Rich, Relevant and Ever-Evolving Book Collections

In kid-centered classrooms, individual interests, passions and aspirations drive reading choices and the classroom library is the backbone of literacy instruction.

So, it goes without saying that every classroom library needs to contain an immense and appealing variety of genres, topics, authors, series, shapes, sizes, and readability. Each year, as we get to know new students, we need to ask ourselves if the choices in our library are relevant and enticing to each of them.

The goal of a classroom library is to offer a collection of books that will draw every reader in; affirming their identities, reflecting their lived experiences, feeding their curiosities, expanding their sense of possibility, and simply making them want to keep reading.

This tall order takes a LOT of books. It takes a LOT of commitment to organize and care for and curate a collection. Yet, when engaged and thriving reading lives are the goal, these are efforts worth taking.

Collective Responsibility for Access to Books

But where do all of these books come from?

Sadly, too many teachers are left to build a library from their own paycheck because there are no dedicated dollars in the school budget for building or enhancing classroom book collections.

And when blank book shelves are what we offer our new teachers, students in their classrooms are particularly at risk of suffering as readers, We don’t expect science teachers to round up microscopes and test tubes at rummage sales so why do we think it’s okay to expect that of reading teachers?

If we are to take a a collective sense of responsibility for the learning of all students, then we must decide to take collective responsibility for the access to texts in the classroom library.

So, if your school doesn’t yet have dedicated dollars in the budget for classrooms libraries this is a critical starting point for growing and sustaining relevant collections. It’s time to act.

  • Gather your colleagues and advocate for dedicated classroom library dollars with your building principal and school leadership team.
  • Ask them to find and maintain an annual budget line item to support the care and keeping of classroom libraries. I’ve included some highlights about the research of classroom libraries below. You can read more here.
  • The budgeted dollars can be used to purchase new titles that fill very specific needs in your classroom library every year. Extra dollars should be allocated to brand new teachers or teachers new to a grade level.
  • Individual teachers and teams can work together to to keep a running lists of titles you want to request with this money.

Creative Ways to Create a Steady Flow of Books in Every Classroom

Next, it’s time to get creative. It’s time to make sure you spread the word and let the world know what you need. There are literally dozens of simple ways to get new and gently used texts flowing regularly into your classroom without spending another penny.

And to support teachers in this work, I’ve put together a free guide called, “21 Ways to Keep Your Classroom Library Growing without Emptying Your Own Pocketbook”.

This guide is a resource designed for any educator who wants to build an abundant, diverse, and ever expanding classroom library collection, but who also needs to do things like keep the lights on, pay the mortgage, and put dinner on the table.

The ideas offered in the guide are meant to be used in addition to (not instead of) dollars invested by the school in individual classroom libraries.

The 21 ideas offered fall in two categories.

  • Ideas 1-16 don’t cost a single penny. They’ll help you  start to grow your classroom book collection immediately and keep it growing long into the future without spending a nickel. These ideas help you stretch your thinking before you ever open your wallet.
  • Ideas 17 – 21 are very low-cost ideas for teachers and schools on a tight budget. They’re a bit like rubbing two coins together and having a book appear. They cost a little, but they don’t cost a lot.

Whether your classroom library is currently a humble little bookcase with two or three shelves, or a much larger collection built with love and resources over the course of many years, this guide is for you.

You can grab it here.

Enjoy!  And don’t forget to use your imagination. These ideas are just a starting point.

To learn more, check out Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader Centered Classroom . It’s packed with ideas about how to continually expand your classroom book collection, organize it, and most importantly help students use it efficiently to find books they love!

Research to Support the Need for Abundant Classroom Libraries

Wondering what the research says about classroom libraries? Here’s a sampling that I pulled over from Scholastic’s Compendium of Research. 

  • Access to an abundance of books within the classroom results in increased motivation and increased reading achievement. (Kelley, M. & Clausen-Grace, N., 2010; Worthy & Roser, 2010; Guthrie, 2008; Routman, 2003)
  • Students in classrooms with well-designed libraries, interact more with books, spend more time reading.demonstrate more positive attitudes toward reading, exhibit higher levels of reading achievement. (NAEP Report, 2005)
  • Large classroom and school libraries that provide ample collections of instructional level texts play a key role in literacy learning (Worthy & Roser; 2011; Gallagher, 2009; Miller, 2009; Atwell, 2007; Mosenthal, Lipson, Sortino, Russ, & Mekkelsen, 2001).
  • A common feature of effective reading programs is student access to a wide variety of appealing trade books and other reading materials (Allington, 2011; Cullinan, 2000).
  • “. . . wide reading is directly related to accessibility; the more books available and the more time for reading, the more children will read and the better readers they will become”(Huck, Helpler, Hickman, Kiefer, 1997, p. 630).
  • Children’s reading achievement, comprehension, and attitude toward reading improve when their classrooms are filled with trade books and their teachers encourage free reading. (Fielding, Wilson and Anderson, 1988)