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September 17, 2015 3 Ideas to Launch a New Classroom Library By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    The library is truly the heart of many classrooms. Powerful energy flows from these spaces. Students can discover books in the library that allow them to explore different worlds and to develop understandings about ideas they never before considered. The possibilities for students are boundless in a well-organized library.

    This sounds beautifully idyllic, but let’s be real. Another type of powerful energy flows from these spaces in a number of classrooms. Classroom libraries can be a major source of anxiety and stress for a classroom teacher. New teachers and teachers starting in a new room or school are especially prone to this anxiety. If this describes you, take a deep breath and keep reading. I will share with you three ideas you can use today to tackle this project in order to get amazing books into the hands of your students. If your classroom library is up and running and you are looking for ideas to improve its current organization, you may find these blog posts to be a bit more helpful.   

    My school, Arts & Letters, has been expanding to a K-8 school over the past few years by adding a new grade each school year.  With the addition of the fifth grade this year, our expansion is now finally complete.

    I’m working with the fifth grade teachers and students to start a new classroom library from scratch. I completely empathize with the anxiety a new teacher might be feeling about their classroom library at the beginning of the school year because I’m feeling it too. We recently moved into the new fifth grade classrooms with one bookcase (we eventually found more) and few boxes of great, but random, books for the students. My co-teacher Micah and I are currently working to get the library up and running. Here are three ideas that are working for us:

    1. Start Small

    Before I get down to work, I find it useful to gather different supplies into a library kit. I place all of the items I need to organize the library into a specially-designated basket. I find it helpful to include sticky notes, round color-coded stickers, labels, scissors, clear packing tape, and even some dark chocolate for those overwhelming moments that are inevitable! I keep these supplies (sans the chocolate) permanently in the library on a top shelf so they are always easily accessible.  

    I’ve learned over the years that an amazing library is not built in a day. It’s OK to start small, so break the job down into manageable steps. I recommend organizing a single bookcase as a first step. I start with one bookcase and create Best of the Best book bins. I pull high interest and recommended titles from my collection to fill bins in that first bookcase I introduce to students. I label these bins Trending Books, Teacher Picks, and Student Favorites to build buzz. Since it is my goal to build interest and engagement, I believe it is important to get these books circulating in the classroom as quickly as possible. Starting with a Best of the Best bookcase gets students off and running while I spend time systematically organizing the remaining bookcases with the rest of the books in the library.

    While I’m working on a bookcase, it is off limits for students. I cover the bookcases I’m organizing with a simple sheet and sign.  Once a bookcase is completed, excitement builds as I ceremoniously reveal it. There is added excitement with each reveal, and this buys me more time to work on the next section. As long as great books — even if there are only a few — are accessible to students throughout the process, I think it’s totally acceptable to slowly roll out the remaining books in the library. 

     

    2. Keep It Simple

    You might dream of elaborate organizational systems for your library that include color-coded bins and stickers for categories and sub-categories of books. Since classroom libraries are like living organisms, these systems can be added as the library grows and develops over time, but I find it more manageable to start simple. I initially use broad categories for my book bins. The broad categories I use include fiction, mysteries, graphic novels, history, and science. These categories, of course, can be divided into subcategories, but I find using broad categories at the beginning makes that task easier down the road.  Navigating broad categories in the library may require more work from the students, but it also has the added benefit of allowing students to potentially discover unexpected surprises while selecting books. 

    The new Word Workshop tool from Scholastic is an amazing resource that helps keep the library looking neat and orderly. I use Word Workshop to create and print labels for the book bins, and Word Workshop makes it very easy to make additional labels whenever I create a new category for a book bin in the library. Also, since I can download and save these labels, I am able to print more as I need them.  

    3. Create Book Displays

    Book displays are another great idea to jump start the setup of a brand new classroom library. Create displays to highlight particular books for your students. Displaying books related to a current unit being studied makes them immediately visible and accessible to students. You might consider creating a book display in your library to spotlight a particular author, an upcoming holiday, or a particular genre. 

    I know setting up a classroom library for the first time seems like a daunting prospect, but with these simple steps I hope you’ll see it is not an impossible task. It is most important not to be overwhelmed by the process. I often remind myself that it is my goal to create a sense of interest and excitement for books and reading in the classroom. I remember to make great books visible to students in the new library, to keep it orderly, and to be open to allowing the library to grow and develop over time. 

    Although it might not be evident at the start, in time your library can become the heart of your classroom! 

    The library is truly the heart of many classrooms. Powerful energy flows from these spaces. Students can discover books in the library that allow them to explore different worlds and to develop understandings about ideas they never before considered. The possibilities for students are boundless in a well-organized library.

    This sounds beautifully idyllic, but let’s be real. Another type of powerful energy flows from these spaces in a number of classrooms. Classroom libraries can be a major source of anxiety and stress for a classroom teacher. New teachers and teachers starting in a new room or school are especially prone to this anxiety. If this describes you, take a deep breath and keep reading. I will share with you three ideas you can use today to tackle this project in order to get amazing books into the hands of your students. If your classroom library is up and running and you are looking for ideas to improve its current organization, you may find these blog posts to be a bit more helpful.   

    My school, Arts & Letters, has been expanding to a K-8 school over the past few years by adding a new grade each school year.  With the addition of the fifth grade this year, our expansion is now finally complete.

    I’m working with the fifth grade teachers and students to start a new classroom library from scratch. I completely empathize with the anxiety a new teacher might be feeling about their classroom library at the beginning of the school year because I’m feeling it too. We recently moved into the new fifth grade classrooms with one bookcase (we eventually found more) and few boxes of great, but random, books for the students. My co-teacher Micah and I are currently working to get the library up and running. Here are three ideas that are working for us:

    1. Start Small

    Before I get down to work, I find it useful to gather different supplies into a library kit. I place all of the items I need to organize the library into a specially-designated basket. I find it helpful to include sticky notes, round color-coded stickers, labels, scissors, clear packing tape, and even some dark chocolate for those overwhelming moments that are inevitable! I keep these supplies (sans the chocolate) permanently in the library on a top shelf so they are always easily accessible.  

    I’ve learned over the years that an amazing library is not built in a day. It’s OK to start small, so break the job down into manageable steps. I recommend organizing a single bookcase as a first step. I start with one bookcase and create Best of the Best book bins. I pull high interest and recommended titles from my collection to fill bins in that first bookcase I introduce to students. I label these bins Trending Books, Teacher Picks, and Student Favorites to build buzz. Since it is my goal to build interest and engagement, I believe it is important to get these books circulating in the classroom as quickly as possible. Starting with a Best of the Best bookcase gets students off and running while I spend time systematically organizing the remaining bookcases with the rest of the books in the library.

    While I’m working on a bookcase, it is off limits for students. I cover the bookcases I’m organizing with a simple sheet and sign.  Once a bookcase is completed, excitement builds as I ceremoniously reveal it. There is added excitement with each reveal, and this buys me more time to work on the next section. As long as great books — even if there are only a few — are accessible to students throughout the process, I think it’s totally acceptable to slowly roll out the remaining books in the library. 

     

    2. Keep It Simple

    You might dream of elaborate organizational systems for your library that include color-coded bins and stickers for categories and sub-categories of books. Since classroom libraries are like living organisms, these systems can be added as the library grows and develops over time, but I find it more manageable to start simple. I initially use broad categories for my book bins. The broad categories I use include fiction, mysteries, graphic novels, history, and science. These categories, of course, can be divided into subcategories, but I find using broad categories at the beginning makes that task easier down the road.  Navigating broad categories in the library may require more work from the students, but it also has the added benefit of allowing students to potentially discover unexpected surprises while selecting books. 

    The new Word Workshop tool from Scholastic is an amazing resource that helps keep the library looking neat and orderly. I use Word Workshop to create and print labels for the book bins, and Word Workshop makes it very easy to make additional labels whenever I create a new category for a book bin in the library. Also, since I can download and save these labels, I am able to print more as I need them.  

    3. Create Book Displays

    Book displays are another great idea to jump start the setup of a brand new classroom library. Create displays to highlight particular books for your students. Displaying books related to a current unit being studied makes them immediately visible and accessible to students. You might consider creating a book display in your library to spotlight a particular author, an upcoming holiday, or a particular genre. 

    I know setting up a classroom library for the first time seems like a daunting prospect, but with these simple steps I hope you’ll see it is not an impossible task. It is most important not to be overwhelmed by the process. I often remind myself that it is my goal to create a sense of interest and excitement for books and reading in the classroom. I remember to make great books visible to students in the new library, to keep it orderly, and to be open to allowing the library to grow and develop over time. 

    Although it might not be evident at the start, in time your library can become the heart of your classroom! 

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