Tackling the Impossible -- Organizing the Classroom Library

Since my first day of teaching, I knew that one of my main goals as a teacher was/is to create lifelong readers.  I strive to give the students the tools they need to gain a real love of reading.  One way for me to do that is to have an ample supply of appropriate books for students to read available in my classroom.  And, boy, do I have books!  That was never a problem for me.  What was a problem was the over all lack of organization to my library.  I had books in bins, but they weren't really labeled, the students had a hard time putting the books back in the right place, books seemed to be strewn all over the place, and there was a general "whatever" type attitude towards the library as a whole.  

I knew that students wouldn't become readers if they didn't ever read, and my library was holding them back.  So I decided to change that.  One hot summer day, two years ago, I sat down and finally did it.  I organized my library in such a way that it would remain that way....forever (she says in her most confident voice)

** An Overview **

Here is a view of the entire library.  As you can see, I have 3 main genre sections:

Pink = Non-fiction
Black = Fiction
Blue = Theme related (mostly from our reading series)

On top I have a moving novel rack.  This is where I have classic novels (Little Women, Charlotte's Web) and award winning children's literature (Number the Stars, The Giver)

The baskets are for student book recommendations and my own recommendations.

** The Book Bins **
I am determined that no book shall ever be out of order again.  To accomplish this, I set up the bins in my library  in the exact same way.  First and foremost, they were a score from the dollar bin at Target!  They are super cute, and I love them :)   I then created the tags for each bin on Word in my computer.  I used DJ Inkers clipart (I would attach the document I made, but since I didn't create the clipart, I can't do it.  So sorry!)  and then inserted a text box into the middle.  Once the tag was printed out, I cut it out, backed it on black paper, laminated and, viola!, it was done.  I then punched a little hole in the top and used a binder clip to secure it to the book bin. Finally, on each individual book in the bin, I used an Avery label, colored the top and bottom with the same color as the bin, wrote the bin title on it and stuck it on the book. 

** The Sections **

 This is the non-fiction section of my library.  Each bin is labeled with one category that would fit in the non-fiction genre.  I have categories such as biography, animals, space, science (general), history, and even one for the "If you lived during..." series. 

 Here is a close up view of some of the bins I have in the non-fiction section.  This really is a very popular place for the students to find books.


 The fiction section of the library is set up in the same way as the non-fiction.  In this section, I have categories such as realistic fiction (both picture books and chapter books), fantasy, myths and legends, fairy tales, and mystery.
 Because the novels are so much thicker than the skinny trade books found in the non-fiction side, I had to use two bins for some categories in the fiction section.  As you can see in this picture, I have two Realistic Fiction bins. 

In the blue bins are my books that correlate to the units of study in our reading series.  I also have books by authors like Roald Dahl, or series books (like The Babysitter's Club)  These are just my "themed" books.  The bins are set up in the same way as the other two sections.

Well, there you have it.  My library in a nutshell.  Can I just tell you that I am IN LOVE with it?  Seriously, swoonfully in love.  I walk by it sometimes to marvel in its organizational loveliness.  And more than just me, the students love it as well.  They are easily able to find (AND RETURN) books without much searching on their part.  They spend their reading time actually reading now instead of searching for a book.  Overall, this organization system has been a blessing to have!


  1. This is great! I have over 2,000 children's books, so I need to figure out a way to organize all of them. I figure I will do it when I find my "forever" classroom! (Or at least when I stay in the same grade level for more than two years...) Thank you for sharing!

  2. I pretty much organize my library the way you do. However, I had not thought of baskets for student and teacher recommendations. I love it! I can't wait to try that next year. :)

  3. So excited to do this! You have made organizing a library so less stressful! Every year I tell myself tht I need to do this and now Tht I'm going to be teaching 3rd grade I know that it is a must! THanks for all the help

  4. I used your system when I taught 3rd grade and when my library was smaller than it is now. I kind of ran out of room for books in my classroom, and now maybe 1/3 of my books are housed in my garage - books too young or too old for my current 4th graders. I found the system worked really well when I had fewer books, but the more books I got, the more difficult the system got for me to manage. I have about 60 shoeboxes of books in the classroom at the moment, though I may try to be a little more selective as I organize it in the next week or so.

    When I moved to 4th grade, I read and really loved Donalyn Miller's "Book Whisperer." Since I wanted the kids to read a certain number of each genre, I decided I'd organize my library by genre entirely, then by author's last name. she uses plastic shoeboxes for her library, which I thought was a terrific idea. (Non-fiction tends to need larger boxes, though.) She also puts clear contact paper on each of her books. It's a fantastic idea that I haven't had time or money to do.

    I number each of my book boxes and also list the genre and the alphabetic range of the authors there. (Example: 1 Fantasy, A-B). A matching label goes on the book. I started out with computer typed labels, but books arriving mid-year didn't get that treatment. Last year, I assigned a couple students the job of sorting the new books for genre and proper bin number, and then I made labels by hand. All the books in a given genre are in one section, with sequential bin numbers. I don't always get the genre right if I haven't read the book, so the students are charged with giving me advice on incorrect genre listings as they read the books. Class librarians are in charge of going through book bins to make sure the books are in the correct area during the year. They also get first chance at the new books as they file them!

    The system has some drawbacks: when the number of books in bin 1 fantasy AB exceeds the available space, I need to add another bin - #1A and #1B, is what I did last year. Also a particular author may have written in many genres and you may need to look in several places if you are keen on an author. And, of course, you need to know the author's name. We had several instances last year where we did a quick computer search to find the author of a given book - but that's a good skill for the kids to develop. It works for now!


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