The Power and Importance of Classroom Libraries

Classroom Library

“A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.” Henry Ward Beecher

Every literacy teacher’s goal is to help children become lifelong readers.  Teachers work hard analyzing data to help plan for conferences, guided reading groups, and effective mini-lessons to help lift and push the readers in their classroom.  A very valuable tool that teachers cannot forget about is the classroom library.  The classroom library sends the message to students about what will be valued in a classroom.  The classroom library is crucial in helping students develop who they are as readers and have a sense of ownership over their reading. As teachers, we need to be intentional and purposeful in how we set up our libraries so that every reader is valued and the library can help students learn how to develop strong reading habits.

In Still Learning To Read Teaching Students in Grades 3-6 (Second Edition)  on pg. 20 Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak say a well-designed library provides:

  • a variety of texts for every reader
  • opportunities for students to build stamina and engagement when they have books that are right for them;
  • series, authors, and topics that help readers begin to define tastes and preferences;
  • books to move to when students are ready for something new to read;
  • books to help all readers meet individual goals;
  • new releases that allow students to anticipate books as readers;
  • accessible books that allow students to think ahead as readers; and
  • an organization that students understand and are able to use independently.

As teachers, some of us like to set up the classroom library before students arrive because it is time consuming and there are so many things to consider when curating a  well-designed library. However, some of us like to create libraries with students to build in that ownership of reading in the beginning of the year.  Whether you choose to have the classroom library prepared or whether you have students help create the classroom library, it is important that all students are actively involved in the process throughout the year and there a couple of different ways you can do that.    

If you already have your classroom library organized then you can leave labels off the baskets.  The teacher models looking through baskets and as a community discuss what you notice about those books and together create a label.  Once the students gain the understanding and value of the process, they can work in small groups to continue browsing and labeling baskets.  In this way, students have an understanding of what books are in the classroom and the variety of books available for them to read. This creates student ownership of the classroom library and a positive energy towards reading.

Another simple way to involve students with the classroom library is to bring in new books from the public library and add them to a basket in the room.  As teachers, we can use some of the books during interactive read aloud or students can read the books to decide which books should be added to the classroom library and share out why. This will help to keep the library up to date and give students a voice in adding new titles. Also, there can be 3 to 4 students a month who are in charge of choosing classroom picks.  Class picks are just like staff picks at a bookstore.  Create a display by the library showing the class picks for students to see suggested titles to check out when they are making reading plans.


Incorporating Digital Pieces

As teachers we know that our readers will not only read traditional books but they will choose to read different websites, blogs, or watch videos to learn information.   It is important that we are also purposeful on how we support digital reading within the workshop and that this digital piece needs to be woven within our traditional classroom libraries.

Here are some suggestions on how to incorporate digital reading within your library:

  • Add QR codes to your labels on your baskets.  If there is an author tub and the author has a website you can add the QR code that will link to his/her website.  
  • Somewhere by your classroom library you can add a QR code that will link to a Padlet or a website that has different options for students to choose to read  digitally.  Here is a great post from Franki Sibberson titled Setting Up the Digital Classroom Library.
  • Here is a Padlet with some fiction and nonfiction digital reading sites to use with students:
  • Have students create book reviews or book trailers about books from the library and add a QR code on the book that links to the blog post or the book trailer.

Classroom libraries are necessities that cultivate, inspire, and fuel readers. Pernille Ripp has a great blog post titled If My Classroom Library Was For Me  and in it she states, “Our classroom libraries are for all kids that enter our classroom.  Especially for the ones who are lost, who have not found that book, or that story that made them believe that they are a reader, that their life matters.”

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Tonya Buelow is an instructional coach at Darby Creek Elementary. This is her 23rd year of teaching various grade levels. She enjoys spending time with her family and lounging on the beach with a good book. She embraces those precious moments watching her daughter play softball in college and her son playing high school and club volleyball. Tonya also enjoys strolling slowly through bookstores and purchasing new finds to share with others. She loves learning alongside readers and writers and discovering new passions.

Nicolette Landon is currently an instructional coach at Ridgewood Elementary.  She has been teaching for 14 years.  Her passions include literacy, math, learning and growing, and spending time with her family and friends.