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Creating a Classroom Library on a Budget

Reading is an essential skill for children's growth and development and one of the best ways to help your students become better readers is by giving them access to a variety of books. Creating a classroom library will allow your students to explore different genres and topics, which can help them develop their reading skills, learn social skills, practice empathy, participate in discussions, and more.

Creating a classroom library is an important part of fostering a love of reading in students. It provides them with access to books they may not be able to find elsewhere and helps build their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. A classroom library also creates an inviting atmosphere for learning, one that encourages exploration and creativity.

With the right selection of books, it can even become a place for children to explore new interests or develop skills beyond what is learned during class time. Taking the time to create a classroom library will help ensure your students have access to quality literature that can foster growth both inside and outside the classroom. However, building a classroom library can be expensive. Here are some tips on how to create a library without breaking the bank.

A classroom library is one of the best teaching tools for your classroom. You  can use your classroom library in so many ways:

  • model for your students through reading and thinking aloud.
  • demonstrate how to use books for research
  • expand student thinking on various topics
  • encourage growth, discussion, empathy, connections and so much more!  

The goal of your classroom library:

  • Support literacy instruction.
  • Help students learn about books.
  • Provide opportunities for independent reading, mentor texts, and extensions on classroom content.
  • Become a place for students to talk about and interact with books. 

Start Small and Grow Your Collection Over Time

Before getting into all the book-gathering tips, I'd like to note that the best way to build your classroom library is to start small and, I'm sorry to say it….but to wait. Whether you are a first-year or veteran teacher looking to build your library, it does not happen overnight.

While you may be eager to add books to your library, a classroom library takes time, and some effort, to create. It takes thought to find the right books for your students and finding quality books on a budget can be challenging, but with the right resources it is possible. So be patient, follow some of these tips, and watch as your classroom library grows right along with your budding readers.

The Classroom Library Setup

Setting up your classroom library in an inviting way requires careful planning and consideration of how much space is available, what type of furniture or shelving will work best, and which types of books are most appropriate for your grade level.

Taking the time to properly plan out the setup of your classroom library will ensure that your students have access to quality books that they enjoy reading while fostering their love for reading both inside and outside of your classroom walls.

As you set up your classroom library, you may consider:

  • Storing books in bins
  • Utilizing shelves already available in the classroom
  • Organizing books by author
  • Grouping titles by genre or topic
  • Arranging books by seasonal themes and holidays
  • Creating designated sections for classroom library resources
  • Using labels and signs to indicate different sections within the classroom library
  • Looking for bookends and other decorative elements to give the classroom library a more inviting atmosphere.

1. Scholastic Book Orders

One great way to stock up on classroom books without breaking the bank is through Scholastic book orders. Scholastic offers teachers and parents access to a wide variety of books at discounted prices, making it an ideal way for classroom libraries to get quality books on a budget.

With Scholastic book orders, you can choose from thousands of titles that are appropriate for every grade level and reading ability. Plus, with its easy-to-use online ordering system, you can give families a classroom code where they are able to quickly place their orders and as they order books, you earn points that can go toward free books!

Scholastic is one of the best ways to build your student's home library and have your classroom library stocked in no time!

Scholastic tends to send a large pack of book orders…ok, it may be quite excessive, BUT the book orders are a great classroom tool to use for studying genres, text features, book recommendations, and more! So hold on to those extra book orders and put them to good use!

2. School and Local Libraries

Borrowing books from a local library is an excellent way to stock your classroom library without spending money. With access to countless titles, borrowing books from the library allows you to explore new topics and find books you do not currently have in your own library.

Not only does this give you a chance to broaden your student's horizons, but it is also a great way for students to easily access e-books and audiobooks with just a few clicks! Borrowing books from the library is an economical and convenient way to expand your classroom resources while saving time and money.

Many libraries have an online ordering system where you are able to “order” the books that you'd like to borrow with your card and the librarian will gather and put them on hold for you. This is a huge timesaver when you know the titles you are in need of!

Check with your local library to see if they are removing old books or having a book sale.  My local library has small book sales throughout the year and even has a section where you can trade books and you are able to leave old books and find new ones.  This is a great way to declutter books that you've read while grabbing books for your classroom.

If your school has a library, it can also be a great resource to borrow books. Your library media specialist may have access to libraries within the district or county and find books that you'd like to try before you buy. Borrowing from the school library is wonderful for those last-second ideas or lessons too!

3. Finding Gently Used Books

Garage Sales

During the summer, check local classified ads or Facebook pages for garage sales! Many times, right in the ad, it will state that it is a retiring teacher having a garage sale. I have hit the book (and storage bin) jackpot at retiring teacher garage sales.  Families with older children also may be looking to clear out old books. Plus it's fun to hit a few garage sales every now and then!

Thrift Shops or Good Will

If you find a good thrift shop, you may hit the jackpot again. From used bookstores to secondhand stores, thrift shops offer an incredible selection of gently used books at discounted prices – perfect for classroom libraries! Not only do thrift shops provide access to quality books at an affordable price, but they also give teachers the chance to find books they may not have used otherwise. Browsing through local thrift shops is an economical and convenient way for teachers to expand their classroom library while saving time and money. But many times it is hit or miss, so it doesn't hurt to call ahead if there's a particular book or genre you are looking for.

Facebook Groups

Another great way to find classroom books on a budget is by joining local Facebook Groups. Teacher groups, “Buy, Sell, Trade”, or “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups are great ways to find items for the classroom. These online networks are dedicated to helping people in their communities exchange goods and services with each other for free. Through these groups, teachers can easily connect with someone that has books they no longer need or want. This is a great way to acquire quality books without spending any money! Plus, it's an excellent opportunity to build relationships within your community while also growing your classroom library.

4. Using Resources within Your School

As you set up your library, use the resources available to you within your school to find things you need. This can be helpful as you are looking for books and furniture/storage for your growing library.

Borrowing from other teachers at your school can be a great way to find out what books you may want for your own library. Many items and books are easily available to borrow from colleagues. Borrowing books from other teachers is an easy and cost-effective way to try out your favorite books without spending any money. Plus, it's an excellent opportunity to collaborate with fellow educators while also expanding classroom resources.

Visit your school's literacy coaches and specialists and see if they have class sets of books available. They may have titles that you are looking for or books that you'd like to use for upcoming lessons. Literacy coaches may be willing to curate a list of books that focus on certain topics or skills that you are looking for and provide help in gathering them.

Ask your custodian if there are shelves that are not being used and ask other teachers if they may have baskets or storage bins sitting around. You know teachers love baskets and tend to overbuy them!! And check with administrators and see if there is money left over in the budget for shelves or furniture. (Sometimes this is different than funds allocated for supplies, and it does not hurt to ask!) Your own building can be a helpful resource as you create a meaningful library in your classroom!

Other Ideas to Grow Your Classroom Library:

  • Write a grant for classroom library funds.
  • Create a “Donors Choose” project for books.
  • Ask students/families if they have books to donate.
  • Check with your Parent-Teacher Group for funds (if you have a book fair, they might have money to spend!)
  • Create an Amazon Wishlist and display it at Open House, parent-teacher conferences, or outside your classroom.
  • Check for teacher discounts at bookstores.
  • Shop during Teacher Appreciation Week, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or other big sale days when books may be discounted.

Find some of my favorite items for a classroom library here:

And find some favorite books to add to your wishlist here:

I created a guide for you to use to help as you grow and create your library space in your classroom. You can find tips, printable wishlist templates & pages, book order slips, a library poster, and more…

Building a classroom library on a budget doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive; it just takes some planning and creativity! By starting small and growing your collection over time, utilizing free resources, and encouraging your students to donate books, you’ll be able to create an inviting space filled with diverse titles that will inspire a lifelong love of reading in every student who visits it! Good luck!

Happy Teaching!

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