As you enter your classroom, decked out in your messiest clothes and ready to miraculously transform the space into an inviting learning environment, don't forget to spend some time thinking about your classroom library, the place where you can ignite a passion for reading in students. I have developed a foolproof system for setting up an A+++ classroom library, where children will plead for more silent reading time. It doesn't happen overnight, and it may even take a few years to match your dream library, but the results — improved writing, language, reading, and other cross-curricular skills — will make it all worthwhile. Here's how I do it.

Assessing Your Needs

Earn your first A+ by identifying your library's purpose: addressing the needs of those who will use it. By considering skill levels and developmental range, as well as the needs and interests of the children, you will establish a library that is focused yet appeals to a broad spectrum of students. Pursue a knowledge of children's literature, reference books, and magazines. Learning about children's literature is easier than ever. The Internet is a convenient source of information. Online bookstores like The Teacher Store and Amazon have well-organized children's sections arranged by grade level, age range, interests, and themes. Many online bookstores provide free e-mail newsletters. Scholastic's Book Update Newsletter will let you know about new books and contains links to free online teaching resources. Several sites like the American Library Association and Reading Is Fundamental provide helpful information and links. Print materials such as Scholastic Teacher magazine are also excellent resources. Don't forget that your school librarian can be an invaluable source of advice.

Acquiring The Goods

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 Book Clubs. 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.
  • 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 all 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.