How to create a beautiful & welcoming classroom library as a first-year teacher

Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers

Are you a first-year teacher? The number one thing that I was worried about as a first-year teacher was a classroom library. Looking back.... there was probably much more that I should have been worried about! Anyway, I knew that I wanted a literacy rich classroom, but books can get expensive quickly. I was at a loss how to go about building up my classroom library.

After spending the entire summer about grad school surfing Pinterest, I realized a few key things regarding what one needs in a classroom library, and I want to share them with you.

Below is a photo of my first classroom library in 2012. Please note how few books that there are, all the bookshelves are not filled. I found a cheap rug at Ikea for less than $20, and everything else (including bins) are from the Dollar Tree and used books from the library. My mom had some baskets in her basement, so I snagged them for additional books. This entire photo cost me less than $100, but the end result was colorful, warm, and inviting. Over time, my classroom library grew and grew. Not only the amount of books, but also the size of the library. But you know what? My students in 2012 were ECSTATIC about the books in my library pictured below. No one said it was small or that there should be more books, or that my bins weren't "nice" enough. This was the perfect classroom library for US. It was cozy and small, but organized and welcoming. Do not stress yourself out over your library!

Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers

When I was going into my first year of teaching, I would look at pictures on Pinterest of gorgeous libraries, and I felt discouraged. However, creating a classroom library that is perfect for you and your students is not hard! Please note that when I say "perfect," I do NOT mean how it looks! Instead, I mean "perfect" regarding how it functions! In order to have a "perfect" library, you only need four things: books, bins, an organizational system, and some kind of way to make it cozy or interesting. That's it! You do not need to spend a lot of money to create a classroom library that meets the needs for you and your students. Below, I discuss four tips that will help you set up your first classroom library without feeling overwhelmed.

As a first-year teacher, I was desperate to find books! How on Earth would I teach kids who love to read without having a suitable classroom library? Books at Barnes & Noble are expensive, there was no way I could afford supplying an entire library at Barnes & Noble on a first-year-teacher salary. I had other things to buy for my classroom, purchasing brand-new books were simply not an option.

Some places that I found the best books:
Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers
  • Libraries 
    • Look in the used book section! Some libraries will give you a bag for $5 during book sales and you can take as many as can fit in the bag. This is the number one way that I originally grew my library as a first-year teacher. I made a list of all the libraries within a 10-miles radius around my home, and I would go to a different one every day. Some libraries have a poor selection- but others have a great selection. It can be a bit of trial and error, but if you hit the jackpot for books there is no better feeling!
  • Garage sales
    • Again, a lot of trial and error. But look in the newspaper for garage sales in neighborhoods that have a lot of kids, and you might really score some great books.
  • Other teachers
    • Teachers are constantly moving grades, leaving the classroom, or simply cutting down on clutter. Send out a message at your school that you are on the hunt for books, I think you will be shocked on how many books that you will receive! Ask around the first week that you move into your classroom.
  • Classroom parents
    • Ask classroom parents for book donations! Many parents will go through their child's personal library and pull out books that have not been read in a while, or that they no longer need. You can grow quite a stash doing this! You could send home a note with students the first week of school, or discuss with parents during Back to School Night.
  • "Birthday books"
    • Ask students to donate a classroom book to their library on their birthday instead of bringing in classroom treats. Not only are they leaving a legacy behind, but they will be so excited to share something with their classmates that will be read for years to come!
  • Scholastic Points
    • Are you a Scholastic teacher? I have gotten so many new books from Scholastic. I send the fliers home every month with students. Every purchase they make gets YOU and your classroom library free books! When I explained this to parents, they started only purchasing their kids' books through Scholastic instead of Amazon or at a book store. Give it a try!
Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers

Now that you have all your books, you need somewhere to put those books. This is where bins and baskets come in. I personally prefer this to simply putting the books traditionally into the bookcase with the spines showing. It helps pique students' interest to get to see the covers, and helps students with categorizing based on genre. Some great places to buy bins for all of your books includes:
  • Dollar Tree (without a doubt my number one pick for library bins. They are NOT the most durable, but you can stock up for the price. It has the BEST stuff in the summer!)
  • Everyday Literacy
  • Lakeshore Learning
  • Really Good Stuff
Overall, I would recommend the Dollar Tree for my first year teachers. Book bins can be a big investment, and while you are still figuring out the "flow" of your classroom, you may want to wait a year or two before making a big investment. You may realize after your first year that you are more comfortable with a completely different color scheme. Things change a lot after your first year of teaching, don't spend a ton of money on things that can easily change in the future!

My biggest tips for having an organized library: labels and accountability.

I want the kids to be accountable for my books. I spent money on these... I don't want them lost or destroyed. My number one rule to my kids is that they cannot bring my library books home! If I have students without home support and no books at their house, so I make an exception for them. Students need to take ownership and responsibility for the classroom library. One of my classroom jobs is a reshelver. These students make sure that the library looks great every single morning and afternoon.

I label all of my bins to that students know exactly where each book goes. Not sure what to do for the labels? I LOVE Teachers Pay Teachers for labels- for a couple of dollars, you can get some great labels that can be printed off, laminated, and stuck onto a bin.

    Sometimes you'll have a class that struggles with library accountability. There are ways to make your kids more accountable. Some teachers do a binder as a record keeping book. There are also some neat apps that can be used with iPhones or iPads.

    Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers
    One year, I bought a whole bunch of library pockets on Amazon. Then I took a piece of poster board and then peel and stuck each of the pocket onto it. The kids' numbers are on each pocket. The link to the ones above are here. I tell the kids to write down the names of the books and the date on an index card then stick them in the pocket. Honestly, I never once looked at these. But the kids believe I check these daily and make sure all my books are there.

    My classroom library is my favorite spot in the classroom. It has changed throughout the years (and greatly grown), but the essentials have stayed the same. I think some sort of a rug is very important in your library. I also like to supply kids with cushions and comfy items to relax with. Garage sales are a great place to look for cushions. Also, the Pier 1 sales section has really cheap deals on pillows and outdoor cushions. These are all great ways to make comfy book nooks for kids to curl up on!

    Blog post for first-year teachers who want to create a beautiful, fun, and welcoming classroom library! #classroom #library #elementary #teachers

    How do you organize your library? What other tips or ideas do you have?

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