Creating a Strong Classroom Library: FAQ Part 2

creating a strong classroom library, part 2
Ready to learn more about creating an accessible, healthy, and appealing classroom library? Keep reading!

Hey there! If you’re here, you probably are hopping over from my last blog post answering all of your questions about my classroom library. In that post, I address everything from how I fund my library and find my books, how I organize it, what goes on my” parent permission” shelf, and more. If you haven’t read that, head back there because it has essential information you don’t want to miss. This post is part 2 in my series, a continuation of the Q&A in the first post. 

Ready to learn even more about my classroom library and how you, too, can build a community of readers? Let’s get started!

HOW DID YOU START YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

Slowly but surely. I can’t emphasize this enough. Key word: slowly. When I moved down from 11th grade to 7th, I started from scratch. I probably had fewer than 50 books at the start of the school year. They were not organized by alphabetical order, genre, or topic. I had no labels, fun library displays, or good book recommendations. I knew my meager collection wasn’t “good enough,” but at the same time, I knew it would have to be enough, because everyone starts somewhere.

So I set a goal of reading more middle grade books and growing my little baby library throughout the school year. I frequented thrift shops, used bookstores, websites like Book Outlet and all of the other resources I highlighted in my last post. Slowly, but surely, I added books to my classroom library and added even more to a growing wishlist of books I wanted for our collection.

My best advice is this: It’s okay to start with a small but mighty library. Focus on stocking your library with high-interest, quality titles. It’s better to have a tiny library of 50 amazing books than a library of 200 “okay” ones. It’s also better to wait and see what your students actually like, rather than rushing to buy a ton of books before you even meet your readers. (That’s one mistake I made my first year of middle school. In my sheer panic of not knowing what the heck 7th graders read, I impulse-bought random books that never ended up getting read.)

classroom library, then and now
Your classroom library will grow slowly, but surely. It takes TIME, and that’s okay. Everyone starts somewhere!

HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY NEAT AND ORGANIZED? DO YOU DO IT ALL, OR DO KIDS HELP TOO?

I don’t! Haha. On any given day, there’s a decent chance that the book return bin is overflowing, the shelves are imperfect, and there are random stacks of books scattered throughout the library. Some might call it mess, but I call it a “lived- and learned-in look.” I am constantly pulling books for students to browse and encouraging students to do the same. Very rarely is everything exactly where it’s “supposed to be,” and that’s okay.

In all seriousness, I try to go through my library weekly and organize things (or whenever I have some spare time). I’ll reshelve books in the return bin, place new books on display, and round up any strays or stacks of books. When I do this weekly “reset,” I also run a report of currently checked out books on Booksource, and cross-reference that with my return bin. This shows me if any students forgot to return their book online, and it also helps me see if any books are currently MIA.

I do want to work on getting my readers more involved with the organization and maintenance of our classroom library. I’m considering implementing few classroom library “jobs” for interested books. For example, one student could be in charge of checking in with students who have overdue books, another student could be in charge of reshelving, etc. I’ll keep my Instagram and this blog posted if/when I start that. Let me know if you have any advice in the comments!

genre shelves in classroom library
Last year, I decided to “genre-fy” my classroom library to make it easier for readers to find books. I’ll never go back!

HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON THE GENRES AND TOPICS YOU PICKED FOR ORGANIZING YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

I honestly didn’t overthink the genres when I first implemented them. I quickly surveyed my library, thought about the genres represented and the ones my students enjoyed, and got to work. I’d say my genres are pretty standard, although I do have two sections that are actually formats, rather than genres: novels in verse and graphic novels. I separated these into their own sections because these types of books are among some of the most popular in our classroom.

The whole purpose of genre organization is to make it easier for students to find what they want. I wanted those books to be easily accessible and appealing on the shelves. Another decision I made was to totally separate fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian. I know there’s some overlap with the dystopian genre, but since it’s such a popular genre, it demanded its own set of shelves. There are certainly books that fit multiple genre categories, and that’s okay. That’s good for my readers to learn anyways! (More on that in the following question.)

As far as the topic organization I implemented at the beginning of this year, I considered what topics and themes students seek out and read the most. For example, students often search for sports books, survival stories, and books about war, so I am added topic-based book bins for those categories. I also added “topics” like “What to read if you don’t like to read” and “Good books under 200 pages.” If you’re struggling to organize your classroom library, ask yourself: What books do students gravitate toward the most, and how can I organize my library to make it easier for readers to find them?

topic organization in classroom library
I decided on genres and topics by thinking about what students frequently search for and read in our classroom library.

HOW DO YOU SHELVE BOOKS THAT FIT MULTIPLE GENRES OR CATEGORIES?

Again, by not worrying or thinking too much about it! If I’m stumped, I look up the genre on Goodreads or Google, consider my own inclination if I’ve read the text myself, and make my best guess! Sometimes it comes down to shelf space, which is quickly dwindling in my expanding library. Sometimes it’s me trying to “think like a middle schooler” and pinpoint where they’d most likely look for it first. Other times, it’s me saying “Sure, let’s put it here.” In my opinion, this kind of tiny decision is not worth your stress.

You can always reshelf titles later after they’ve circulated. You can always ask for feedback from your readers and come to a consensus on shelving decisions. In fact, this kind of situation offers a great learning opportunity for you to discuss the purposes–and the pitfalls–of labels and categories in classroom libraries and beyond. Books are more than their labels, and so are readers! 🙂

Classroom library return bin and shelves
I shelve books that fit multiple genres with my best guess. I can always reevaluate these decisions later. It’s not worth any stress!

DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO KEEP UP WITH THE GENRE OR TOPIC ORGANIZATION IN YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

No, not at all! Maybe it’s the way my brain works, but I find it to be super user-friendly and efficient. It’s much easier to reshelve a book by thinking of its genre (or quickly checking it) and finding the clearly-labeled shelves for that genre than determining precisely where it falls in alphabetical order. In fact, I think the genre shelves have helped me “get to know” my library more.

Since there’s no possible way I could read all of the books in my collection, the organization helps me get to know which books belong in what genre, which titles are the most popular in each category, and which genres are “trending.” I can easily look at my shelves and see the ones that are empty because the books are all checked out!

Shelves and bins in classroom library
Organizing my classroom library by genre and topic has actually made it a lot easier to maintain.

HOW DO YOU TRAIN YOUR STUDENTS TO USE YOUR LIBRARY AND ITS CHECKOUT SYSTEM?

Lots of modeling, practice, and reminders! I start teaching my students how to use our classroom library and checkout system (Booksource) the first week of school. I keep instructions and links posted on Google Classroom and clear, helpful posters displayed around the library. In addition, I model the checkout and return process for students and issue frequent verbal reminders when I see kids checking books out. I also quickly pinpoint the kids who forget to use our system, and I work with those students to help them remember. Are there kids that still struggle at the end of the year? Sure. They’re kids. But I know who they are and would rather remind them endlessly than lose a book!

How to checkout books on Booksource
I train my students in library procedures and routines at the beginning of the year, but we revisit them often. 🙂 Booksource is a life-saver!

HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY PUSHBACK FROM PARENTS OR ADMIN ABOUT CERTAIN BOOKS?

I have gotten a question or two, but no real pushback. I know I am very fortunate to be able in this situation, and I feel for any teachers dealing with book challenges, bans, and other forms of censorship.

In addition to the parent permission shelf I mentioned in my previous post, I also send home a parent letter at the beginning of the year. This letter outlines my philosophy on independent reading, explains that students will have a choice in what they read, and cautions parents that some books will have “mature” content. Most importantly, the letter communicates that while I do my best to monitor what kids are reading, parents/guardians are responsible for supervising their child’s choices (if they wish to do so). Again, I’ve never had an issue with this. Most parents are excited that their readers will have real choice in reading (no restrictions, AR points, reading logs, etc.).

I feel much more secure in what I offer my students to read by communicating with parents in this way. I also communicate with my school librarian and admin so they are aware of my reading philosophy as well. Thankfully, my admin has been supportive of my goal: Choice reading should be just that–the reader’s CHOICE. 

Banned books display and lesson
CHOICE is the foundation of our independent reading program. I communicate this through a parent letter at the beginning of the year, and I email home when students want to read books on our “parent permission” shelf. This approach has worked well for us!

DO YOUR STUDENTS PREFER YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY OVER YOUR SCHOOL OR LOCAL LIBRARIES?

Talk about a tough question! When I reflect on the books my students check out and read in my classroom, I’d say there’s a pretty healthy mix of books from different libraries. Many students read books from my classroom library, simply because they are right there. Because we read for ten minutes at the start of class every day, it’s easier for kids to grab a new book from a shelf a few feet away. However, as much as I like to pride myself in having a strong classroom library, it simply can’t compare to our school library’s collection, and it doesn’t even come close to what our municipal library offers. 

Many students find themselves in our school library, searching for the next book in a series because my classroom collection is incomplete. Others just like the independence of browsing in the school library because it feels more like a “real library.” And many have great relationships with our school librarian, so they return for her trusted recommendations. 

Many of my readers also fall in love with our municipal library’s Overdrive. With this digital option, students have access to more books than they could ever imagine. Many fall in love with audiobooks this way. Others discover that they can get their hands on their next book quicker, thanks to ebooks. And some discover that while ebooks and audiobooks can work in a bind, they just really love turning the pages of those paperbacks on our shelves.

Ultimately, I think what my students prefer is all the choice these different options provide them. They love the access our classroom library provides them, and this is what often hooks many readers. But once they’ve fallen back in love with reading, they’ll find a way to get their hands on the books they want, whether it’s on our shelves, down the hall, or on their Chromebook. 

Classroom library scavenger hunt
We love our classroom library, but we love using our other resources, too!

WHAT IF STUDENTS ARE ONLY USING THE SCHOOL LIBRARY AND NOT TOUCHING THE CLASSROOM LIBRARY? ANY SUGGESTIONS?

First of all, I want to to celebrate the fact that your students are utilizing the school library! They’re reading! That’s fabulous. But I understand your concern! When you take the time, effort, and money to curate a healthy classroom library, you certainly want it to be used! Here are some potential suggestions. All of thes are things I try to do regularly to keep our classroom library accessible and appealing:

Book displays and recommendations
Displaying books and offering high-interest book recs can go a long way in making your classroom library more appealing and accessible.

WHAT ARE SOME SUPER POPULAR TITLES IN EACH GENRE?

Ah, this is so tough but I love this question! Here’s a quick rundown of the top few books in each genre (according to my 7th-grade readers):

  • Graphic novels: New Kid, When Stars Are Scattered, & Hey, Kiddo
  • Novels in verse: Before the Ever After & Knockout (Click HERE for a list of favorite novels in verse for middle school and HERE for a list high school readers will love.)
  • Realistic fiction: Ghost Boys, Black Brother, Black Brother, & Ghost
  • Historical fiction: The War That Saved My Life & anything by Alan Gratz
  • Dystopian: Scythe, Unwind, The Hunger Games, & Legend
  • Fantasy: The Lightning Thief & Red Queen
  • Science Fiction: MINRs & I Am Number Four
  • Mystery: This Is My America & anything by April Henry
  • Horror: Hide & Seeker & The Darkdeep
  • Memoir/Biography: It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime & Becoming Muhammad Ali
  • Nonfiction: All Thirteen & The Borden Murders (Click HERE for a list of favorite nonfiction titles for middle school and HERE for nonfiction books high school readers will love.)

Even though I’m not teaching high school right now, I read a lot of YA and stay up to date on trending books. Here are some top picks for 9-12 classroom libararies:

  • Graphic novels: Heartstopper, Pumpkinheads, and Dancing at the Pity Party
  • Novels in verse: Long Way Down & Clap When You Land
  • Realistic fiction: After the Shot Drops, We Are Not From Here, & Far From The Tree
  • Romance: Better Than The Movies, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, & Everything, Everything
  • Historical fiction: Salt to the Sea & Code Name Verity
  • Dystopian: Scythe, Dry, & Sanctuary
  • Fantasy: Shadow and Bone & The Gilded Ones
  • Science Fiction: Nyxia & Illuminae
  • Mystery: One of Us Is Lying, Allegedly, and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
  • Horror: There’s Someone Inside Your House and White Smoke
  • Memoir/Biography: Every Falling Star & It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime
  • Nonfiction: The 57 Bus & The Borden Murders
Scythe & New Kid
Two of the most popular books in my 7th grade classroom library: Scythe and New Kid

You can find these book recommendations and MORE in genre-based book brochures and topic- and genre-based visual book rec posters.

Book Recommendation Brochures w/ Reader Personality Quizzes – Middle School
Book Recommendation Brochures w/ Reader Personality Quizzes – High School
Visual Book Recommendation Posters – Middle School
Visual Book Recommendation Posters – High School

I HOPE THIS CLASSROOM LIBRARY FAQ WAS HELPFUL!

I hope you found this post helpful! Please let me know if you have any lingering questions via the comments or a DM on Instagram, and I’ll do my best to answer them in the final part of this series.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING:

Want to learn more about creating a community of readers in your classroom? You’re in the right spot, because that’s my JAM! Here are a few of my favorite posts that you might find helpul:

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