Ten Tips from Laura Robb: Classroom Libraries & Access to Books

Access to books can make a difference in children’s desire to read and in their ability to comprehend a wide range of genres. David, an eighth grade student, put it this way: “I love our class library ‘cause I have books at my fingertips. When I finish one, I can check out another.”  

In “The Importance of Independent Reading,” (What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, IRA, 2012) Linda Gambrell and her colleagues write:

“Students’ development of reading skill is less about ability than it is about the opportunity to read. Only with the practice and the expertise that comes from sufficient opportunities to engage in independent silent reading will students reach their full literacy potential.” (p.155)

What this implies is that English language learners, special education students, learning disabled students, reluctant readers, and grade-level and above-level readers all benefit from reading the finest children’s and young adult literature. These can be print or ebooks. A rich and diverse classroom library offers students the choices needed to self-select books they can and want to read.

Ten Tips for Building the Best Classroom Libraries

You can create a top-notch classroom library for students in elementary, middle and high school by reflecting on and trying the ten tips below.   

  1. Set a goal for the number of books in your library: Give yourself three to four years to acquire 1,500 books on a range of reading levels so all learners have access to books. Though you might initially feel that this goal is too difficult, keep reaching for it. If you fall short of that number, it’s okay; by striving, you will have increased the number of books available to students. Know, too, that you will have about a five percent annual book loss. Expect it. Enlist the support of your administrators and parents and ask them to help you replace books that students love to read.  

  2. Organize books: Students find selecting books easier when you organize them by genre. Tape an index card under the book shelves and on each one, label the genre, such as: realistic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, picture books, biography, autobiography and memoir, suspense, mystery, fantasy, short stories, folk and fairy tales, and informational texts.

  3. Display books: On each shelf, display one or two books, showcasing the covers. Illustrations and photographs on covers motivate students to browse through a book to see if it they want to read it. 

  4. Book-talk new additions: Before shelving new books, display them on your desk or in a line under the board. Book-talking each one doesn’t mean you have to read the book. You can read the back cover, the text on the inside of the book’s jacket, or start the first chapter. If you’ve read the book, select an engaging passage and use that for your book talk.

  5. Use technology to record checked-out books: Students in third grade and up can type books they’ve checked out of your class library onto spreadsheets they can easily access on a class computer; students also note the day they returned the book.  Or you can have a “checkout notebook” that asks students to write their name, the book’s title, and date checked out and returned. Students in Pre-K to grade 2 will need your assistance in keeping records of books they have completed.

  6. Gather students' input: After the first six weeks of school, invite students to suggest print books, ebooks, and magazines they’d like to see in the class library. You can use the money your school gives you for purchasing books students want to read for your library.  Another route is to give the list to your principal and ask him or her to give it to the chair of your PTA; then invite the PTA to organize a fundraiser. 

  7. Feature a genre or author each month: Introduce students to different authors and genres by displaying a new set of books each month. These can be on a windowsill, a special table, or on an extra student desk. 

  8. Make working the class library a student job: After the first semester have students work in pairs and identify the genres of new additions, create monthly displays of a favorite author or genre, and shelve returned books.

  9. Create positive buzz about books: Organize students into groups of five or six and ask them to choose a book from their book log to share with the group. Students can choose a book by a beloved author, a book they couldn’t put down, a book that taught them new information, etc. Give each student about two minutes to share. Rotate group membership so students hear from different peers each time they meet.

  10. Present book testimonials: Tell students to make an appointment with you when they finish a book that they totally loved, so you can schedule a book testimonial. Students present their testimonial to classmates. These are one-minute talks that include the title, author, and a sentence or two that explains what made this book such a great read. 

Finding Funds for Your Classroom Library

In addition to funds your school supplies to purchase books for class libraries, you can try some of the suggestions that follow.  Once you’ve met that goal of 1,500 books, reach higher and try to add 100 books a year.

Here are a few suggestions for adding more and more books to your classroom library:

  • Use book club offerings and earn bonus points when your students place monthly orders.
  • Encourage your school librarian to organize a book fair. Book fairs earn points toward free books, and teachers can share this bounty. It’s also a great venue for teachers to present wish lists to parents who often purchase books at the fair for class libraries.
  • Invite your PTA to sponsor a fundraiser specifically for classroom libraries.
  • Collect magazines and comics from friends and family.
  • Bring in copies of the local newspaper.
  • Comb local yard and public library sales.
  • Ask parents to bring in books their children no longer read.
  • Investigate Scholastic’s Classroom Libraries for grades K-9.  Each library includes 100 books and a teaching booklet.

Closing Thoughts

Your classroom library provides students with access to the finest books every day of the school year.  Rich and varied class libraries bring equal opportunity to all socio-economic levels and provide students with opportunities to learn about past, present, and future worlds. 

Develop a classroom library that’s filled with motivating books and draw students into the reading life. And remember that reading, like any sport, requires practice to gain skill and expertise. 

Want more Laura? You can find ten additional tips for supporting literacy and engagement in the classroom on YouTube