Acquiring a core of books, magazines, and reference materials is the first step in creating a dynamic, engaging classroom library. Most teachers spend too much of their own money on these materials, but you can earn an A+ by using the many free or inexpensive sources out there.


  • Use book clubs like Scholastic. Many offer back-to-school bonus points and free-book incentives. If promoted aggressively to parents and students, these can generate thousands of points and hundreds of new books.
  • Ask students to donate "legacy books" in the name of friends, parents, and pets. My students enjoy acknowledging their love for a deceased pet in this way Also, encourage parents and grandparents to donate books in a child's name. Invite parents to a special recognition ceremony where personalized nameplates are inserted into the donated books.
  • Solicit donations of old books. At the end of the year, ask students to donate books or magazines they've outgrown. Yard sales and thrift stores are good sources, too. Some libraries sell duplicate or outdated books; others have support groups that conduct periodic sales. Arrive early for the best selection. Be aware that students usually prefer and desire newer editions with fresh and current-looking covers.



Actively Innovate

A fantastic library, like Rome, cannot be built in a day. It evolves gradually; content and appearance constantly change. Your library earns the third A+ by staying fresh and dynamic.


  • As a library grows, getting shelves becomes increasingly important. I look for shelves that show the book covers, not just the spines. Search stores for discarded fixtures. (I can't tell you how much I've found in dumpsters!) Look for stores that are going out of business or are remodeling. Fixture manufacturers and wholesalers often drastically reduce prices on discontinued or damaged items.



  • When choosing the location for your classroom library, consider student traffic patterns. If students can easily move in and out of the library; or if they need to pass through it, they'll often get sucked in by an enticing cover.



  • A stimulating library invites students to sit, explore, and return. It should be well-lit, organized, and sign-posted. Paint and carpet remnants or rugs can help distinguish the library from other areas. Colorful posters encouraging reading reinforce the library's purpose and are available in stores and catalogs, including Upstart (800/448-4887) and The Library Store (800/548-7204).
  • A wide range of literature, clearly displayed, attracts all students. Include various genres, reading levels, and selections reflecting student cultures and interests. Don't overlook reference materials like dictionaries and encyclopedias. Color-coded plastic bins are great for organizing by genre, theme, level, or author. Newly acquired books should be displayed in a special way. My students plead to be the first to read a new book.
  • Bulletin boards and other displays in the library area should reflect thematic lessons and interesting subjects. When I do a whale unit, for example, my bulletin board, 52 whale books, models, and an 8-foot inflatable orca suspended from the ceiling become part of the library.
  • Let students take ownership and responsibility for their library. Implement a checkout system and rotate who is in charge of monitoring it. Assign weekly reshelving teams. Encourage students to bring special books or collections from home to display in the library.

By integrating reading-incentive programs, daily silent reading, read-aloud time, visits to the public library and bookstores, roving literature reporters, and a host of your own creative ideas, your students will connect with your A+++ library and enhance their chances of developing into kids who choose to read.



Jeff Lowe has been a teacher and mentor in Southern California for ten years. He has taught workshops on building classroom libraries.