Classroom libraries sometimes seem like an unattainable dream that only lucky teachers at wealthy schools get to even consider having. Some schools know the deal and provide funds for each teacher to build one. Most teachers know that having good books accessible to kids is always the best plan. But most teachers are on their own when it comes to providing the books for their own classroom. Research says a good classroom library will have between 300 and 600 books. Good lord! That’s a lot of money! So how do we do it? Well, as you know, I’m not an expert at much, but I can share with you some of the ways I’ve been able to build a successful classroom library.
Colleagues- I’m really lucky in one respect. My great friend and former colleague moved from teaching high school English to teaching AVID classes. She found that she no longer had a need for her library, and she selflessly gifted it to me. Beyond the books, the greatest gift she gave me was the set up for organizing the books and checking them out. Her library was organized by genre using colored dots. This way the books don’t have to be alphabetized, they just have to be in the right genre section of your library. Here is a link to my Classroom Library Genre Signs. This way is the simplest I’ve found in terms of organization, adding titles to your library, AND for kids to find what they like to read. For checking the books out, she had a recipe box that had alphabetical dividers in it. Kids take a blank note card, put their last name and first name at the top and the book title and author below that. Then they file it in the box by last name. I did this all year, and at the end, there were only two books that weren’t returned. I’d say that’s a victory! I know you can do fancy bar code scanners and stuff, but I tried that and just got frustrated.
Half Price Books- I LOVE going to HPB because I know I always get my educator discount, and I can leave there with multiple titles for a fraction of what they would cost new. They also have an application that teachers can fill out to ask for donations of books to their classroom library. I’ve had several friends and colleagues get boxes of books from them, and they were geared toward the grade level they taught.
Book of the Month- I have to say that I’m now a BOTM junkie. I can’t wait until the first to place my order! So the deal is that you pay $14.99 a month for one book credit. Each month there are five titles for you to choose from. If you don’t like any of them, you can skip that month and bank the book credit. If you do order the book, you can do add-on books for $9.99 each. Oh, and all the books are HARDBACK! Yes! So they last longer! My awesome librarian will cover them for me if I bring them to her, and that means they should last even longer! They have a YA section in the add-ons, so I usually buy my add-ons from there.
Friends- If you have friends whose kids are going off to college or something like that, hit them up to see if they have any books to get rid of. I put it out on Facebook that I was looking for free or cheap YA books, and a couple friends came through for me. Their kids didn’t want the books, and they knew they wouldn’t get much for them at HPB, so they gave them to me.
DonorsChoose- I’ve only done one DonorsChoose campaign, and it is for literature circle books, so I can tell you that you should ask for things a couple hundred dollars at a time. I asked for almost $2000, and it hasn’t funded yet. But other teachers swear by DC. They have built their entire libraries by doing a bunch of little campaigns for books.
Scholastic- Many secondary teachers don’t realize that Scholastic has secondary level books. You can get the sales flyer to send home with kids and bank those points to buy books for your classroom. James Patterson does a giveaway through Scholastic for teachers every year that you can apply for, so be on the look out for that as well.
Garage Sales and Thrift Stores- Goodwill, Dollar Tree, garage sales… I’ve gotten lucky at all of these. They’re pretty hit and miss, but you could definitely get 5-10 books in a summer by hitting these up.
Library Sales- If you have a city library, they usually have annual or semi-annual sales to clear out books. These “Friends of the Library” sales are a great place to get quite a few books for just a little money, and it goes back to your community library.
So there’s my advice, for whatever it’s worth. If you have a sure-fire way to get books on the cheap (or free), put it in the comments below!