What should a classroom library look like?

Classroom Libraries: All Your Questions Answered (Part 2)

Feb 23, 2020

In last week’s post I looked at the research behind classroom libraries, the number and types of books you should have in your classroom library and the need for diversity on your shelves. This week I answer another 7 of your FAQs related to classroom libraries.


1. How can I cater for my Foundation and Year 1 students in the classroom library?

The purpose of the classroom library is to support and extend the instruction happening in the reading lessons. This means students need texts in their classroom libraries that will offer opportunities for them to apply the learning from their explicit teaching sessions as well as texts that can prompt their curiosity and creativity in other ways. 

Students in Foundation and year 1 classrooms need a wide range of texts in their library - from texts that support their emergent reading phonics instruction through to texts that can build their knowledge on different topics. They need non-fiction books, picture story books, nursery rhyme books, books containing poems and songs they've learned as a part of their phonics lessons. They also need books made in class as part of modelled, shared or interactive writing, high frequency word cards and social story books. 

Although Foundation and year 1 students may not be able to read all the words in the picture story books or non-fiction texts featured in their library they can access information from these texts in other ways. They may use the illustrations as inspiration for their own writing, for example. 



2. What about audiobooks? Can we include these in our classrooms?

Yes! Audiobooks are great for hooking kids into the joy of reading. They give students access to texts that might normally be out of reach for them and provide them with an opportunity to listen to a proficient reader modelling good reading. They also give the listener the opportunity to flex their ‘comprehension muscles’ as they listen to the story. (This is especially important for striving readers who may not get this opportunity in our classrooms at any other time).

A couple of tips for audiobooks:

  • Ensure they are read by local readers (eg. we don’t want our striving readers coming away with international pronunciations).
  • Ultimately, they are most effective when the students follow along with a copy of the real book in front of them.
  • Get creative about how you access audio books- in one school I worked in, we had parents come in and record themselves reading picture story books from the school library. (These were then uploaded to the school server.)
  • Another option for accessing picture story book versions of audio books is to use a Youtube Channel such as StoryBox library.
  • For access to longer texts you can sign your class up to a BorrowBox account at your local library. This has limitations, but it may be useful for specific students.


3. How should the classroom library be organised?

Firstly, it does indeed need to be organised! The message from a well organised, labelled and loved classroom library is that 'books and reading are valued in this classroom.’

From the beginning, you need to set up a system to help students locate and return the books they're borrowing from the library. There are loads of different options for this but two of them include:

Storing books in baskets with labels on the front

All you crazy laminating fans (who were disappointed when I said you weren’t allowed to laminate your anchor charts) ARE allowed to laminate pretty book theme labels if you really want. Please note though that handwritten or even sticky note labels are usually just as effective.

Ok, you can laminate some blank cardboard for your labels and use whiteboard markers to write the themes on too. This works really well if you're regularly cycling your books in and out of the school library and the themes could be changing. (i.e. you might have a stack of joke books one month but then a stack of spider books the next month).

 What is a classroom library?

How cute is this student made theme label?


Storing books on a bookshelf with labels

This is a great opportunity to teach students about appropriate book care- spines out, books up the right way, alphabetical order for fiction etc. My school used Ikea bookshelves for these to ensure there was enough space for the huge number of books required in each room. (Note when purchasing- do not lose your Ikea receipts if using the school credit card to buy multiple bookshelves, especially if you are a known booklover and always talk about needing more shelves…this happened to someone I know once…awkward!!)

 Classroom library photo

This senior library has clear and easy to read labels for each section.


4. What else do teachers need to consider when setting up a classroom library?

One of the major purposes of a classroom library is to make books and reading so incredibly attractive and enticing that you couldn’t think of anything else you’d rather do than pick up a juicy new read and bite right into it. here are a couple of considerations to help you achieve this: 



Your classroom library needs to be in constant eyesight of the students in your room. It needs to be able to call to them ALL DAY LONG. They need to be able to see all those sweet and shiny books on the shelves, without having to open a door or walk into another room.



You need to think about comfort in the classroom library space. The responses from my student reading surveys consistently indicate that when reading at home, most students prefer to read on the couch or on their bed. ZERO students report that they like to read sitting upright at the kitchen table. What does this mean for most of the reading students are doing in our classrooms? Does it really need to be this way?


Eye candy

Besides the books themselves, classroom libraries need supportive visuals to help entice readers and direct them to appropriate reads. Eye candy such as anchor charts on choosing a good fit book, book recommendations from other students, front facing books on display, spotlight on authors etc. These all go a long way to helping students populate their ‘To be read’ (TBR) lists, and, if we want to hook our kids onto reading, we need them to be seeking their next read before they have finished their first. (I don’t know much about dealing drugs but I’m starting to think there is a bit of cross over here in how we hook our users on to the drug?).

  What is a classroom library?

This junior classroom library looks like an enticing place to spend some time.


5. We have a huge/shiny/new/expensive school library instead of classroom libraries. That’s the same isn’t it?

No. It isn’t.

Having said this, I want to be clear that this is not an either/or game. It is not a matter of “we will have class libraries INSTEAD of a school library” (or vice versa). To build a literature rich environment and promote reading and writing as lifelong endeavours, we need both in our schools.

The main reason a school library is not a suitable substitute for a classroom library is because the books on the shelves of the school library are not in the students’ eyesight EVERY day. Students need the books right there, in their everyday space, calling them to be read, enticing them to open their pages and piquing their interest when they least expect it.

In his book “Readicide,” secondary school teacher and author Kelly Gallagher (2009), recounts a story of the day he learnt the importance of the class library: He’d recommended a great book to his students and ensured there were three copies available in the school library for them to borrow. Checking up on the success of his recommendation, he headed to the library after school to learn that only one student had enquired about it. He took the remaining copies into his class the next day, did a book sell again and made them available in the class library this time. So many students came to borrow it out, he said “I then created a waiting list for the book- the same book my students wouldn’t walk thirty-eight steps from my classroom to the school library to pick up.”

We need school libraries to stock and replenish our classroom libraries. We need them as places students can go and be surrounded by books at other times of the day. And we need them for the incredibly passionate librarians who work in them (in schools who are lucky enough to have librarians, that is).  (Personal note: the school library was my refuge as a student, I even joined the ‘contacting club’ in primary school and learnt how to contact brand new books for the library WITHOUT hideous bubbles or creases in the contact. This club is almost completely responsible for my lifelong addiction to the smell and feel of brand-new books!)

 classroom library ideas

This year 3/4 classroom library is neat, tidy, well organised and well stocked.


6. Our librarian won’t let us borrow books from the school library to use in class libraries. What should we do?

I get asked this question A LOT.

Firstly, I tell people they are SO lucky to have a librarian! Unfortunately, for a range of reasons, not all schools are lucky enough to have them.

Secondly, I urge schools to consider the purpose of their school library. Why do we have it? What is its purpose? What is the purpose of our reading and writing instruction? How do these purposes match the reality? And, how do we know?

The purpose of libraries (and instruction) should be to support the creation of a lifelong love of reading and writing in all our students and, arguably, the whole school community. If we really want this, we need to make the books in our school libraries available to our students; success then, should be measured by the number of books being taken out of our libraries each week, rather than the number of books left in our libraries each week.

Let’s go back to Guthrie’s (2004) research: “Students who read widely and frequently are higher achievers than students who read rarely and narrowly.” We should be aiming to get as many books into kids’ hands as we can, in any way that we can. This means, using the school library as one of the avenues for stocking and replenishing books in classroom libraries.


7. I'm a secondary English teacher, surely this classroom library thing is just for primary schools?

No. Classroom libraries are important for any class aimed at creating passionate lifelong readers and writers.

Obviously in some secondary settings you need to be more creative about how classroom libraries are created, especially if you are not lucky enough to have English classes in the same space each week. Some creative options for secondary classroom libraries include:

  • Book trolleys- these are stocked from the school library and wheeled to class for each lesson.
  • Portable book boxes- In some schools, librarians stock portable book boxes (or trollies) with books based on previously completed student reading interest surveys.
  • Shared bookshelves- these are possible in rooms/spaces where English teachers across different homegroups/year levels share the same space. These might exist in open plan teaching spaces or in the middle of two classrooms for example.
  • Lockable shelving units- these can be purchased to be shared by groups of classes.

For any of these systems to work, you need to establish a rock-solid borrowing system. This can be as low tech or high tech as you like. From an exercise book of names to a purpose built app. (Donalyn Miller simply takes a photo of each student holding the book they have borrowed from her class library and deletes the photo from the ipad once the student returns the book).

There are loads of books you can read on the topic that are specifically aimed at a secondary audience. I recommend:

  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
  • Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
  • Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp
  • Book Love by Penny Kittle
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

“More access to books results in more reading.” (Krashen cited in Boushey and Behne, 2020)



So, there you have it. Hopefully everything you need to know to get you started on reconsidering (or refreshing) your thoughts around the purpose and power of classroom libraries.

What resonated for you? What other questions do you have? Join in the conversation on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.


Related Blog Posts



  • Boushey, G. and Behne, A. (2020). The CAFE book: Engaging all students in daily literacy assessment and instruction. 2nd ed. Portland: Stenhouse.

  • Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.

  • Guthrie, J. (2004). Teaching for Literacy Engagement. Journal of Literacy Research, 36(1), 1–28.

  • Szymusiak, K., Sibberson, F. and Koch, L. (2008). Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5. 2nd ed. Portland: Stenhouse.


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