When I decided to go all in with choice reading for my secondary English classes, I knew it was time to build my classroom library with intention. Up to that point, I had a classroom library that was really just there for looks. Some of my bookworm students would ask to borrow books, but I didn’t even have them organized in any logical manner (Gasp! I know! For an organization-obsessed teacher, I realize this is a cardinal sin!)
When I experimented with choice reading last year, I instantly knew that this strategy was a winner for my students. There are so many benefits to a robust classroom library, but for me, I wanted to be able to give my students access to all of my favorite classic and young adult novels for their free choice reading assignment. I was lucky to inherit books from the teacher whom I replaced, but I still had a long way to go to acquire books that I wanted in that library. Over just a few months, I checked every major book and/or genre off my list and into my classroom bookshelves! Even better, I did it cheaply!
Here are seven of my best tips for building your classroom library and doing so in a way that won’t break the bank:
1) Ask your friends and family
This one seems obvious, but I didn’t think to do it until we were cleaning out our basement and we realized just how many books we had been hoarding! Unfortunately, most of those books were not what I needed for my classroom library (a lot of football coaching books and teaching trade books), but it made me wonder if other people had hoards of books as well. I started by asking my family members if they had any books they wanted to donate to my classroom. The response was incredible! I couldn’t believe how many people had hoarded books like we did.
The next step was reaching out to my friends. You may even find success if you write a public announcement on Facebook. It helps if you frame it like you’re hosting a book drive for your classroom library until such and such a date. People tend to be more likely to donate if you make it sound official and you give them a deadline.
2) Browse discount stores
Check any and all discount stores for the chance that you might find relevant books for your grade level. My husband and I found so many great deals on books at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet; we purchased eight brand new books for my library for $12!
3) Find used book stores
Yes, used book stores still exist, but you may have to do a little searching for them (and likely a little driving for them). It can be well worth it though. We discovered an awesome used book store at State College, PA. We turn in our used books to them and get credit for purchasing used books from their store. This summer, I was able to get six books for my classroom library on that credit. Granted we have to drive two and a half hours to get there, but in truth, we love any excuse to go to PSU.
4) Search buyer/seller networks
Facebook Marketplace, Amazon Used Books, Half.comhttp://www.half.ebay.com/ (an ebay Company), and Craigslist are great places to search for books. As a bonus, you don’t even have to leave your house! I tend to use these marketplaces when I have to have a specific book. Just make sure you check out the condition before buying online without seeing it.
5) Go to yard sales and flea markets
This option is hit or miss, but you might find other fun classroom decor or flexible seating options, so it’s definitely worth it.
6) Travel to book sales
We used to have an amazing book sale in a warehouse just down the street from our house. Sadly, the storage center was sold and the book sale ended. This lead me to try to find other book sales in our area. This is when I found an amazing website, Book Sale Finder. I’ve found two library book sales within an hour drive coming up in the next two weeks. Check this website out for sales in your state.
7) Stop by thrift stores
The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, and other consignment stores often receive book donations. (This is where we donated ten boxes of our book hoard, so we know from experience.) In fact, when I asked my teacher friends on Instagram, they overwhelming responded with Goodwill as their go to.
I didn’t have a classroom library until my 6th year of teaching when I was hired at my new school and inherited books from the teachers whom I replaced. Even at that, during years 7 and 8 (year 8 was last year), my classroom library was more of a #classroomdecor piece than anything else. Last year, I studied choice reading for my secondary students, and it was a major success! So I decided it was time to put some ❤️ into my classroom library. With the help of my husband (a hs history teacher), I added SO many books to my classroom bookshelves this summer (ALL of the top ones on my initial wish list), and I did so REALLY inexpensively. Most books were under $2 and a lot were free! I wrote an article about our bookish adventures, so check it out if you’re looking to build your classroom library inexpensively. #linkinbio Where do you find inexpensive books? (Disclaimer: My students still were 💯% awesome critical thinkers when I didn’t have a functional classroom library.)
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Bonus: Find free eBooks
In my opinion, nothing beats a physical book and a bookshelf filled with your favorite books. Still, you can’t beat free. If your students have a SmartPhone, tablet, or computer with internet access, they can find thousands of eBooks for free. Project Gutenberg is my favorite for classics, but you can even find contemporary eBooks with a simple Google search.
Although it can be somewhat tiring, we find book hunting to be really fun. Who doesn’t love a good deal on a good book? When you do come across those treasures, don’t forgot to play the teacher card. You just might get an even better deal. Good luck filling your bookshelves!