If you're like most teachers, you'll want to do all that you can to nurture a love of reading in your students. Creating a dynamic, engaging classroom library goes a long way in doing just that. But how do you go about acquiring a core of books, magazines, and reference materials that will excite your students, especially if you have a limited budget?

Not to worry. There are many free or inexpensive sources of books available to start building an impressive library using free or inexpensive sources:

  • Use book clubs and book fairs like Scholastic Book Clubs and Scholastic Book Fairs. Many clubs, like the Scholastic Book Clubs, offer back-to-school bonus points and free-book incentives. If promoted effectively to parents and students, book clubs can generate thousands of points and hundreds of new books, as well as money for school activities. In addition, there are many benefits to hosting a book fair, such as earning free books for your school and classroom libraries. A bit of research will tell you if a fair might help your reading program.

  • 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 also good sources of old books. Some libraries sell duplicate or outdated books; others have support groups that conduct periodic sales.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 and current-looking covers.

Of course, a fantastic library cannot be built in a day. It evolves gradually; content and appearance constantly change. Strive to keep your library 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. 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 a 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 drawn in by an enticing cover.

  • A stimulating library invites students to sit, explore, and return. It should be well lit, organized, and have signage. 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 interest. 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. Use this Classroom Library Checklist (PDF) to help you choose the perfect mix of books for your new classroom. Scholastic offers other tools, like the Book Wizard, for classroom libraries and other teaching challenges.

  • 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 eight-foot inflatable orca suspended from the ceiling all become a 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 re-shelving teams. Encourage students to bring special books or collections from home to display in the library.

Reading incentive programs, daily silent reading, read-aloud time, visits to the public library, and your own creative ideas will help students connect with your library and become kids who choose to read.


This article originally appeared in Teacher magazine, published by Scholastic.