A love of libraries: 10 things to consider when building a classroom library

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A classroom library corner in the reader A New Home for Socks written by Antoinatte Moses. Illustration by Elena Prette. © Helbling Languages

The wonder of libraries never ceases to amaze us. The earlier we start visiting these wonderful places with students, the more confident and enthusiastic they will become about spending time in them. In the second part of our series on libraries, we consider ten essential things we should keep in mind when we build a classroom library.

Your school might already have a school library, but you might want to bring the books closer to your classes. Plus, building an English-language library, which can be part of your everyday teaching, can bring reading and the love of books within reach for your students.

Let’s see some basic ideas.

1 Go slow but steady.

Rome was not built in a day, and nor can you build a classroom library within a few weeks. Start with just as many books as the students you have in your largest class, and organize the first reading sessions based on them. Then keep adding to the collection.

2 Involve the students.

You may know much more about libraries and available titles than your students, but their opinion matters. As we have mentioned in our first post in the series, a wondrful thing about libraries is that they make the unimaginable real by showcasing topics and authors that the students have never heard about. By involving the students and asking them what topics they are interested in, they will feel that their opinion matters and they will feel more attached to the collection. Then, you can start adding books you would like them to read and widen their reading horizon.

Also, when you have set up the library, you can choose class librarians every week or month, who will check the shelves and keep track of the borrowed books.

Let students contribute to the library by donating their own books.

3 Space and organization.

How much space do you have for the library? Where is it going to be? If you can, dedicate a classroom corner or a wall to some shelves and a table, some chairs, pillows or rugs. When you organize the books, you can either put them on shelves and bookcases or in boxes/baskets/bins. When you put the books on shelves, students see their spines. Younger children might prefer baskets so that they can easily check out the covers of the books. Another option is a mobile book cart that you can take from classroom to classroom.

4 Sorting the books: catalogues and labels.

When you have only a dozen books, you can simply but them in alphabetical order or organize them by themes (e.g. detective, mystery, romantic, travel). However, when you start getting more and more books, you will need a system to organize them. Create a library catalogue in a notebook or online (for example, you can check out LibraryThing). Then, organize the books by theme and put the authors in alphabetical order. If you think that the order would work better by language level, it can also work out well. Once you have developed the system, involve the students in keeping the books in order.

It is important to put a label inside the books so that your students will remember to bring them back to the library.

5 Borrowing from the library.

You will mostly use the library books in class, but it might happen that your students would like to take the books home for a night, a weekend or a week. How long will they be able to keep a book?

Library/borrowing card. When you have more books, you can make library cards for your students and mark the title and the check-out and return dates.

Keep record of the borrowed books in a notebook. You can keep track of the books either online or in a notebook.

6 Teaching students about books and the library.

Teens and adults might already be familiar with library use, but younger students may need to learn more about how they operate. Also, older students might need to learn basic library vocabulary in English. Dedicate a lesson to library skills with fun activities and practical tasks when students can learn about books, catalogues and handling books. Watch out for our posts on library skills with young learners and teens/adults.

7 Library design.

Towards the end of the term, you can dedicate a lesson to organizing the books and updating the catalogues. Students can collect keywords to categorize the books and add them to the book catalogues.

You can also create a library poster, new library labels, cards and shelf markers/basket markers for the books.

8 Diversity is key.

When you are building the library, make sure that you include a variety of levels, themes and authors from various backgrounds.

9 Share the love of your library.

Share information about your library project with the headmaster and other language teachers. It is important to inform the parents about the classroom library. They will feel proud of their children learning about library use and reading, and they might want to donate books to the library.

10 Visit the local library.

Plan a trip to a bigger library, where students can use their library skills and explore even more titles.

Write to us if you have any more ideas on setting up a library! In our next library post we will share ideas on getting books for your classroom library. 

In our new series, we address various aspects of building and managing a classroom library by discussing the following topics:

  • Building a classroom library
  • Getting books for your classroom library
  • Library skills for young learners
  • Library skills for teens and adults
  • Fun library tasks
  • Famous libraries and their resources
  • Unusual libraries
  • Online libraries

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