Classroom Libraries – How to Build One for Cheap
Having a killer classroom library sets the tone for your space and really gets your kids excited about reading, whether they are in Kindergarten or middle school. A neglected or sparse library gives off the impression that books and reading don’t really matter and aren’t a top priority. But books are expensive and building a classroom library takes a lot of time and effort. How can teachers build up their classroom libraries without breaking the bank?
Become an Expert Garage “Sailor”
When I first started teaching, I got three quarters of my books from garage sales. It is easy to build a classroom library by following a few basic steps: Go early (Saturday mornings when the there’s a lot of choice) and/or go late (as garage sales are wrapping up and people are desperate to get rid of their wares). Be sure to hint at the fact that you’re a teacher, especially if you notice a particularly large stash. It is perfectly fine to say, “Wow, you have an awesome collection. I’m a first year teaching trying to build up my classroom library,” and see where the conversation leads. I can’t tell you how many people heard “I’m a teacher,” and replied, “Take them, no charge.” People love teachers – they feel bad for us and are well aware that teachers are willing to spend their money to make their classrooms special for their students. Plus, books are heavy and if they can avoid donating them elsewhere, they will.
Even when you can’t get books for free, garage sales are great places to pick up books for $.10-$.25 or make a deal and offer a price for an entire box. I tend to do my research ahead of garage sales and strategically map out which garage sales would be most likely to offer children’s books for sale. Just remember to stay focused on your mission and hit up as many sales as you can. Thrift stores and swap meets are other great places to score on kid’s books.
Visit Your Local Library
Many libraries have a “Friends of the Library” room or occasional used book sales. These are great places to pick up books for cheap – typically $.25-$1.00. Libraries specialize in hard-cover books too, so you can save some big money going this route. Be sure to check out libraries in surrounding areas in addition to the library in your neighborhood.
It absolutely never hurts to ask. Who should you ask?
- Friends – Put it out there on Facebook that you are looking to build your classroom library and wanted to see if any of your friends had books they would be willing to donate. Offer to pick up the books or pay for the shipping. Media Mail is a great way to ship books at an extremely low cost. You’ll be amazed at how many friends have boxes of books already set aside for donation – if you hit it at the right time, you could score big.
- Parents of your Students – when parents ask if you need any donations, don’t be shy about mentioning that you’d really like x, y, and z for your classroom library. You can even request used books in your classroom newsletter or website. Mention that if their student has finished reading a series or has less advanced books, these would be great for other students in the class. Hint to your students that you LOVE Barnes and Noble – sometimes these not-so-subtle hints get back to the parents at just the right moment (before the holidays, during Teacher Appreciation Week).
- Principal/Administrator – ask your principal if there is any money set aside for classroom books. It is a good idea to have a “wish list” prepared in advance so that if you are given the thumbs up, you are able to quickly follow through with your requests.
Use Those Scholastic Points
If your students receive Scholastic magazine, make sure you are taking full advantage of your role as a teacher. You can earn points for each book that your students order. These points can be quickly traded in to buy books for your classroom library. There is no reason to keep saving up your points – the sooner you can get books into the hands of your students, the better!
Stop Being So Particular
Some teachers I know are completely obsessed with the physical appearance of the books that they will pass up free books that don’t look pristine. That’s just crazy! Send the books to “book hospital,” slap some packing tape on them, and get them into your library rotation. Teach your students not to judge a book by its cover through modeling. Accept books that are above and below your grade level – both types can be utilized for different purposes.
Make Friends with a Retiring Teacher or Someone Leaving the Profession
Most teachers who have been at it for a while, or who have changed positions several times, know what a pain it is to pack, store, unpack, and organize books. About a month before the retirement/exit date, mention that you are interested in taking any books she no longer wants off of her hands (this way it sounds like YOU are doing HER a favor) when she makes her exit. Offer to help her pack her classroom – an exchange of your time for a great stash of books is well worth it! When I left the regular classroom, I gave away about 2,000 books, completely free of charge. I kept some hardcover books, but felt that the books would be much better in the hands of actual kids than sitting in my garage, collecting dust and taking up space. My co-workers were so appreciative and years later those books are still being read.
Don’t Forget Your Teacher Discounts!
Even when you can’t get books for free, you should never pay full price. Most major book retailers offer a teacher discount. Barnes and Noble offers 20% off of all classroom purchases. It never hurts to ask – just remember to take your teacher ID card and proof of employment (such as a paystub) with you.
Building a great classroom library doesn’t need to break the bank. Using these tips can help you build up your classroom library in a short amount of time and help get your kids really excited about reading.