to remember where they borrowed the book from and returning it to the right place. Previously I've used checkout systems where the kids wrote the book title and basket name in a notebook and then crossed it out upon returning the book. I've also used labeled clothespins that the kids would stick on the baskets and remove when they returned the books. I was never vigilant enough - nor cared enough, I guess - to enforce the systems properly, so they always fizzled out after a few weeks or months. At that point, I guess the students were mostly returning the books properly anyway. After a few years, I gave up and most of our books get put away properly anyway. It also helps that I limit my students to only borrowing one or two books at a time. So they really can remember where the books came from. Not sure if this helps, but that's all I've got. :)

Thanks so much for sharing! We're an inclusive classroom so the only difference we made was that we made three different libraries - blue library (L and lower), white library (MNO) and green library (P ad up). It helps our kiddo's to narrow their search a bit more as we have such a huge range of readers.
I plan to try your re-organization for our non-fiction library though! Thanks for the ideas of doing that as series or author groupings. It will be much better for my third graders as well

Do you have any ideas for me for redoing my library? I teach full day kindergarten. DO you know where I should look for more primary labels?

Wow, I just viewed your video and want to thank you. I liked how your non-fiction books are placed.
Thank you for sharing this.
Cindy Payne
3rd grade also

Thank you for taking the time to share your "labor of love" with us all!Your library is truly phenomenal and provides unique and practical suggestions!

Thank you so much for sharing! I have struggled with ideas for organizing my extensive 5th grade library for years, and have yet to be happy. I will give this a try and see how it works for students!

Cindy, it definitely is a struggle (and a time consuming one, at that!) I think they should add a library science course to teacher prep programs since this is an overwhelmingly challenging part of our job, and one I certainly wasn't prepared to tackle. Of course, having an extensive library is a blessing, so I guess this is a very good challenge to have. All the best! ~Alycia

Hi Alycia,

Love the steps you "show" on the video of re-organizing your library. Like you, I used to use "rough draft" labels for my library at first, even soliciting students to draw a picture and write the label themselves. Then, after a week or two, when the sticky note had nearly come to its shabby end, I'd present a beautiful printed label to the students, asking "Look what I found/make. Could we use this one for our basket?"

Question: After re-organizing your library out of leveled baskets, how do your students know the levels of books inside each basket. Are there a variety of levels in the baskets?

Hi Teri, thanks for writing! I love your student-centered approach to book basket labels. It's easy to get caught up in making things "pretty" when that doesn't really matter for the educational value. Thanks for your suggestion!

Yes, I have a wide range of levels in my genre baskets, and I have the level written onto the cover of almost every book in those baskets. (Well, I try for every book!) My students know that they will be most successful if they find books in the genre baskets that are around their level. I don't restrict my students to only reading books on their independent levels, though. I find that motivated readers can often make it through higher-level books if they are very interested in the subject matter, and I'm also okay with them doing some light below-level reading from time to time. Levels are definitely a helpful scaffold, but not the end all-be all, especially once my students are fluent readers/decoders. By the higher levels (>S) I find that interest level seems to matter more than reading level.

By the way, Scholastic has an awesome new Book Wizard app that makes leveling books a breeze! Check it out and let me know what you think. All the best ... Alycia

I need books for my Library Center and books to place around the room. I adored your Library layout.

Wow! You have inspired me! I especially like the tip about calling in parents to help with the grunt work. I have a great bunch of parents this year just dying to help me. This is certainly the place. Thanks.
Fellow Third Grade Teacher

This is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

This is absolutely amazing. It looks like it took you a lot of time to create all of these. Thank you so much for sharing!! I had my library organized, but over the years and through several moves, some of the labels have gone missing. I look forward to using these labels to reorganize my library again as well. Thanks again =)

You are very welcome - I'm so happy that my labels will help in your classroom! You may want to check back every so often; I plan on uploading some new batches of labels soon. Thanks for reading/watching! ~Alycia

Oh, Alycia--how a part of me wishes I had not watched your video! Your library tour and ideas for book organization were so wonderful that I'm making plans to redo part of my library (again!)I love how you broke down your realistic fiction categories, and I know my class will love the "buzz-worthy" baskets. Thanks so much for inviting us into your classroom and inspiring with your ideas! ~G

Mwah-ha-ha, my plan for payback is complete! Just kidding - thank you for the comment, Genia. YOU were the inspiration to rethink my baskets - the mini labels on each book are directly from your blog post. Doing away with my leveled baskets felt "daring"; leveled baskets have always been a significant part of my library. But it really is working - my students are now scouring the sub-genre baskets which live on the shelves that formerly held the mostly-ignored leveled baskets. They still find their "just right books," but searching for those books by genre seems to make more sense for my students.

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