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5 Easy Steps to an Organized Classroom Library

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Classroom Library


Whether starting from scratch or looking to improve your current setup, these steps will help you create an organized classroom library that works for you and your students.

Are you finding that your classroom library is more of a chaotic pile than a well-organized resource? Do your students struggle to find books that match their interests or reading levels?

You’re not alone. Many teachers face the challenge of managing an overflowing library, leading to lost books, wasted time, and frustrated readers.

Let’s explore practical solutions to common issues like cluttered shelves, mismatched reading materials, and inefficient systems. By implementing these strategies, you can transform your library into a welcoming, efficient, and inspiring space that fosters a love of reading and supports diverse learning needs.

Why should I create an organized classroom library?

Here are a few benefits of having an organized classroom library:

  • Promotes Reading: It makes it easier for students to find books that interest them, encouraging more frequent reading.
  • Maximizes Learning Time: It minimizes the time spent searching for books, allowing more time for actual reading.
  • Supports Diverse Learning Needs: It ensures that every child can find appropriate and engaging reading material.
  • Facilitates Curriculum Integration: It allows teachers to quickly find books that support the curriculum, making it easier to integrate literature into lessons.
  • Promotes Literacy Skills: Exposure to a wide variety of organized reading materials helps students improve comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills.

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Classroom Library
Photo by J. Nelson

How do I create an organized classroom library?

Over the years, I’ve tried many ways to organize my classroom library, but I have settled on a few simple and effective methods. Let’s dive in and get organized!

Step 1: Decide on a checkout system.

The first step to creating an organized classroom library is deciding how students will check out books. A few methods include:

  • Sign-Out Binder: Create a sign-out page with columns for students’ names, checkout dates, titles of the books they are choosing, and return dates. You can make a copy for each student or have students all use the same sheet. When checking books in and out, students will record the required information on these sheets in a designated binder.
  • Online Book Inventory: Keep track of books with an online platform, such as Booksource, that will inventory your library and keep track of the books being checked in and out. Initially, you will enter books with a barcode scanner or by manually entering each book’s ISBN. To check books in and out, students will use a barcode scanner or manually enter the ISBN.
  • Library Pockets and Cards: Add a library pocket (I like the peel-and-stick ones) to the inside cover of each book and fill out the top portion of the library cards. When students check out a book, they will fill out the card with the required information and place it in a designated place. (I keep a file card box on my desk.) This is my favorite method because I can quickly flip through my box of cards to see which books are out and who has them.

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Classroom Library
Photo by J. Nelson

Step 2: Categorize the books by genre (and possibly series or author).

The reason I categorize books based on genre is that I want my students to become familiar with them. This way of organizing books also corresponds with the 40 Book Challenge, where students keep track of the books they read and their genres.

The best website to help with this step is Perma-Bound Books. It is free to register and use, and you can search for books by ISBN, title, or author. This website will tell you each book’s genre, reading level, interest level, Lexile level, and F&P level.

As you look up each book, use sticky notes to jot down important information. Then, place the sticky notes on the covers of the books to help you stay organized during this step.

Also, take note of genres and reading levels that are needed to fill out your library. Refer to these notes as you procure books throughout the year. Not only will you have a more organized classroom library, but you will also have one that meets the needs of a wider range of students.

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Classroom Library
Photo by J. Nelson

Step 3: Display a chart that shows how the books are categorized.

Once you know how you are grouping the books, it is helpful to make a chart like the one above and designate different colors for each category. Mark the spines of the books with thin strips of colored duct tape that coordinate with the categories. (I found a nice variety of colors and patterns at my local dollar store.) Post the chart in your library to help students locate books more efficiently.

The largest part of my classroom library is grouped by genre, but I also have sections for popular books in a series and popular authors. (I still categorize the books in these special sections by genre and mark their spines as such, but you could certainly make the books in these special sections their own categories if preferred.)

If your organized classroom library is still relatively small, keeping it simple with general categories such as fiction, nonfiction, and poetry is perfectly fine. For more extensive libraries, it will be helpful to break those main genres down into subgenres like I did in the photo above. (I have over 5,000 books, so organizing by subgenre was necessary.)

Step 4: Decide how to store and display the books.

Once you’ve decided on your categories and color-coordinated your books, you’ll need to determine how to display them. This is an essential step because you want your classroom library to be both inviting to students and easy to use.

As seen in the first photo of this post, I use a mixture of spines facing out on bookshelves, plastic shoe boxes, and mini storage crates. The shoe boxes and mini crates hold books in a series and books by popular authors.

Not only do I use duct tape on the spines to make it easy to locate and reshelve books, but I also label the shelves with stickers from a label maker. This is helpful for students who are color blind.

To showcase a variety of books, I display an equal amount of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on foldable wire display stands throughout our classroom.

Step 5: Set up a return system and think about library maintenance.

There are three things to consider when finalizing your organized classroom library.

  • Label Your Books: Mark your books so staff and students know who to return them to if they are misplaced. I write my last name on the inside cover with a Sharpie marker, but some teachers like to use a custom-made stamp or labels.
  • Returning Books: Decide where and how you want students to return books when finished. Designate a specific area and set up a basket, box, or bin for returned books.
  • Train Helpers: To relieve some of the workload, consider training a few students to maintain the classroom library. I show mine how to inspect each book for damage before reshelving them. If books are damaged, they know to set them aside so I can repair them.

These five steps will help you achieve an organized classroom library that will work efficiently and effectively for you and your students. Being able to find the books they want and need will set students on the path to becoming independent readers.

If you need more books for your classroom library, consider reading How to Build Your Classroom Library on the Cheap.

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Jan's File Cabinet Intermediate and Middle School Language Arts

Hello there!

I’m Jan. I’m a pet mom, an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and a MASSIVE book hoarder. My philosophy of teaching is simple… start where students are and build them up with the right interventions at the right time. I enjoy making digital and printable resources for upper intermediate and middle school language arts.

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