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Gallaudet Univeristy
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Tips for Building a Classroom Library

By David R. Schleper

[ Originally published in Perspectives v. 9 no. 4 ]

The heart of any whole language classroom is a library full of books. Lots and lots of books. But buying books to stock the shelves of a classroom library can be costly. If you are short on cash, here are a few creative alternatives to help you fill your classroom with books.

  • Seek Community Donations.
    Many people purchase books, read them once, then leave them sitting on shelves. Given assurance that their books would be put to good use, they might be happy to donate them to your class library. Send notices home with your students, publicize your needs in local newspapers. As an added incentive mention the fact that the value of donated books is tax deductible.
  • Join Book Clubs.
    Monthly book clubs are, a great source of inexpensive books, many for a dollar or less. While most book clubs for young readers are geared to specific grade levels I have found that student interest levels are a more accurate indicator of which club to join. Many clubs offer incentives: three or four free books with the first order. Best of all, each book you order earns bonus points that can be used to "buy" additional free books.

    For example, a book we wanted for our library was offered at $1.95 per copy. We purchased five copies, earning 10 bonus points which paid for an additional copy. Several years ago, teachers and students at MSSD ordered 1213 books from five different clubs. and received 698 free books to place in classroom libraries.

  • Borrow from the School Library.
    Most school libraries stock a diversity of materials at a wide range of reading levels. Arrange with the school librarian to borrow a group of books that can be kept in your classroom for a given period of time. After your students have gone through the first set of books, you can return them for a new batch, keeping the classroom selection varied and current.
  • Involve the Parent/Teacher Association.
    Enlist your school's PTA to organize a community drive for funds or books. Parents and family members are usually enthusiastic about helping provide books for their students to read.
  • Call on the Deaf Community.
    Deaf people know the importance of reading for a good education, and can offer valuable support for building a class library. Contact local, state, and national associations of the Deaf and ask for their help.
  • Contact Local Service Organizations.
    Rotarians, Jaycees, Sertoma, Lions, and other service organizations can be a good source of help. Local chapters of service clubs are listed in the telephone book. Set up meetings with the people in charge of donations. Few people question the value of books in the classroom so you'll probably find willing benefactors.
  • Hold a School-Wide Book Fair.
    Publishing companies are usually happy to display their wares in a school setting, and you can use the proceeds of the book fair to buy new books. Some school book clubs will help you organize a book fair and let you take the profits in free books, cash, or bonus points.
  • Ask for Discounts.
    When you purchase hooks for your class library, be sure to ask about educational discounts. Most bookstores and publishing companies will grant discounts of 10 to 20 percent for school purchases. They don't usually offer the discount--you have to ask.
  • Visit Used Bookstores and Book Sales.
    In many cities, the Goodwill organization and other service groups sponsor annual used book sales where paperbacks for children and young adults may be available--and cheap. Get acquainted with the managers of local used bookstores. They might be able to keep an eye open for specific titles, even multiple copies of books you need, at secondhand prices.
  • Exchange Books with Other Classrooms.
    Halfway through the school year, swap classroom libraries with another teacher in your school. This is a quick way to expand, even double the number of titles available to your student readers.
  • Review Budget Priorities.
    In the past. most classroom budgets were earmarked for purchase of workbooks and basal readers. But schools that focus on real literature don't need to spend hundreds of dollars each year replacing old workbooks or updating the reading series. This frees up money that can be spent on classroom libraries--books that students will read freely and enthusiastically.