How to Organize a Classroom Library

Four Methods:Designing Your Classroom LibrarySorting and Labeling Your BooksUsing Your Classroom LibraryUsing Technology to Organize a Classroom Library

A classroom library can quickly grow to unmanageable proportions. If you want to be able to find what you want, you'll need to put some thought into organizing all those books. A good system of organization will help keep the clutter at bay, because you'll know right away where loose books should be put back. You'll also be able to see any gaps in your library, so you'll know what new books you'll need to buy.

Method 1
Designing Your Classroom Library

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    Determine what you have. Before you start labeling shelves and bins, you'll want to figure out exactly what you have. Put all your books together in one area, and sort them into overall categories.[1]
    • Sort your books into 3 main categories: books to use now, books to store for later, and books to give away.
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    Collect as many books as possible. Get Books. Visit a few yard sales, and buy boxes of books in bulk.
    • Cover a wide range of subjects, including fiction and non-fiction titles.
    • Register with an educational publisher. If you aren't a teacher, try to find a teacher from your school who already has an account.
    • Ask school librarians if they have any superfluous books that they plan to get rid of.
    • Contact your local city library. Many branches hold an annual book sale.
    • Check online for used children's books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all carry discounted used books. Half-price books is place you can find good bargains.
    • Purchase duplicate copies of popular books.
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    Install half shelves for small children. For an elementary school reading library, shelves with only two rows are best. You can use the top of the shelf for display items, and the children will be able to reach al the books.[2]
    • Use half shelves to section off one portion of the classroom for quiet reading time. You'll be able to see over the shelves easily, so you can watch over the kids using the area.
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    Install vertical shelving for small areas. If you have a limited area to work with, consider tall, slender shelving units. Alternatively, you can use revolving racks that house a large number of books in a small area.[3]
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    Use bins for children's books. Books for small children are often oversized, so they may not fit on regular book shelves. They are also usually slender books, so it can be difficult to read the titles on the spines. A system of storage bins works much better for these, and the kids will find it easier to access them.

Method 2
Sorting and Labeling Your Books

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    Sort books by reading level. If children of various ages will be using your library, sort books by grade level and shelve all the books in each reading level in its own area of the library. This will make it easier for kids to find books that are appropriate for their age group.
    • Choose a particular color code for each reading level, and buy labels in that color.
    • For example, print yellow labels for all books for Grades K-2, blue labels for Grades 3-6, etc.
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    Sort non-fiction books by topic. Choose a specific color for non-fiction labels, that is different from any you are using in the fiction section. Come up with a system for sorting these books, and file them according to main topic.
    • A sample breakdown might be: Animals, Biography/People, Science, Languages, Travel/Places, History,
    • For example, Ancient Egypt by George Hart would have a green label reading “TRAVEL/PLACES.”
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    Sort fiction books by author. Print labels with “FICTION” on the first line, and the first letter of the author's last name on the second line. Use the label color appropriate to the reading level or age group of the book in question.
    • For example, the book Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss would have a yellow label (indicating a reading level of K-2) that reads, “FICTION – S”
    • Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by James Howe would have a blue label (indicating a reading level of Ages 8-12) that reads, “FICTION – H”
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    Label the shelves. Print the individual codes onto labels. Label each shelf with a color-coded sticker that matches the labels on the books.
    • For example, a fiction shelf containing books for ages 8-12 that have authors with names starting with A through F would have a blue label reading, “FICTION, A-F”
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    Label the bins. Buy bins in different colors, to match the labels on the books they contain. [4]
    • A yellow bin labeled “A – F” would hold books appropriate for ages K-2 written by authors with last names starting with A-F.
    • If you are using baskets, stick the labels on small pieces of cardboard and hang them on the basket using metal rings. (You can buy a box of metal book rings at an office or teachers' supply store.)
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    Label the books. Once your books are sorted into categories and assigned to a particular shelf or bin, you'll need to label them.[5]
    • Consider color-coding your labels to match color-coded labels on the bins – each category gets its own color.
    • Include any relevant information on the label that will help you shelve it more quickly. You could include the author, the category, and the basket or bin number it goes in.

Method 3
Using Your Classroom Library

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    Train your kids to use the system. Teach your students how to read the labels. Show them how to match the book's label to the bin's label and to always return their books to the correct bins. Over time students will warn you when a book is in the wrong bin.
    • If you are working with young children that still struggle with the order of letters in the alphabet, you might label the bins “FICTION / A – B – C – D – E – F” rather than “FICTION / A-F.” The children will be able to match the letter on the book spine label to one of the letters on the bin label.
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    Display books to generate interest. Choose a few books to display on top of the shelves or on a special rack. An entire library of books to choose from can be intimidating for some children. Keeping a few select books out in the open will encourage them to read more.[6]
    • Highlight books on topics you're teaching in class at the moment.
    • When you add books to the library, display them prominently and identify them as “new.”
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    Create a system for checking out books. If you allow your students to take books home, be sure to keep track of them. It's easy for a library book to get mixed in with a kid's other books at home. You may need to remind children once a week or so to return any books they have at home.
    • Keep a pad of paper on a clip board in the library. When a child “checks out” a book, write their name down along with the date, the name of the book, and the information on the book's shelving label.
    • Cross out the entry when the book is returned, and note the return date. You might also record your initials if more than one teacher or adult will using the library.
    • If a book has been at a particular child's home for a long period of time, send a note home to the parents asking them to return it.

Method 4
Using Technology to Organize a Classroom Library

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    Buy a scanner. Smart scanners such as the IntelliScanner help you organize your books. These devices scan the bar code on the back cover, and record all the information it contains such as title, author, release date, publisher, number of pages, and genre.[7]
    • Scan the bar code on the book cover.
    • Add information to your computer files that directly relates to your own library: reading level, purchase date, shelf or bin location.
    • Print out a complete list, which can be sorted in various ways to display books by reading level, genre, or topic. The list also shows a thumbnail image of the book cover.
    • Make your list available to students, your kids, or other teachers – anyone who will be using your library.
    • Use your Intelliscanner to create barcode labels that you can put on your books.
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    Try the Book Retriever app. The Classroom Library Company makes the Book Retriever app, which contains a database of over 135,000 books in various age groups. It has a number of tools to help organize your library.[8]
    • Scans the barcodes on your books, and add titles manually if they aren't in the database.
    • Features a list of popular titles for each month that you can use to choose display items.
    • Lets you see all the books that have been checked out of your library.
    • Gives discounts on kids' books that are purchased through the app.
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    Check out Classroom Organizer. With this web based program, you can organize your library for free. You can enter information on your books and your students, and design a check-out system to help you track which books are out and who has them.[9]


  • Purchase hardback books, when possible. They will last much longer than paperbacks.

Article Info

Categories: Borrowing and Sharing Books | Teacher Resources | Homeschooling