The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide to Organizing a Classroom Library

Okay. Confession time. I LOVE books. I mean, I really, really, really love books. I know most teachers do, so I thought I’d share with you what I did to organize my classroom library.

The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide to

[Warning: This post is going to be VERY long, but I promise you will be glad you read it.]

Step 1. Getting Started

The first thing you’ll need is, well, books! Don’t have a lot of books? Let me give you a really great tip.

Two words: Yard. Sales. It’s almost yard sale season, and they are the perfect place to score boxes of books for really, really cheap.

$40 Worth of Yard Sale Finds
$40 Worth of Yard Sale Finds

Now I have a classroom library with thousands of books. I have purchased 90% of them at yard sales, and the best strategy I’ve found is this. Scope out your local papers for yard sales each Friday night (most papers have an online yard sale section so you don’t even have to buy the paper). If there is a town that is having a town wide yard, you’ll definitely want to check it out. Normally there are so many people participating that people are willing to sell for cheap. If there’s not, look for clusters of yard sales so you’re not driving all over the place.

When you’re driving or walking around, look for people that have at least a box or two of books. If they only have a few books, they’ll probably expect too much for them. You want to find people either without price tags or who are asking 50 cents or less per book.

Look through what they have. If you’re interested in around 50% of the books, here’s what you do.

First, tell them you’re a teacher (seriously it works ;)) then say this “I’m trying to build my classroom library, so would you give me a deal if I buy all of your books?” 🙂 Normally they’re pretty excited. After all, you’re taking a ton of “junk” off of their hands. Wait for them to throw out a number, offer them a few dollars less, and bam. You just got a fabulous deal. I try to pay about $5 a box, but it depends on the quality and condition of the books.

Don’t worry if there are some old, gross, or weird books you don’t want. Just take them too. By buying all of them, you are more likely to get a better deal and save a ton of $. You can recycle or giveaway any books you aren’t interested in or you could pick a few of them as example books when you teach your students how to handle books. Discuss if they would want to read a book that looked like that, and then go into a dialog about to to treat books nicely. 🙂

Step 2. Organize

Now that you have your books, you can move on to step two, organizing your books. Think about what categories make sense for your classroom and the number of books you have. The greater number of books, the more categories you’ll need. I broke my books up into about 20 general categories to start.

General Fiction

Realistic Fiction

Fantasy

Dr. Seuss

Favorite Series

Adventure/Mystery

Fairy and Folk Tales

Morals and Lessons

Chapter Books

Poetry Art and Jokes

Phonics and Words

Leveled Readers

School

Math

Careers and Health

Holidays

Science

General Non-Fiction

A few of those categories are broken down even further. For example, all of my science books couldn’t fit in one basket, so I have Science-animals, Science-weather, etc.

If you aren’t sure what category to put a book in, Scholastic has a WONDERFUL Book Wizard Tool that I used. Just type in the title or author and it will give you a genre for the book.

 

Step 3. Keeping Track

After you have sorted your books into piles, you are ready to go to the next (and probably most important) step. Keeping track of your books. Now, this is the most tedious task, but I promise you, you won’t regret it. I recommend using excel, but you could also just make a word document. Make a spreadsheet for each category you came up with, and type in the title and author in alphabetical order. That way, when you want to know if you have a book about, say, the frog life cycle, instead of waiting to check when you get to school, you can just search your list on your computer.

Here is what mine looks like:

Library 3

 You, of course, should do what would work for you, but I have found that this is a pretty handy system. I’ve also emailed this to my colleagues so instead of asking me if I have a specific book, they can look on here and then just ask to borrow it.

Step 4. Storage

Before you go any further, you need to think about how exactly you’re going to store your books. If you’ve done all of this work, it simply doesn’t make any sense to just set them on a bookshelf because within a week they’ll be completely out of order. My suggestion is to use plastic baskets or bins. The bins I have are pictured below. They are from The Dollar Tree, and you can order them online. You have to order them in bulk orders of 36, but they’re $1 each and pretty durable. Just make sure you don’t try to jam too many books in each one, which is a lesson I learned after I cracked one. :-X Click the picture below to check them out.

dollar tree book bins

Step 5. Label and Level

Now you’re ready for the part that actually feels like you’re getting something done! You are ready to label (and if you want to) level your books!

Remember those categories you used to sort your books into groups and entered in your excel spreadsheet? Well now they’re really going to come in handy. Take one category of books at a time. Let’s say you start with your general fiction books. I know I personally have hundreds of general fiction books, so they would never fit in one basket. I decided to split them up alphabetically by title into 4 baskets, so Fiction A-C was in one, Fiction D-J was in the second, Fiction K-P was in the third, and Fiction Q-Z was in the fourth.Obviously, it would depend on the books you have. You can clearly see that I had a lot of fiction books with titles starting with A-C, but not so many from Q-Z.

Now, You could easily label the books “Fiction A-C”, but I chose to give them abbreviations just in case I ever change that alphabetical range, so instead I gave each basket an abbreviation: “FIC 1”, “FIC 2”, “FIC 3”, and “FIC 4”. Here are what my labels look like.

labels screenshot

I just bought Avery return address labels and created them in word. If notice, all of the “FIC” labels are red. You also might notice you see “FAN” (fantasy) and RFIC (realistic fiction) labels are also red. All books that are Fiction have a red label. I color coded all of my labels to make it easier to identify the types of books. For examples, all of my non-fiction books are orange such as “NFIC” (general non-fiction) “S1″, S2”, “S1″, S2” (science 1,2,3,4), and “MA” (math). I would HIGHLY recommend color coding your labels as well. It makes it so easy for your students and for you to find and put back books.

As you’re sticking your label on each book, you might also want to use that Scholastic Book Wizard to write the level of your book inside the cover as well. You could also level them during step 3 when you’re typing them in your excel document.

After you’re done labeling your individual books, you will need labels for your book bins. Click the picture below to check out the editable book bin labels that you can purchase from my TpT store.

1

Tip: I would suggest putting one of your little book labels on each basket label as well like the picture below. It makes it much easier for your students to know exactly which bin to put their books in.

Library 1

Step 6. Library Pockets and Cards

This last step is optional, but helps you really keep track of your books, so I would suggest taking the time to do it since you’ve already done all of this work. I would recommend putting a library pocket and card in the cover of each of your books. Why? It makes it so easy to see who has your book at any given time.

library 2

I purchase my library pockets and library cards in bulk from TheLibraryStore, and I would highly recommend purchasing from them. They have the best prices by far, have a huge selection (from self-adhesive, to colorful, to regular pockets), and ship very quickly. These are the pockets and cards I have, and I love them.

I also love having library pockets in my books because it makes tracking who has what books for Daily 5 super easy. I just made a check out chart for my wall, and the card for the books each student currently has goes in their pocket. Here are the two charts I made to go with my classroom themes each year.

check out 1

check out 2

 

After all of that work, this is what my completed library looked like.

library 4

 I should note, because I had such a huge number of books, it took me (almost) an entire summer to organize my library. Don’t worry if it takes you a while because once it’s completely organized, it’s wonderful! It’s also very easy to add new books to your collection using this system. Just sort, add it to your running excel sheet, level, label, add a library pocket, and put it in the correct basket. That’s it!

 

I hope this post was helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for people who are working on organizing their classroom libraries, leave a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to “Follow Me” to receive more great tips, ideas, and freebies through email!

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Primary Paradise

Primary Paradise

I have always had a passion for teaching and sharing with others and look forward to sharing my ideas with you!

47 Comments

  • Rebecca
    March 8, 2013 7:48 am

    Love the idea of labeling both the books and the bins. I have just been labeling my bins, and they always end up getting all mixed up. Thanks!

    Rebecca
    Ladybugs Lounge

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      March 8, 2013 5:02 pm

      Rebecca, it makes SUCH a difference. Even students who aren’t reading yet can look at the labels and see that they match.

  • MarinaV
    March 8, 2013 8:23 am

    This is a wonderful post! Love how you organized your library, it looks great!

    Marina
    Creative Minds in Elementary Education
    http://www.creativemindsinelementaryeducation.blogspot.com

    • muzafar
      February 25, 2014 4:50 am

      most useful ideas for library labeling

  • Susan
    March 8, 2013 10:55 am

    As I read this, I thought about my late husband. He was the one who went to yard sales weekly to buy books for my classroom. He told the “teacher story”, bought boxes of books like you said, and would come home so excited and proud of his “finds.” He would make me sit on the floor as he went through the books with me one by one. When he died, I sat up a “book foundation” in his name. For the first time, I went to book and yard sales. I put a memory label in each book I gave out in his name. In fact, it’s been 3 years and I still have books to give out. Most everyone in my school has 1 or more books that I have given out in Steve’s memory. Sure wish Steve knew how much I appreciated all the things he did for me and my school kids!!! Memories…….
    susanlulu@yahoo.com

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      March 8, 2013 5:01 pm

      Susan, thank you SO much for sharing your touching story. I am sure your husband knew how much it meant. He sounds like a wonderful man.

  • Elisabeth
    March 8, 2013 3:09 pm

    This was very helpful! Thanks so much for the detailed post on how to do this. 🙂

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      March 8, 2013 5:00 pm

      You are very, very welcome! So glad to help. 🙂

  • Vickie
    March 9, 2013 8:33 am

    Another option for cataloging your library is to use Good Reads. If allows anyone to check out your library, uses your smartphone to read bar codes, and you can create a tag or shelf for anything you like.

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      March 9, 2013 8:48 am

      That is awesome! I’ll have to check that out. 🙂

  • Max Smirnoff
    March 13, 2013 5:54 am

    Why do you use Excel for the list of your books? There are many special book organizing programs available. Personally, I am using All My Books by http://www.bolidesoft.com The best thing about this program – I don’t need to fill the book details, the program downloads them automatically from Amazon.

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      March 13, 2013 6:58 pm

      Hi! I use excel because that’s what works for me. 🙂 That program sounds really cool. I definitely think that it’s important to find what works for you. It’s cool that that program fills in the info for you. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  • S. Codd
    April 14, 2013 12:07 pm

    Great stuff ! Thank you for the great organizing ideas and links.

  • Patricia Johnson
    April 15, 2013 7:50 am

    Another great way to get books is at used book stores. I went to my local used book store and offered to level the books for them and as payment I got books for my classroom. It helped the store so that when kids came in and said they needed books at a certain level they could help them find them and it helped me to get a wide variety of books for my class.

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      April 15, 2013 5:42 pm

      What a wonderful idea! I love that you helped them in exchange for books for your library. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • MrsDoring
    April 16, 2013 7:51 pm

    I’d love to see what your beautiful library looks like at the end of the day on a Friday. =) I know my beautiful summer organization is quite the disaster now! What processes/routines do you have set up to keep it nice and neat throughout the year? How much time do you and/or your students spend on that?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      April 17, 2013 6:25 am

      Haha, well right now my beautiful library is in my attic since I’m currently working as a pull out teacher for the remainder of the year, however, it’s actually (normally) still pretty organized since my students are only allowed to pick from certain bins, and I only choose trusted helpers to put books back. That was when I was in first grade. However, if I am teaching an older grade next year, I plan to allow students to pick from (probably) all bins. I’m thinking about using a clothes pin system where they clip their clothes pin to the bin they took the book from. Luckily since each book is also labeled with the same label as the bin, it isn’t too hard to keep it straight. I agree though. As the year goes on, it’s definitely a challenge to keep things neat. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Jennifer
        March 3, 2015 2:07 pm

        I am not sure if this has been shared, there are so many wonderful ideas here, in my room I use color coded stickers so each bin has a sticker as well as each book so when the trusted helpers put them back they know exactly what bin they go in.
        Thanks for all your great ideas!!!

  • Amber Campbell
    June 6, 2013 7:22 pm

    so you don’t have a Junie B. Jones bin..you would put her in realistic fiction…and what about chapter books..I teach 2nd…should I have a book that says chapter books or just sort them in subject and they would just have to find books with that level or less…what do you think?

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      June 7, 2013 6:26 am

      Hi Amber. You can’t see them in this picture because I have SO many books they don’t fit on my shelves. I have a few bins for chapter books. Since I taught first, a had very few kids who could read them, so I put them up and out of the way (since they didn’t fit anyway). You could definitely have a bin for Junie B Jones books if you have a lot. I have a bin for “favorite series” which includes There Was an Old Lady books, Berenstein Bears, and Amelia Bedelia. I also have a Dr. Seuss bin since I have so many Seuss books. You can definitely adapt this system to what works for you. Hope that was helpful! Good luck!

      Martha

  • Linda Tran
    June 21, 2013 11:33 pm

    I love this library card system! Having each student have their own pocket makes a lot of sense and keeps everything so organized. Plus it probably makes the kids feel more responsible to treat the books with care when you know what books they have. When I was student teaching, by the middle of the year- the books were mostly in totally different bins! Your time and effort must’ve pay off, especially if you get a lot of years’ worth under your belt! I just bought a ton of new books- only under a 100 so far, but I’m hoping to rack it up to 300 by the end of the summer and will definitely start this ingenius system. Thanks Martha!

    Linda

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      June 22, 2013 7:48 am

      You are SO welcome! I am all about the kids taking responsibility. This year I’m moving to 4th, and I’m going to actually make it a job to keep the library in order and keep the books in order. I’m going to have to check out librarything.com- sounds cool! 🙂

  • Linda Tran
    June 21, 2013 11:40 pm

    By the way, check out this website: http://www.librarything.com!
    I know you have an excel sheet, but it’s pretty cool- you just have to find it on amazon 🙂

  • Dianne Butler
    July 1, 2013 11:50 am

    Thank you for all of your details. Being organized takes time, but you have done a great job with it. I am a media specialist and I too have many, many books. If you have a MAC check out Delicious Library: http://delicious-monster.com. I use version 2 (because I only have LION on my mac, but there is a Delicious Library 3 if you have MOUNTAIN LION. Not only can you catalog your books, but it is a complete home inventory system. If you don’t have a MAC, check out Book Crawler, reviewed here: http://appadvice.com/appguides/show/book-cataloging-apps
    There are lots of others, but you are right, everyone has to find what works for them.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas, they were very helpful.

    Dianne Butler

  • Marnie David
    July 13, 2013 3:28 pm

    Love your ideas! What is the little plastic piece you used to hang the labels onto the book bins? Any ideas where to get them?

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      July 13, 2013 6:29 pm

      Hi Marnie, I used zip ties. Just laminate and hole punch the signs, and then use the zip ties to secure them. You can get them pretty much anywhere Target, home depot etc. 🙂

  • Leslie
    July 20, 2013 7:06 pm

    I loved your post and am eager to get my classroom library organized. I have too many books and feel overwhelmed. Want to help? Do you live in new York ?
    Toteachart@ aol. com

    I think it is great that you labeled the books and the bins!

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      July 20, 2013 7:47 pm

      Hi Leslie, I don’t live in NY. My biggest piece of advice would be to just organize a bin of books a day. Don’t try to do it all at once. Even if you’re not done by the time school starts, that’s okay. You’ll get there. Good luck!

      • Becky Matson
        September 14, 2014 9:56 pm

        I completely agree- don’t worry if it’s not all done before school starts. We’re starting week 5 this week and I’m just starting to get my labels for my books and bins made. Just take it a little at a time.

  • Learning 4 Keeps
    July 24, 2013 12:25 am

    This is such a fabulous post!! It is definitely one to save for future use! I am so glad you linked up at the Let’s Get Organized! Linky Party. It will be a favorite pin I am sure. 🙂

    Leah

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      July 25, 2013 11:37 am

      Thanks Leah! It took a long time to organize it, but it made my life so much easier. 🙂

  • Nicole Ziemann
    September 19, 2013 4:03 pm

    This is beautiful. I am a brand new, first year teacher and my classroom is filled with an enormous amount of books from teachers of years past. This will be INCREDIBLY helpful in sorting through everything!!

  • jaidedanielsJaide
    December 12, 2013 8:38 pm

    I am in the middle of organising my class library and just discovered the amazing app iBookshelf. It lets you create your own library on your iPad so your students can loan books froms the classroom library and you have a record! Thanks for the excellent tips 🙂

    missdanielsadventures.blogspot.com

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  • Nicole Rios
    May 18, 2014 11:37 am

    Martha, thank you so much for mentioning this post. Super detailed, which is exactly what I needed. I love the idea of creating a spreadsheet so that I can keep track of exactly what I have in my library. Thanks so much.

    Nicole

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      May 21, 2014 8:33 am

      Aw! So glad to help, Nicole!

  • Stacv
    May 23, 2014 10:22 am

    I just started at a new school and have accumulated a lot of things, but my new room is not equip for storage. Any suggestions. Any help in any area would be helpful. I am really wanting to focus on organizing. There are built in shelves along one wall. But the shelves don’t slide closed on the bottom and they are not sturdy at all. I only have 9 this year, a mix of young five and K. Next year I will have 20 or more, mixed again. I have tables and am wondering if I should see about desks. I have been researching classrooms and say a 3 tired storage system per group of desks and thought that would be great for journal, supplies, ect. What do you think? I am in need of some advice so that I can just get started. What do you do? Do you have any pictures of your room? SOrry I sound crazy, I ma just anxious to get it all set up for next year. Center ideas?

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      May 24, 2014 8:10 am

      Hi! First, congrats on your new position! It sounds like you have a tough storage situation. Here’s a peek into my classroom-http://www.myprimaryparadise.com/2013/09/01/my-2nd-grade-tropical-classroom/. I was blessed with a HUGE room this year, so storage was honestly really easy. I love my desks, but I’ve heard that desks with kinders aren’t always a good fit because they have such a hard time organizing them. You could always do tables with storage bins next to each group and do communal supplies. Could you send me some pictures of your classroom? That would make it easier for me to offer some suggestions. Feel free to email me at primaryparadisetpt@gmail.com. I can also ask my followers for advice for you (with your permission of course). 🙂

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  • Carter
    July 22, 2014 10:57 pm

    THIS IS SO HELPFUL. I am a first year teacher and also, like you, LOVE books. I have been collecting my last four years of college. I also was fortunate enough to come into a teacher who moved careers and donated her massive library to me. Needless to say, I have so many books and have been worrying about what in the world am I going to do to sort them- BUT THIS has been amazingly helpful. THANKS A TON!

    • Primary Paradise
      Primary Paradise
      July 25, 2014 1:10 pm

      You are very welcome! Good luck! 🙂

  • Vicki Tompkins
    May 17, 2015 9:30 am

    Weird request. Our school was recently hit by a tornado and our insurance company is asking for a list of all books. Would it be possible for you to send me your list? It would be a great starting point for our list. I will definitely be making a list in the future.

  • elizabeth
    July 13, 2015 8:22 pm

    This is SUCH a helpful post. I am a first year teacher and was finding myself overwhelmed when deciding how to best organize my library. Thank you!

  • Ivy Yong
    July 26, 2015 6:57 am

    I am so glad that I found your post. Thank you for sharing all your previous experiences !!

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