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How to Build a Classroom Library

In kindergarten, literacy is one of the most important aspects of the content I teach. It’s my job to instill a love of reading in my students and to help them discover new books that ignite their interests and fill their hearts with joy. It’s also essential that I put books in their hands that are on-level for their reading abilities so they can build confidence as young readers. My classroom library has always, hands-down, been my favorite corner of the classroom. I love the vibrant colors, the neatly lined up bins, and the organization? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake!

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Colorful bins and labels organize the classroom library on a white bookshelf

As you prepare your own classroom for back to school, I’m excited to take you on a little tour of various classroom libraries I have set up over the years share my classroom library with you.

Gathering Materials for a Classroom Library

If you’re just getting started organizing your classroom library, you need four simple things:

  1. books
  2. bins to hold the books
  3. shelving
  4. labels to help your library stay organized
A well-organized classroom library filled with books on a white bookcase.

If you are ready to start building your classroom library today, I’ll take you through the four essential items to help you create a library space for your students.

#1 Classroom Library Books

If you’re building a classroom library, you need to start collecting books. Fortunately, there are a few cost-effective options available to help you get started.

Scholastic Reading Club

These days, I purchase most of my library books from Scholastic Reading Club. They’re affordable and there are always a few leveled sets available in the monthly flyers. I especially love purchasing books through Scholastic Reading Club because I get bonus points each time a parent buys books. Those points add up fast!  Last year, I “purchased” all of these books for my library using bonus points. The packs of books are always an exceptional value and these particular books were great choices that were on-level for my students. You can read more about the book sets in this blog post.
If the parents in your class don’t purchase many books from the flyers when you send them home, you probably just need to educate them. I always mention the Scholastic book orders during my Parent Night presentation. I talk about the importance of “just right” books and hold up a few Scholastic books from my own classroom library. Then I mention how incredibly difficult it can be to find easy to read books at the local book store or even the book fair. As soon as I point out that Scholastic book orders are the best (and often only) place to purchase books that are easy enough for Kindergarteners to read, I have their attention. I even throw the Scholastic Book Fair under the bus because those books are too hard for my kids to read too. By the time I mention the incredible bargain that these books are, I’ve already guaranteed that a few parents will purchase books from the Book Order. Once parents are informed of the great prices, I just teach the parents how to find reading level information online and in the flyer. I post this exact image on my classroom blog when the first book order goes home.  You are welcome to do the same!

Scholastic Online Store

If you are looking for specific books that you know Scholastic publishes, but aren’t in your current Scholastic Reading Club flyer, you can buy most of their resources at any time from the Scholastic Online Store. The prices are a little higher, but the stock is much more consistent.

Used Book Sales

Used book sales are another amazing place to get fantastic books for classroom library. I have purchased hundreds of books for my own library over the years from local used book sales. Sometimes I’ve even been lucky enough to find leveled books from a former teacher’s library in the used book bins.

The prices of children’s books at Used Book Sales are particularly amazing. They often charge by the inch, which means they stack the books up and you pay based on how tall the stack of books are. In my area, most used book sales charge $1 per inch; which means that I could get a collection like this for only $3.

I’ve also found that if I’m purchasing dozens of books and I mention that I’m a teacher, the volunteers who run the cash register are often pretty generous with their measurements.

stack of used childrens books for a classroom library with a ruler beside it measuring 3 inches tall

Classroom Donations

Another excellent source of classroom books is from donations. Reach out to former parents or put a note in your school newsletter stating that you are trying to expand your classroom library and are seeking any gently used book donations. You’d be amazed at how many picture books families have at home that their children have outgrown.

#2 Library Book Bins

Once you’ve begun to collect books for your classroom library, you’ll find yourself sorting them so that your library can be organized. There’s no right or wrong way to sort and organize your books. Many lower elementary teachers sort their books by theme (such as apples, holidays, or favorite book characters). Many upper elementary teachers sort by genre (fiction, biography, fantasy, etc). Some teachers, like myself, have books sorted by level in addition to categories.

No matter how you sort your books, you are going to need a way to store them and keep your categories separated. Here’s where book bins come in. My best advice is to stock up on rectangular bins. Avoid round containers or boxes with irregular shapes. Rectangular boxes fit the best on shelves and help you to maximize your storage space. There are a few great places to stock up on bins for your classroom library.

classroom library corner with white bookshelves holding brightly colored bins with black library labels attached and green bins with decorative yellow flowers

Really Good Stuff

Really Good Stuff (now available on Amazon!) is one of my favorite places to purchase bins for my library. Their Durable Book and Binder Holders are very high quality and can handle tremendous rough handling from students. They also come in a variety of colors and are available year-round. (Bonus tip – turn the bins around on your shelf so the tall part faces out. That’s what I did for the green and yellow boxes you see in the above photo. It makes an extra-bold statement in your library). Medium Rectangle Book Baskets are another favorite of mine from Really Good Stuff. These little baskets are available in the same range of colors as the Book and Binder Holders and they are the perfect size to hold the small square-shaped leveled readers that I stock up on from Scholastic.

Big Lots

During the summer months, I begin stalking all of my local Big Lots stores. They carry a line of plastic bins and boxes in their dorm decor that are amazing. I especially love the large multipurpose storage bins and their medium size dot baskets.

You can see the large white multipurpose storage bins on the middle shelf of the photo from a classroom library I helped set up for a friend. These bins are the perfect size to hold slightly oversized hardcover picture books that sometimes don’t fit in the bins from Really Good Stuff. And you can’t go wrong with a price tag of $3 per box. I also really love their medium size dot baskets (shown on the bottom shelf) for storing books that I own in abundance. Those boxes are extra durable and can really stand the test of time.

Curious about the bins on the top shelf? Those are book and binder bins from Really Good Stuff.

A first grade classroom library filled with white bins of books and bright classroom library labels.

As amazing as these bins are, there’s just one catch. You can only buy them in-store during the summer months. They don’t sell the bins online. And the colors rotate from year to year. A few years back, they had the most beautiful pink, blue, lime green and purple selection. This year the colors are coral, bright blue, black and gray. If you’re in need of boxes for your classroom, hop over to the Big Lots website now and grab these while you still can.

Dollar Tree

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to store your books, make a trip to your local Dollar Tree or visit Dollar Tree online. Often, you have to buy a case of items (which is usually 24 pieces), but I guarantee that 24 plastic bins is just about the right size for a “starter” library. The color selection varies from year-to-year, but they are always gorgeous. I used a set of brightly colored plastic book bins on the middle shelf of the photo below and LOVE the pop of rainbow colors.
first grade classroom library with books organized into brightly colored labeled bins on a white bookshelf with a sound wall displayed on a bulletin board above the shelves

Jill from First Grade Made used a mix of Dollar Tree bins and Really Good Stuff bins to store the books in her classroom library and it looks so beautiful. I’ll talk about those labels in a minute. 🙂

a first grade classroom a room library with lots of colorful bins filled with books.
The plastic book bins are by far my favorite Dollar Tree storage solution. Last year they carried a gorgeous pastel/boho color palette and right now they are featuring a beautiful bright pastel set of bins. I’m obsessed with the colors!
brightly colored plastic book bins from Dollar Tree

You can find the complete offering of Dollar Tree’s plastic bins here. Just remember that rectangular boxes will be your best friend and round ones will be a nightmare for your storage system.

Oriental Trading

Oriental Trading has also been making a huge splash in the education sector this summer and I was surprised to discover that they sell many storage bins online. It’s another great option to check out if you are getting ready to stock up on bins for your classroom library. 

#3 Shelving

Once your books are organized and sorted into bins, you’re going to need to store those bins somewhere in your classroom and make them accessible to your students. Many teachers purchase additional shelving to store those books.

I use these bookshelves from Target in my own library and throughout my home. I have used (and destroyed) a lot of bookcases over the years in my library and these are by far the best bang for your buck. They’re surprisingly durable and have a price tag under $25.

white Room Essentials book case from Target

The Target shelves sometimes sell out (probably because of the crazy low price). A coworker has many of these similar shelves from Amazon in her classroom and they work great too.

brightly colored bins in a first grade classroom library arranged on a white bookshelf and organized with classroom library labels

#4 Classroom Library Labels to Stay Organized

So you’ve finally collected the books, sorted them and tucked them neatly on the shelf in bins that are ready for students to use and love. Now how exactly do you keep those books organized so that all of your hard work wasn’t in vain?

All you need now is the right labeling system to keep your classroom library organized and staying top-notch. My classroom library labels are perfect for the job!

Child-friendly illustrations and a simple font are used on all of the box labels. Just print the labels you need, laminate and hot glue them onto plastic bins. Yes, I said hot glue. It creates a firm bond but pops easily off when you want to remove the label.

how to print, prep and label your classroom library

The book bins are fantastic and look amazing, but the real magic is in the coordinating book labels that are also included in the set. Just print the labels onto Avery 5160 sticker sheets and place a matching label onto every book in the bin. That way, your students will always know exactly where to return the books when they are done reading.

book stickers that coordinate with classroom library bin labels

Classroom Library Labels are available in the bold Black Series or an ink-friendly White Series. Both sets will help your library space look absolutely stunning.

leveled books in a kindergarten classroom library labeled with coordinating book bins

How to Use Classroom Library Labels

If you want to see more about the library labels and aren’t exactly sure how they work, this video is for you. I explain the whole process for how I use them to label my own classroom library.

Classroom Library Flashback

As nice is it is to have a really beautiful space, it’s perfectly ok to start with an area that’s purely functional and grow from there. This is how my classroom library looked in 2012. As you can see, things were a little bit different back then. And that is OK! I had books, bins, shelves and labels in place. My students used the library and loved it and we all start somewhere!

library corner with books in bins on shelves in a kindergarten classroom with cushions as alternate seating

My Most Recent Classroom Library

My library has changed (and expanded) considerably since those early days. Here are a few photos from this space in my classroom last year. Is it any wonder why I love this area in my kindergarten room the most?  You can read more about my classroom here. 

A beautifully organized classroom library with shelves filled with colorful books and labeled bins. The books are neatly arranged and sorted by genre, creating an inviting and engaging reading space for students.
A beautifully organized classroom library with shelves filled with colorful books and labeled bins. The books are neatly arranged and sorted by genre, creating an inviting and engaging reading space for students.

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Maria Gavin

Maria is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, with 13 years of teaching experience. Her love and passion for all things early childhood is now fulfilled as a mom to two amazing kids. She loves sharing practical and creative tips and ideas that are perfect for young learners – in the classroom or at home!

Leave a Comment

17 Responses

  1. Hi there! Where can I find the Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, and other books series labels that are shown in your pictures above. I already purchased the white version of your labels but I do not see those options on there. Do I have to edit myself?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Stephanie!
      Yes, you would need to create those using the editable templates in the file. Those book characters are copyright and trademark protected and I’m not permitted to share classroom resources featuring their names or images.

  2. Hello! I’m so inspired by your library! I bought some library bins from Really Good Stuff and I just wondered if you bought the baskets from Really Good Stuff? If so, what size were your baskets above the book bins (underneath the “read” letters)? Thanks so much!

  3. My question is about organising a Kindergarten classroom (I am in Australia, so this is for children who 5 to 6 years old).
    I was wondering about non-fiction books. If you had a non-fiction book about dinosaurs, would you put this in the same tub as the fiction books about dinosaurs? Or do you put all non-fiction books together? Thanks and I love your room.

    1. I think that’s up to your personal preference. I personally mix fiction and nonfiction books that are on the same topic into the same box.

  4. Hi all! Just wanted to let you know that I purchased some amazing book bins from Steps To Literacy for my classroom library. Their website is 25% off and I found a free shipping code on their Facebook page “FreeShip” so the pricing was not bad at all either.

  5. Love your classroom library! Wondering where did you get the tall blue baskets. Those are the ones on the bottom shelves. They look good for hard cover books.

  6. Hi Maria! I love your library setup! I’m using your labels and would like to print the stickers. I can’t seem to find the avery stickers you used. Where did you get them?

  7. Hi Maria! I am trying to make my own library book labels in addition to using yours. I am experiencing some trouble with printing them on Avery 5160 labels like you have done. Please offer any assistance or guidance you may have. My graphics keep getting cut off. How did you make your library book labels to place on the books?

    1. Hi there! You might have to adjust your print scale. Make sure it’s set to “fill entire page” or a print scale of 100%. (Different computers use different settings, but yours should have something along those lines in the print menu)

  8. This is such an informative post. It can be challenging to build your library from scratch, or even just from what was left behind by a previous teacher. This is a great resource for new teachers. Thanks for sharing, Maria!

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Hi, I'm Maria.

I’m a former kindergarten teacher turned work-from-home mom. I still love sharing ideas and resources to make teaching easier, so you can focus on what really matters in the classroom. When I’m not working on the blog, you’ll find me chasing kids around the house with a cold cup of coffee in my hand (some things never change even once you’re out of the classroom!)


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