Creating a Strong Classroom Library: FAQ Part 3

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 part 2 post, I am chatting about everything from how I started my classroom library, how I keep it organized, how I teach students to use my checkout system, what books my students love, and more. In the first 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 those two posts, head back to check them out before reading on! This is part 3, the final post in my classroom library FAQ series (for now at least).

Ready to learn even more about how to create a healthy, accessible, and inviting classroom library? Here’s the rest of my advice!

What advice would you give to a teacher trying to start their classroom library from scratch?

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s important to remember that building a classroom library (and an independent reading program to go with it) is a gradual process and a long-term commitment. Everyone starts from nothing, so please know that it is OKAY to have a small (or nonexistent) library at the beginning.

You can always utilize your resources (school library + public library + Overdrive) while you work on building your collection. If you’re panicking about students not having enough access to books, stop what you’re doing and see if your public library offers digital access in the form of an “ecard,” student card, or digital card. In many cases, these kinds of cards will give students access to almost any book on Overdrive and Libby. If you’re not sure if your library offers it, go into a local branch and chat with the kids/teen librarian about this option and others. THEY WANT TO HELP YOU! But you do have to research and reach out. 🙂

Also, it’s important to note that when your classroom library is pretty small and you don’t have much spare time, it’s okay to forgo an organizational system (like labels, genre shelves, topic-based book bins, etc). You might not have enough books to organize, and that’s okay. Sometimes, it’s even better just to go with the flow and see what your students need before you go out and buy the color-coding stickers or the see-through book bins. You can build your library as your readers are using it. I remember wasting a lot of time, energy, and money on stuff for my first-year classroom. If I had just waited a year, half a year, a few months even, I would have been able to see what work and what didn’t. The same goes for your classroom library.

Growing a healthy classroom library is a gradual process. It takes time, effort, and resources, so don’t be afraid to start small. Quality is better than quantity, especially at the beginning of your journey.

How do you know when books are great when you don’t have the time to read them all yourself?

This is a great question, because there’s never enough time to read All The Books! And let’s be honest: You might not want to read middle grade or young adult titles sometimes! While I do read a LOT, I also surround myself with people and resources that will help me discover great new books. On Instagram, I follow “Bookstagrammers,” other reading teachers (at, below, and above my grade level), and publisher accounts. I utilize resources like Project LIT’s book lists and reviews/award lists from Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, the American Library Association, and more. I also pay attention to what my students are reading and ask my most voracious readers for recommendations. For more tips on how I find great books, even without reading them first, head to this blog series about better book recs.

If you’re looking to level up your book recommendations ( without reading all the books), I have a host of resources for you, too! Since I genuinely enjoy reading middle grade and young adult titles, I’ve done the hard work of curating lists of titles and presenting them to students in accessible ways. I try to do the same for teachers, too! Here are some resources you might find helpful:

  • Middle & High School Book Recs Facebook Group: Need personalized book recs for your students? Want to stay on top of the latest and greatest MG & YA titles? Join our free Facebook community for book recommendations for grades 6-12 readers HERE.
  • Book Recommendation Brochures: These book recommendation brochures for middle and high school are designed to help students answer the question of “What should I read next?” Through interactive reader personality quizzes, these brochures automatically suggest personalized book recommendations to your students. It’s a magical, self-sustaining system that will get good books into the hands of your readers! Click HERE to learn about the brochures, HERE for ideas on using them, HERE to find the middle school set, or HERE to check out the high school version.
  • Visual Book Recommendation Posters: Help your middle school readers find their next favorite book with this pack of visual book recommendation posters organized by topic. With topics like sports, survival stories, mental health, what to read if you don’t like to read, and MORE, these posters make it easy for your readers to find the perfect book. Click HERE to read more about the posters. You can check out the middle school version HERE and the high school poster set HERE.
Between the book rec brochures, book stack posters, peer recs, and a personalized book rec process, there is no shortage of good books in our classroom. Students know where to turn when they are in need of their next great read.

What are some must-haves for a classroom library? I’m trying to build up my collection.

In addition to the titles and lists mentioned in my previous post, here are some generic must-haves for a great “starter library.”

  • Graphic novels: Students of ALL AGES love these! They’re also great for readers who are still building confidence and gaining momentum.
  • Novels in verse: Similarly, novels in verse can be helpful for those students who “don’t like to read.” With fewer words on the page, verse novels are less intimidating, and they’re often written about high-interest, emotional topics!
  • Popular series: Anytime you can hook a student with the first book in a series, you can create a reader (and keep them busy for a while). Some popular series that work for both middle and high school readers include Scythe, Unwind, The Hunger Games, Red Queen, Percy Jackson, Legend, and Divergent, just to name a few.
  • Books by popular & prolific authors: When you can hook a student on an author and keep them reading, you’ll get more bang for your book buck! Some popular authors in middle-grade and young adult literature include Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Neal Shusterman, Marie Lu, and Ellen Hopkins, just to name a few.
Graphic novels and novels in verse are some of the most popular books in our classroom library!

Do you charge students for missing books?

No, I haven’t ever charged a student for a missing book. I also haven’t really been in a position to do so. Let me explain: My first year, my classroom library was disorganized and I didn’t have a great checkout system (a google doc I forgot to update). Some books went missing at the end of that year, and I knew it, but I also knew part of it probably had something to do with my checkout system (or lack thereof). Honestly, I gave my students and myself grace that year and vowed to be better the next. I tried out Booksource Classroom, a free library management tool, and I never looked back! At the end of this year, my first with Booksource, I had ZERO MISSING BOOKS. (Well, except for a kid who moved schools and I couldn’t really do anything about that). 

So, I haven’t felt a need to charge a student for a missing book. But even if I felt compelled, I don’t think I would. While it’s frustrating, it doesn’t feel equitable. I think a few missing books are a part of owning a classroom library. But just a few, because I totally think great systems like Booksource can minimize those numbers.

Booksource is a game-changer if you’re looking for a classroom library checkout/management system. And it’s free!

Do you ever switch out books? What are your tips for dealing with limited shelf space and so many books?

So far, I haven’t had this problem yet, mainly because for the last 2+ years I’ve been building a middle school classroom library from scratch. My genre shelves are full, but I still have a few empty shelves left on one side of my room, so I’ll need to reorganize with shelf space in mind soon! I do recommend having a system for extra copies of a book. I have multiple copies of many books, but I keep extra (second, third, etc.) copies shelved on a separate cart so they don’t take up too much space on the primary shelves. Additionally, I recommend regularly weeding through your collection to get rid of outdated, unappealing books. Think quality over quantity!

Beyond that, my best advice for limited shelf space is to get creative with how you display or store books. 

  • Can you add some book bins to sit atop counters/shelves?
  • Can you add some hanging pocket organizers over doors/other spaces and display books there? (See the photo below for a visual). 
  • Can you add a 3-tiered rolling cart? These can surprisingly fit a good number of books!
  • Can you display posters or images of book covers and then house overflow books in a certain bin/location?
I keep some titles in over-the-door organizers, which are great for saving shelf space.

What do you do if students forget their books during independent reading time?

Like I mentioned in my last post, the beauty of a classroom library is that books are just steps away from every reader. Anytime a student forgets their current book, I simply send them on their way to find a replacement book for the day. I also gently remind them that they can try to check out an ebook or audiobook version online (through Overdrive/our public library) so that they can always access their book, even if they forget the physical copy. Some elect to read something quick, such as a short story in an anthology. Others decide to give a book they’ve been eyeing a try (and some even end up loving it).

Still, some certainly just pick up an absolutely random book and try their best to read it. In any case, if it becomes a pattern, I work with the student to solve the issue. With repeat offenders who can’t seem to remember a book, I’ll either make them check out a digital version of the text on their Chromebook or I’ll ask them to leave their book in my classroom…so that they physically cannot lose it! Usually, the issue resolves itself because students realize that they’ll be bored when they don’t have the book they want to read.

As you can see, books are everywhere in our classroom! If students forget their book, they usually grab a replacement book for the day OR hop on to Overdrive to access a digital copy of their current book.

Can you give us a list of everything you have in your classroom library?

Considering I have 700+ titles, I don’t think this would be the best use of my time or space here on my blog! However, I am committed to sharing popular books, recommendations by genre/topic, up-and-coming books, and so much more. So I’m happy to point you in the direction of some resources:

I have 700+ titles and 1000+ copies in my classroom library, but I share my favorite recs on my blog, Instagram, and our Facebook group.

What are your students’ favorite books?

I know I already answered a similar question in my previous post, but I have some real ~data~ for this one! According to my library on Booksource, my free classroom library management tool, these were the top 10 books of the school year:

  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • Class Act by Jerry Craft

For reference, I teach 7th grade and serve a wide range of readers! I think this list reflects that perfectly.

Here are some super popular titles in our library. Scythe is the most popular book of all time, according to Booksource data.

Can you give us lots of pictures of your classroom library?

I hope that I’ve given you plenty of pics between this post and the first two, but if not, I’m going to link a few photos and videos that will give you a few more glimpses into our classroom library!

I am always pulling books from our classroom library and displaying them on the whiteboard. This kind of display is simple but effective!

But how do you actually get students to READ and ENJOY it?

Ah, the million-dollar question! While I have plans to fully answer this in a future blog post, here’s my short and sweet answer. Encouraging a love for reading is a series of ACTS. Here’s what I mean by this acronym:


The first step is book access, and if you are striving for a strong, healthy, and well-stocked classroom library, you’re already working toward this goal! But books should be accessible beyond our classroom walls. Ideally, students should also have access to a school library, a public library, and a digital library, too. For more information on how to use Overdrive (a digital library platform) with your students, head to this blog post.


If your goal is to help students read books they enjoy and build a lifelong habit of reading, then student choice should be at the cornerstone of your independent reading program. Students deserve the chance to select their own texts, discover their favorite genres and preferences, and build their own reading identity. Without this opportunity, many students will never see reading as anything more than a chore.


In addition to the choice, the other non-negotiable is time. Carving out time for choice-based independent reading is essential for building a habit of reading that will last beyond your classroom. In our 7th-grade classroom, we read for the first 10 minutes of every class period. Sure, dedicating this kind of time requires cutting other stuff, but you’ll be surprised at the “fluff” you can cut when you get serious about making room for reading.


Finally, the journey to joyful, independent reading requires lots of support. Growing readers need guidance in the form of high-interest book recommendations, frequent check-ins and conferences, reading strategies, routines that center reading, and a community of readers. For more information on supporting your students as they fall in love with reading, check out this blog post.

I help my readers enjoy reading by regularly conferring with them and giving them choice, time, and support as they find their reading identity.


Good luck on your classroom library journey! 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.


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 helpful:

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