Guest Post: Debbie Linville

Is your classroom library in need of a little TLC—tender love and care? The books you took such great care to sort by genre or author have likely found new homes in nooks and crannies or are simply MIA. The carpets and bookracks used for reading time have probably seen better days, too. Sound familiar?

The beginning of the school year is the perfect time for starting fresh, cleaning things up, and recharging for a year of fun.  Sprucing up the classroom library may require you to do a little heavy lifting, but what better motivation than knowing your efforts will have a direct impact on promoting engaged, proficient, joyful readers?  The research is clear—reading more is directly linked to reading (and writing) better.  So, let’s get started! 

Revitalize, refresh, and rejuvenate your classroom library with two purposes in mind:

1)     To optimally support your instruction

2)     To grow proficient, engaged, and lifelong readers 

While there is no single "best way" to set up a classroom library, there are four tips I have found helpful in setting up a classroom library that I am eager to share.  I will admit, there is nothing original here. I simply listen to what the literacy experts have to say and look at what successful bookstores do!  


Tip #1:  Get Organized and Stay That Way!

Organization is key!  When you think about how to organize the many titles you have accumulated over the years, it’s crucial to understand the concept of grouping texts that have things in common and labeling them clearly so that everyone knows exactly what texts they should expect to find in that section. Feel free to sort by genre, author’s last name, theme, topic, or any number of other options.  Maybe now is the time to shake things up a bit – why not try a new organizing scheme and get your students involved in the process?   The most important thing to consider is to look at the titles you have and determine what makes sense to you and your learners.  Labels are critical!  Having labels on the texts and corresponding labels on each shelf, basket, bin or other storage unit enables readers to be independent in both the retrieval and replacement process.  

Kaplan’s free online Label Maker can help you make all of the classroom labels you need – from storage bins to activity bags!



Tip #2:  Move Beyond a “Reading Corner”           

Again, think about how Barnes & Noble does it.  Books and magazines are everywhere!  For me (a self-professed book lover), the allure of being able to reach out and touch dozens of my paper friends at every turn is irresistible!  This is what we want for our young readers – the inability to leave bookshelves, bins, and baskets without one or two titles under their arms.  Most classrooms boast a reading corner, which is fantastic.  But what about branching out and making texts available all around the room?  Just think about the possibilities.  Could nonfiction titles be located in one part of the room and fiction in another?  What about a special space for poetry, Big Board Books, multiple copies of titles for paired reading, magazines, newspapers, graphic novels, picture books, etc.? Get creative – try to look at the texts you have and the layout of your room through new eyes!



Tip #3: Create a Display!

When you walk into a public library or book store, think about which books most catch your eye.  The ones on the end cap, featured on a table top, or on the shelves with the covers facing you, right?  Try mimicking that in your classroom library and watch the titles fly off your shelves!  Try a featured “Author of the Month” display or permit students to make recommendations to peers and feature those in a special spot in the room.  Try ”Teacher Picks” – you will not believe how desirable these books are!  Do you have a special event or class trip coming up that you can pair with particular reading material?  What about supplementing required content area reading with many and varied texts across genres and levels of difficulty?  I guarantee that if you rotate titles often enough and make them visually appealing, they will find their way into the hands of many engaged, happy readers! 


Tip #4: Maintain an Ever-Evolving Library! 

Classroom libraries are living organisms in that they continually grow and change over time. Two important things to keep in mind:

1)     Take stock of the genres in your reading collection and see where there are gaps – fill those in with new acquisitions before you add to existing genres.  Teachers, me included, can be guilty of purchasing titles only in genres they enjoy.  If science fiction is not your cup of tea and you have no offerings for that 4th grade reader who talks nonstop about time travel and space adventures into galaxies far, far away, you could very well miss out on that one opportunity to propel him to new reading heights.  It is critical we stay on top of what is “hot” and learn about new authors so we can make appropriate recommendations to our students.  There is nothing more motivating for a reader than for his teacher to say, “I was thinking about you when I read this and I think you would really enjoy it.  Try it out and then let’s talk about it together.” 

2)     Keep a catalog!  This is one thing I wish someone had told me about sooner!  In my first few years of teaching I bought so many books!  The trouble was, I had no idea which books I owned, how many there were, or what genres they fit into – I was just happy just to see my classroom library’s shelves, buckets, and bins expanding.  Big mistake!  I realized the error of my ways and corrected the situation.  Creating a library catalog was a slow process, but it was totally worth it.  Whether you are just starting your teaching career or you have been teaching for decades, it is not too late.  There are many ways to catalog your books, but I will share this terrific tool with you that I really like:

When you have plenty of offerings across all genres, topics, and degrees of challenge (and a way to see at a glance the current text inventory), you can be certain there is something irresistible for every reader on your shelves!  Do you have a checkout system and if so, is it be for classroom purposes only or do you permit students to take books home to read?  Whether or not you incorporate a check out system, I would encourage you to have a formalized “shopping day” system in place.  This will ensure that all readers have a time every week or two to browse and choose titles that are “just right” for them to read independently. 

I hope you decide to take the new school year as an opportunity to overhaul your classroom library.  One thing I know for sure, it will all be time and energy well spent.  The payoff is huge – a classroom full of students with huge reading appetites, engrossed in texts they simply cannot put down. It does not get any better than that! 



Biography: Dr. Debbie Linville is the Department Chair of the Elementary & Middle Grades Education at High Point University.  She is currently the Director of Region 5 and Chair of the NCAEE Regional Advisory Councils.   Dr. Linville has been teaching for over 30 years and her passion is enabling educators to promote the proficient, joyful reading and writing lives of children.