Setting up a Classroom Library

Over the  years I have gone through several classroom library makeovers.  I've tried different tubs, labels, sorting systems, and anything else that could possibly make my life easier.  I'm going to take you through some things that have and have not worked for me, and some solutions that have made my life a little easier!
There are so many ways to organize your classroom library.  How you set up your books, bins, or whatever you may use needs to work for YOU and YOUR students!  Think about your grade level of learners, how many books you have, and how you want your students to access these books.  

Do you want a leveled library?  Check out this beautiful library from First Grade Made.  Her labels are by Maria Manore Gavin.
Do you have older students that can learn how an actual library works?  Check out this library by Lessons with Laughter.  She has book bin labels HERE and HERE!
Do you have 8 trillion books and just not sure where to start?  Check out THIS post by Kindergals!  Kim takes you through sorting, leveling, and managing!!  Her labels can be fond HERE.
I've had lots of different bins over the years.  One problem I have is changing my classroom theme or decor way too often.  So when I had primary colored book bins, that only worked for a short amount of time...
After about 7 years I moved to clear bins.  I liked this look a lot because they could be used no matter what colors I decorated with.
But this kept happening!  My bins weren't the perfect size.  The books would fold over and bend because the bins weren't quite tall enough! 
My new solution?  Wire Baskets from Wal-Mart.  I know they may seem pricey, and they may not what you are looking for, but I can't tell you how much money I've spent on bins over the years.  Plus, with the amount of books that I've purchased, I might as well take care of them!!!  I decided to not have a million different baskets for every single little topic or author, so I also didn't need quite as many baskets as before.  The nice thing about these baskets is they come in a few different sizes.  I bought a mix of the medium and large baskets based on how many books I had in each category.  The medium baskets are really the perfect size for most of my categories.  I also love how you can see straight through to the books.  This makes for easy perusing and choosing! 
The first thing I did was bring ALL of my books home.  I began sorting them into broad categories rather than by author or character.  Then this happened...
I gave up approximately 100 times and just plopped on top of the books.  I may have been a bit dramatic, but it felt like the task was never going to be complete!!!!  My guest room was a sea of books for a couple of weeks and it just about drove me bonkers.  I'm not good at having uncompleted projects.  But I managed to push on!!!

For so many years I had books that just didn't have a home because they didn't fit into the categories I had chosen.  I had a Kevin Henkes bin, but there were only 8 books in it.  Maybe at one point I had a ton of Fly Guy books, but some got lost and destroyed so that category dwindled down.  I wanted the maximum amount of books in my library.  So, broad categories it was!
I don't know if you can see this or not, but look closely.  Do you see the ziploc bags?  I also put my books on CD in the book bin buckets.  SAY WHAT?!  It's true.  I have an addiction to buying books AND books on CD.  I decided that some kids may just want to read those books instead of listening to them on CD.  Why not go ahead and sort those books with the other ones?  Students are more than capable of grabbing a book on CD from a book bin, I promise!  Now they are sorted by category instead of just all grouped together.  This will also help me to see if we have a book on the subject I need for teaching :)

Although my categories have always seemed pretty simple to me (I mean don't all Eric Carle books look similar enough to you??!!) my students seemed to never get what I was thinking!  Here's what I decided to do...

-Each category has a number on the basket.
-Each book inside that basket now has a number on the upper righthand corner.

Simple, right?!  Now I can look through a bin and easily see if any books are misplaced!  When labels are on the back, inside, or somewhere else it seemed like students never looked at them.  I was constantly going to the library getting frustrated because so many books weren't in their homes!  While my kids were working they would be interrupted with, "Is this real life, guys??  Why are there Clifford books in the Science book bin???"  #iamashamedtosayit #butitstrue
I now have 25 baskets.  When creating my categories I thought about books I would be buying in the future.  I didn't overthink things.  If a book was about building character, bullying, or being unique- those went in my "character" bucket.  I also grouped certain books.  I have a lot of Arthur and Amelia Bedelia books, but not enough to fill a whole basket.  So, I grouped favorite characters together. 
PS- I really wish I would have paid attention to the labels that are straightened before snapping a picture.  

Right now all of my books are living at home, so I just set up a special place for our library in the playroom for my two kiddos.  They read ALL THE TIME, so it made sense to give them access to all the books throughout the summer since I brought them home to organize anyways!  They are already rockin' the new organization.  Book clean-up is now fast and easy :)
Before I go, I wanted to share the labels that I made in case you wanted them for your classroom library.  I'm not making different styles or sharing my specific basket labels because I know they won't be what you need.  However, if you'd like to use my template to make your own click HERE 

Here's how to use them:
Do you have pictures of your classroom library online or on a blog?  I'd love for you to leave a link below so that people can see your library!  I know that my solution won't work for everyone, and it's always so nice to see other options out there!!!  


learningmyself said...

I love your idea and I love the basket idea. I'll have to check them out. Thanks for all u do!

Kristi said...

Thank you for sharing!!! The library is always such a headache! Such a practical way to organize; totally using your labels! Happy Summer!!

eyelashy said...

I still organize my books by topic or author. I've been a teacher for 6 years and have changed grade levels many times. I have a wide variety of books, but they are not always grade level appropriate! So I usually have tons of books stashed in a cabinet and just organize the books that may work for my students.

This is my 2nd grade library:

JanCT said...

My library is a work in progress and has been for years! I was just yammering on to my husband about how I need to overhaul it again. He was sweet enough to be interested! Thanks for the suggestions!
Laughter and Consistency

CathyECrawford said...

Thank you for all of the great ideas! I have been trying to come up with some easy solutions for my classroom library. I think I will try your number system. Thank you for the labels. It's funny, I was just about to print off the labels for my plastic bins, that I just purchased. I wish that I would have seen the wire basket idea first!:( I have ditched the other labels though. Thank you for sharing! I love your ideas!

Mary W said...

I love the idea of numbering the baskets. I am moving from fourth to second this year, so I have to completely reorganize my library. Your post was very helpful. Thank you!

Elementary Engagement

Dee Valdes said...

Hi Amy!!! I love your library and the number system. Where did you buy your black bookcases?

Caroline Carnell said...

The classroom library was not on my project list ~ but it is now! Wow, that looks so nice. And yes I too have made the same declaration to a seven year old-ha! I really would like for you to share your categories. I too, teach second and so I think they would be very similar. It would save me a ton of time, and I could just get right to the labeling and sorting. If you don't want to post them would you mind emailing them to me? Thank you for sharing your work. I am always so pleased with anything I have ever downloaded from you. Caroline

Elise Tilson said...

This is so helpful! My library was super organized by AR levels last year, but it was too much for my second graders (third graders could manage it just fine though!) I think having clear numbers & baskets like this will make it much easier for my guys. I'd also like to see the labels you created if you don't mind sharing a list! Thank you!!

Sara Kovach / Dare to be Different - Teach! said...

I have been thinking about my library organization, and you have really given me something to think about. Keep it simple!!! Thanks so much for the bin labels.

Melissa Layton said...

This is really helpful, Amy, thanks so much! I'm wondering if you include chapter books in your baskets, or do you keep them separate? Maybe in their own baskets? I've got mined sorted by series, but I'm not sure what to do with the rest of them.


Tolli24 said...

I am laughing at this post because I just hauled my entire classroom library home and stashed it in the basement! I have BIG hopes and dreams to reorganize the entire thing this summer! Wish me luck! It is always the thing that bugs me the most about my classroom. Like you, I have tried several different things and have just not found the "magic trick" yet. Thanks for the inspiration!! I love everything you do also, and I look forward to all your posts. Enjoy your summer!

Creative Undertakings said...


I teach middle school math, so while I don't have a billion books, I do have quite a few and need to figure out the right organizational tool ;)

Thanks for the tips!

Anisa @ Creative Undertakings

Elizabeth Wilburn said...

I love seeing how other people organize their classroom libraries. It is such a focal point in the classroom. We want it to be pleasing to the eye but also very functional.
I like the idea of the wire baskets. They sure will last much longer than the plastic ones! Thanks for sharing!
Teaching Tips and Treasures

Spoon Girl said...

Hi Amy! What a wonderful idea to use the wire baskets! I have come to realize that my second graders are professional at breaking my plastic bins! I just had a quick question! Is there any way you could possibly share your categories? It could even be a list, I can make the labels. I'll give you my email. I am having a hard time categorizing my picture books. I'm not sure what to do or how organize them. If you could provide ANY ADVICE that would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for being such an inspiration to a young second year teacher like me! :) My email is Thank you!

Brooklyn Boggs said...

Is there any chance I could get your list of categories? I am also a second grade teacher, and it stresses me out to even think about categories. I love love love your library! If you don't mind sharing, my email address is

Bonnie Marvin said...

Hi Amy,
Are you going to the TPT conference this year? I haven't seen anything on your site.

HistoryinHeels said...

I love your tips!

HistoryinHeels said...

I love the tips!

Sue said...

Amy, Thank you so much for posting your ideas and tips. I am a new 2nd grade teacher this year and need to revamp my library. Could you please email me your categories for your library? My email is Thanks much!

hoopla said...

Would you email me your categories for your library? My email is Love the wire baskets. Thank you.