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Classroom Library: Organization, Set-Up, and Maintenance

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my classroom library organization (you can see my previous post here), and it has undergone a few updates this past year. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it on my Instagram account, so I wanted to do a follow-up post and answer some of those questions on this blog post! If you are looking for where I purchased supplies for my classroom library聽I’ve included a list of resources at the bottom of the post with聽my Amazon affiliate links for your shopping convenience!

Book Spine Label Organization

Half of my classroom library is arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name. This replicates how students will usually look for books when they visit a bookstore or library. The way this originally worked is at the beginning of the year I would spend a lot of time perfectly alphabetizing my library, and then once school started I would train a couple reliable “class librarians” to check and put books back in alphabetical order as well. This ended up being a lot of work, however, because if one student put a book in the wrong place, then other students would see that book and put their book away in the wrong place as well, which through the whole organizational system off. I wanted a way to keep all my books in alphabetical order, but without all the time and hassle. That’s how I came up with the idea for the book spine labels.

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter
Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

I created the Classroom Library Rainbow Book Spine Labels using a variety of colors with the idea that the colors would fade slowly from one color to another. Next I found Avery labels style #8160 that perfectly fit on the book spines of my books.  Then I assigned each letter of the alphabet a color. I didn’t have very many books with author’s names beginning with x, y, or z, so I combined those into one letter. I wrote the letter on the top of each Avery label page that way it would be easy to find as I added new books to my library!

As part of the file, I’ve also included a blank page at the front to help you plan out the colors you would like to use for your classroom library. All printers print slightly different colors, so it helps give you an idea of how your colors will look on your printer. Also, it can help you decide if you would like to combine certain letters.

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

I’ve also had people message me saying they used the Classroom Library Rainbow Book Spine Labels to arrange their books in ways other than alphabetical order. Some teachers have used them to arrange books by reading level, while others have found other ways to use them that fit with the needs of their classroom!

Book Bin Organization

The other half of my library is arranged in book bins using my Colorful Classroom Library Labels with Individual Book Labels. This includes my informational books, favorite authors, books in a series, and some fiction books arranged by genre. I printed and laminated the labels, and then punched holes in the corners and attached them to the book bins using 1 inch binder rings.

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter
Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

I have created several options of the classroom library labels that you can get here. All of them include blank labels that you can edit to create labels that fit the needs of your classroom library!

Individual Book Labels

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

Some of my classroom library labels also come with individual book labels to help keep your library organized throughout the year! I print the labels on the same Avery labels style #8160 that I use for my Classroom Library Rainbow Book Spine Labels. They print out with two pictures on one label, so I cut each label in half. Then I put the label on the back corner of the book. That way when students are putting books away, they know exactly which basket to put it in! (Some books could go in more than one basket… in that case I pick the basket that I think it is the best fit for. You could also put two different labels on the back of the book and students could choose which basket to put it in when they finish reading the book!)

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter
Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

Classroom Library Maintenance

At the beginning of the year, I show my students how our library is organized and they get time to familiarize themselves with the setup and practice finding books they are interested in. I have a few librarians as part of our classroom jobs, and they help with maintaining the library and making sure that the books are organized and choosing which books to display on top of the bookshelves.

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

I am always adding new books to our classroom library throughout the year, so I keep extra Classroom Library Rainbow Book Spine Labels and Colorful Classroom Library Labels with Individual Book Labels ready to go. That way when I get new books, I can put stickers on them before they get added to our bookshelves!

Student Book Recommendations

Another part of my classroom library is our Book Recommendation Tree. You can learn more about how I originally created our book recommendation tree here, but essentially it is a place where students can recommend books to their classmates. Each student has a card they can write their recommendation on. Since I have a large class, I make the cards double-sided, so that each student has one side. The numbers correspond to their classroom numbers. Students write on the card using a wet erase marker and then they can change it however often they would like throughout the year! A lot of times they change it whenever they finish a great book that they would like to share!

Colorful classroom library organization ideas from Lessons with Laughter

Classroom Library Furniture and Supplies

Here is an updated list of the furniture and supplies that are currently part of my classroom library, and where you can get them!

Ideas for organizing a colorful classroom library from Lessons with Laughter

Questions?

If you have more questions about my classroom library, be sure to leave them in the comments!

  1. Lauren Daly says:

    How did you decide which books would be the colored spines and which would go in bins?

    • Molly says:

      Hi Lauren!
      All of the books organized by author (with the book spine labels) are fiction. If I have a lot of books by the same author or in the same series, then I sometimes decide to put those in a book basket. I could just keep them in alphabetical order, but they take up less space on the shelf in a basket and since I have so many books, I try to save space when I can so that I can have more books out on the shelves! All the information books are in book bins too!

  2. Becky says:

    I love your spine labels and think the idea is genius! I have them on my books, which are all sorted first by genre (realistic fiction, fantasy/sci fi, historical fiction, mystery) and then by author’s last name. However, I would caution against doing the gradients right next to each other, or strongly suggest that teachers do up a sample with their printer. With my printer the colors are so close together that sometimes the books end up a little off. If I was to re-do the project I would maybe do a few rainbows. The colors all look different when you have the printed labels all on one sheet but when they are on the spines they look quite different.

    Thank you for the great products and the wonderful ideas! I do believe my classroom library is the prettiest!

    • Molly says:

      Hi Becky! Thank you so much! I love hearing about the different ways teachers use them, and that is so neat that you organize them by genre! Yes, printers are so different! I have a laser printer (which I LOVE!), but the colors come out much better for this on my inkjet printer, which I never would have expected! I bet your library looks amazing!

  3. Valerie says:

    Thank you for making this post! I so need to organize my classroom library. How do you keep track of students that borrow books? Is there a sign out sheet? Do they return books? My class was not allowed to check out books to take home because I didn’t know how to make sure books would be returned. Many of my students would not bring back the books from our school library, so I am not sure how to do this and make it exciting for my class.

    • Molly says:

      Thank you, Valerie! Oh my gosh, I have tried so many different “check-out” systems throughout the years, and they were all so much work and I didn’t feel like they even made that much of a difference! The last few years we have just gone by the honor system! I tell my students that they can borrow and read whatever books they would like from our classroom library and I stress the importance of returning the books when they are done so other students can read them. They really appreciate being trusted and take really good care of the books! I know I have some books go missing every year, but to me it’s worth it not to have to stress with a check-out system, and my students love being able to trade out books without the hassle of checking them in and out every time!

  4. Wendy says:

    How do you decide if you are doing to organize a book by author or in the baskets? It looked like there were chapter books in each.

    • Molly says:

      Yes, I have chapter books in both! The book baskets contain all my informational books, plus fiction books by favorite authors or if I have a lot of books in a series! The books take up less room on the shelf in baskets, so if there are enough books one of those categories to fill a basket, that’s where I usually put them!I The books in alphabetical order are all fiction books!

  5. Priscilla says:

    How do you organize picture books? I have a mixture of both chapter & picture books.. I am a bilingual teacher & also have a lot of English chapter & picture books.. how would you recommend I organize them? Thank you in advance for your help. This is my fourth year teaching & first time I’ve actually allowed my students to touch my books.

    • Molly says:

      Hi Priscilla!
      I have so many books and not enough shelf space for all of them! Ha! I mostly use my fiction picture books for read alouds, so I keep them stored behind my whiteboards and then bring them out when I read them to the class. After I’ve read it to the class, I will keep it out for a week or so for any students who want to reread it. I used to have all my picture books sorted in large bins, but when I moved classrooms the large bins didn’t fit. So now they are all spine out on the shelves, but organized by subject/category/time of year that I typically read them! In my previous classroom I also had one of those slated display shelves, so I loved switching that out with different picture books every few weeks according to what we were learning!

  6. Robyn Devine says:

    I love these labels, but have run into one problem – when the printer starts to run out of ink!! I sort of want to buy a color printer to keep at home and use JUST for book spine labels, because I printed a bunch of labels and they were all the total wrong colors, thanks to printer ink being low.

    Otherwise, this system has totally transformed the way my classroom library works! Plus, it looks gorgeous on the shelves!

    • Molly says:

      Oh no! I hate when that happens! Whenever I am running low on ink I sit by the printer while printing so I can try to stop it before that happens! Ha! I’m so glad it has transformed your classroom library though! That makes me so happy to hear!!

  7. Bonnie says:

    I was wondering if the black book basket labels are in your store…..also wondering if you print everything at home… thanks!

  8. Krista says:

    I love the color coding, but where did you find that amazing map of the United States?

  9. Andi says:

    I am a brand new teacher – how do i get some good books for my classroom library? I am teaching this fall at a title one school, so I know money is tight and book orders won’t be used, so I won’t get books that way. any ideas would help. Thank you.

    • Molly says:

      Hi Andi! Congrats on being new to teaching! That is so exciting! Do you have any libraries nearby that have sales? I’ve gotten a ton of books for cheap from library sales! I also used to look up garage sales and find ones that said they were selling children’s books. If you have a Scholastic warehouse nearby, they have huge sales sometimes too that you can get books for up to 80% off, so I’ve stocked up on tons of books from there as well! You may also want to ask librarians if there are any local places that give away free books for teachers! I met a school librarian a couple years ago who told me about this awesome group in San Diego that gives away books for FREE to anyone involved in education! And of course, retiring teachers are always giving away a lot of books! My library started with a bunch of used books, and I’ve built it up throughout the years with new ones! Hope that helps!

  10. Jen says:

    Where did you get the U.S. flag above your library? It’s adorable!

  11. Megan says:

    I am looking to redo my library so this is so helpful. Where are your book bins from?

  12. Carrie says:

    I was given the charge of an aging and ailing library with no budget last year. I found that one particular ARC in our city had a great selection and frequent sales. It was a great and economical way to replace the schools worn out collection!

  13. Melissa says:

    Hey Molly! Have you found that those bookcases have stood up to classroom use and abuse? I’m back to teaching in the States after teaching overseas so I’m having to buy new a lot of things!

    • Molly says:

      Hi Melissa! Yes!! These bookshelves are AMAZING! I actually just went and bought another one so I have space for more books in our classroom library! They are on sale at IKEA right now for $39.99! That’s exciting to be back to teaching in the US, but such a shame that you probably couldn’t bring a lot of your teaching supplies with you! Where were you teaching overseas?

  14. Des says:

    Just curious how long do the labels actually last? Do you constantly have to change them out? I guess it would be different for second graders. Just wondering how yours went.

    • Molly says:

      Hi Des! I made and started using the labels in 2013 and they have held up really well! I have to replace some of the labels from time to time, like if they get water on them or if a student doesn’t treat the book very well, but overall they have held up great! I know another teacher who put packaging tape over her labels, so that’s an idea you could try too!

  15. Annette says:

    When I go to your site for the labels to order them, it says they are white. How do you get the colored ones?

  16. Tricia says:

    I was wondering where you got your rug? I love the polka dots!

    • Molly says:

      Hi Tricia! I got it from IKEA, but they don’t sell it anymore! They have a black one with thin white stripes though that I got for this year!

  17. Heather Chalmers says:

    Hey there,

    I love the recommendation tree! When I click the link to go buy them, it says they are made of paper, but you mentioned that you have the kids write with wet erase markers. Do you laminate them, or do you make them another way?

    Thanks!

    • Molly says:

      Hi Heather! Thank you so much! Yes, I print them on paper (you can use regular or cardstock… cardstock is a little thicker!) and then laminate them! I just try to leave a little lamination around the edges so that when we wipe off the wet erase markers, the papers don’t get wet!

  18. Kirsten says:

    I am completely coping your library! I love it! I purchased the colorful classroom library labels and the spine labels from your store. I was wondering what clipart you used for the labels. I wanted to combine some of them (ex. fables/tall tales) but want the clipart to look the same using your editable template. Thanks!

  19. Nicole says:

    Where did you get your US map from? I love how colorful it is!

  20. Jen says:

    Hi! I absolutely LOVE your library! Quick question…did you print your labels on standard paper and mount them on colored index cards which you then laminated and attached to the baskets with rings, or is that how the labels look…no index card?
    Thanks so much!

    • Molly says:

      Thank you so much! I just printed them on regular paper and laminated them! I didn’t use index cards at all! Hope that helps!

  21. Megan says:

    Where did you get the #read letters? I love them!

  22. kaitlyn s says:

    Hi! I have a couple questions…what do you do for the level of the books in your classroom? Also, do you label the books that are not series books and put the books in a series or books with the same author/topic in a box instead of standing alone? I hope that question makes sense haha.

    • Molly says:

      Hi Kaitlyn!
      I don’t level the books in my classroom! We talk at the beginning of the year about how to find books that are a good fit, and then put in lots of practice! I also have one-on-one reading conferences with my students where we talk about what they are reading, so if I see that they are having trouble choosing books that are a good fit for them I can help them with that!

      As far as organizing my books, almost all the fiction books in my classroom library are now arranged in alphabetical order by authors last name, and my nonfiction books are arranged by topic. I’ve slowly moved over to this over the years… I used to have series and authors with lots of books arranged in baskets too! I like having them spine out on the shelves now though! The only time I really come into problems with series is when they have different authors (like the 39 Clues series). In those cases, it just depends… sometimes I just pick one author and put them all together with that letter, or other times I may decide to put them all in a basket together. I say do what works best for your students! Hope that helps!

  23. Brittany Young says:

    Love all of your ideas! Where did you get the colorful US map?

  24. Caroline says:

    Just curious! From what I understand the books in your classroom library (in the fiction section) are organized only by the authors last name, correct? Meaning all of the ‘A’ authors are together even though the titles of the books all start with different letters.

  25. Leigh Dever says:

    THis question has nothing to do with you classroom library, though I LOVE it! Well done! However, where did you get the large, colorful map of the United States??

  26. Krista says:

    Hi Molly!
    Thank you for this information. It is very helpful!

    Question- where is the US map from?

  27. How do your kids “check out” books from your library?

  28. Luna says:

    Hello, I LOVE your classroom.
    I am currently working on my Master’s in early education, and with the pandemic, I cannot tour or visit classrooms. I chose your video for my class, but I also would like to see a literacy lesson take place. Is there any way you can help me with that?

  29. Courtney Rice says:

    Would you suggest keeping picture books and chapter books separate? I want to keep both organized by author last name but on different shelves. All spine out. I鈥檓 moving to third grade from first so my classroom library is undergoing a transformation!

  30. Heather says:

    Talk to me about picture books. They don鈥檛 always have a spine. Typically, my students choose these based on cover. Organization for picture books?

  31. Julie says:

    I love the flowerpot recommendations. I am a Library assistant and would like to use it for book request for the library. What did you use for the “branches” and the “soil?”

    • Molly says:

      I got the branch from a friend who got it at a local flower supply shop! I think she said people use the branches for decorations at weddings and other events! And for the soil I just used those clear gemstones that you can get in bulk at stores like Michaels!

  32. Sam says:

    Hi! I signed up for the free graphic novel labels with multiple emails but did not get them. I have received other newsletter emails but not the labels. Is there another way to get them?

    • Molly says:

      Hi Sam! Thanks for sending me an email about this! I hope the link I sent you worked! Let me know if you have any more questions!

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I support teachers with implementing classroom organization systems and building a positive classroom community + environment that exude joy! 

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