Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Curating a Classroom Library

Our library is the centerpiece of our classroom.  So, I am super excited to be hosting this week's book study for Reading in the Wild with The Brown Bag Teacher and so many other wonderful teacher bloggers (check out the link-up below to explore their posts)!  It is the one spot where I won't budge when I put together my classroom at the end of each summer.  It is the first thing everyone sees when they come in our room  (no matter which door out of the 4 I have).  It is the first thing parents and visitors comment on.  It is the piece de resistance!

From the first moment I went into college, I started collecting books for my classroom library.  I didn't know what grade I would be teaching, or where I'd be teaching, but I knew I wanted a HUGE classroom library for my students.  My 4th grade teacher made me want the library of my dreams.  Hers was not huge, but it had tall bookcases surrounding a corner of the room, with an entrance between two of the bookcases and books upon books.

Here's a look at it!  It's still not as big as I want it to be, but it's getting there.  This picture was actually taken 2 school years ago, so there are a few more baskets in it nowadays.  It's a work in progress.

In is what it looked like quite a few years ago.  I hated the way it was set up and the way it looked in the classroom.  But the one above is finally just how I envisioned it for my students. Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on another bookcase in my new library above.

What's the Big Deal?

"Students in classrooms with well-designed classroom libraries interact more with books, spend more time reading, demonstrate more positive attitudes towards reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement." (pg.80)

Factors to Consider When Building Yours

Throughout my 9 years of teaching, I have messed around and tinkered with how to organize my reading levels, AR levels, genres.  I've tried it all.

Nowadays, one side is all nonfiction and the other is all fiction.  Then, within each basket are the separate genres.  I do have some random baskets like "Stories for Girls" and "Sports Stories" as well as "Scary and Ghost Stories" because these are 3 huge favorites.  

I have been laughed at in the past because teachers try to donate books to me since they know about my famous library on campus.  But, I am extremely picky and won't take any old book.  If it does not appeal to my readers (see the below MUSTIE acronym) I will thank them and either let them know I don't need it or I take it and donate it to a student's family or another teacher.  

When buying series books, I try to buy the entire series or as many as I can.  Donalyn does recommend only buying the first 3 or 4, especially with huge series like Goosebumps.  I have never considered this before and will most likely use this to clean my library out this summer.  Do you buy all the books in a series like me or only get the first couple like Donalyn?

Introducing Students to Your Library

I have to admit, it was very tough (and still is) to let my students "attack" the library on the very first day of school...before we have a chance to talk about how to take care of it and the books.  But a book frenzy helps me learn about my students' likes, dislikes, and reading experiences...and?  It's actually really fun to watch the kids get so excited about books, knowing many of them will be my struggling readers during the school year.  They learn that I am also very serious about reading and books in their classroom.  

After the book frenzy, Donalyn recommends you then have students discuss the library procedures and organization.  

I know I already posted this picture in an earlier book study post, but it's a must-see-again!  This past year was the first time I did a book frenzy...and it was utter chaos, but it was so successful as a jumping off point.

How to Check Out/Return Books

Sure, I tried the whole paper card and pocket system for my first several years of teaching.  Was it a pain?  Very much so!  Often, we would find random cards on the ground and then we couldn't find the book.  It would take a long time writing on the cards and pushing the pockets in to the covers. 

Thankfully, just like Donalyn, I discovered Booksource!  It's all online and it's even better if you own a smartphone or tablet type device.  You can scan your books in and check them out/return them the same way.  Or you can just type in their ISBN or title to search their database.  Things like damage and ratings can be tracked as well.  

I've always run this portion but Donalyn actually has her students do so.  I'm hoping to try this and see how it goes this school year.  What about you?

How to Take Care of Books

This was probably the biggest take away piece for me.  Donalyn recommends having your students work in table groups to brainstorm a list of guidelines to post in your library.  Some examples are, use a bookmark, do not pick off the plastic or stickers, and return books in a timely manner.


I mentioned I organize by genre.  There are genre labels on the outsides of my poor mismatched baskets (I never seem to be able to splurge for the fancy colorful baskets) from Big Lots and Dollar Tree.  I then have stickers on the covers to match those labels and a dot sticker that helps my librarians put books back for future checkout.  

Is Your Library a MUSTIE?

Last but not least, an acronym to help you keep your library updated!  

  • M = Misleading:  get rid of books that have misleading or outdated information
  • U = Ugly:  books that are falling apart or yellowing with age need to be tossed
  • S = Superceded: books like Guinness Book of World Records that are constantly updated should be switched out
  • T = Trivial:  I mentioned this one earlier.  If a book has what I deem to be a trivial coverpage (mostly outdated covers for me) I get rid of them or don't put them in my library and this also includes not collecting entire ongoing series like Goosebumps
  • I = Irrelevant:  books that your students in the past may have loved may not be loved by those you have now
  • E = Elsewehre: some books exist elsewhere in other libraries, so if you know it won't appeal to your readers, don't worry about it...they'll find them elsewhere