It took me 3 seconds to decide that I was going to move my entire classroom library into my 7th grade classroom. Coming from 5th grade I wasn’t quite sure what the use of a classroom library would be on my new adventure, after all, we would only have 45 minutes together, but I couldn’t leave my books behind. I couldn’t leave them in boxes. Even if we didn’t need the books as a class, I needed them. My books were home to me and when you change schools, when you change districts, when you change grade levels, you need all of the pieces of home you can find.
My husband carried every single box of books into my classroom. There were more than 100 and they took up an entire wall as I waited for my bookshelves to arrive. He didn’t mind too much, he has realized a long time ago that I my obsession with books is part of who I am. As I opened each box and shelved the books in their new home, I couldn’t help but wonder if any child would ever read them? If dust would soon become their second skin rather than the hands of children. Was there any point in my meticulous placement of books?
On the first day as a 7th grade teacher, I was not sure how the students would react to the books. After all, in elementary school, most kids expected a classroom library. Most kids were used to the access. So I waited and soon enough the comments came.
“Are these all of your books?”
“Have you read them all?”
“How many books do you have?”
“Can we read them?”
Slowly, students began to ask more pointed questions.
“How do I check this one out?”
“Can I read this one?”
“Did you read this book, I have wanted to read it…”
It turns out my worry was unfounded. It turns out that middle schoolers in all of their bravado love classroom libraries as much as younger kids. That middle schoolers get as much use out of a classroom library if we let them. That they needs books now just as much as they needed them then.
In the past 2 years as a 7th grade teacher our classroom library has only grown. Teaching more than 100 students quickly made me realize just how many books I need to keep all readers invested and engaged with their reading. In fact, I started with the research on classroom library sizes and knew that while these were great starting points, that was exactly it, a start. When you teach that many students with reading abilities ranging from 2nd to 12th grade, interests spanning all topics, you need way more than you think, because middle schoolers can be fickle, so the message that my classroom library sends is; there is always another book waiting, there is always another chance at falling in love or remaining in love with reading.
And it is not because we do not have a school library, we have a beautiful one, one that is filled with incredible books and staffed with incredible people. But when the students are with me, during our 45 minutes of instruction every day, they also need books right at their fingertips. As Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne have said even a school library right across the hall from you is too far away for many students. And it is true, even a beautiful, well-stocked school library is too far away when a child needs a book right then. Because our students need to be enticed by another book the moment they finish or abandon their current one. They need books as a way to create community as they share their love (or dislike) of them with others. They need books to hand to their friends, to their teachers. They need books that will inspire them to read more. To discover who they are as a readers and who they want to become. They need to be able to go into our library and come out with something that speaks to them. Not just because the teacher tells them they have to read or the assignment requires them to.
I asked a child last year if our classroom library made a difference and his answer was simple yet powerful. “It made the biggest difference because the books were right there, so I read them.” And that is what I see every single day in our classroom, books being read because they are right there and there is no option to not read them.
As we increase the demand on students to read for knowledge rather than pleasure, we see their love of reading decline. Students have less time and less choice as they go through their years of schooling. So is it any wonder that by the time students graduate high school, 33% of them will never read another book? Having a classroom library in our middle and high school classrooms is therefore not a frivolous thrill, it is a vital necessity to create passionate reading environments. Having a classroom library should not be an investment we only make for our younger students, but should be one we make for all students, no matter their age. And it is not too late to start right now. We start by buying one book, then another, and we build our collection day by day. We book talk and we hand books to students. We create displays that entice, we create time to read, but first we have to have the books and access to them for all the kids we teach.
Our collection now probably holds more than 1,000 books and I know that I still do not have enough. After all, there are still students that search our shelves and come up empty-handed, but at least they had books to browse, at least they had books to try. I continue to add whenever I can, knowing that one day I will run out of walls pace and bookshelf space, but that when that day comes it will be a day of celebration because perhaps we now have a book for every interest, for every reader, for every child we teach.
For more ideas on creating a classroom library and knowing books to purchase, go here.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.
17 thoughts on “On the Need for Classroom Libraries for All Ages”
Amazing!!! Your room is immersed in print. Lucky kids!
I so enjoy your insight. I wish that all children could be in classroom like yours with a teacher whose love of learning shines for all to see
Very well said! My 2nd graders are becoming such avid readers because our room is surrounded with books! I would really hope they could continue the joy and opportunity of reading as they advance thru our district.
Does your school not have a library?
View at Medium.com
Yes, it is mentioned right in the post
Sorry there it is. I respectfully disagree about the library being too far away. Perhaps this is due to access issues? Independence, individual choice and the thrill of the hunt is when reading begins, in my opinion. But for teachers who can supply classroom libraries to the extent that you are able this is a wonderful thing for your students
We need both. Going to the library means that students leave the classroom, there needs to be time in the day for that which we cannot always provide our students with.
I love your attitude to getting books into hands of your students. I have to agree with Jennifer though that the best place to do this is your school library. It will not be possible for you to keep your classroom library fresh due to cost and time. Your books will eventually get old or go missing at a huge cost to yourself. I’m interested to know how do you manage this? I am not being critical, just interested!
In my opinion, teachers need to collaborate more with the school librarian, if you are lucky enough have one. If a student is wanting a new book they will still have to take time to look through your own books, unless they have spotted one without browsing of course. If they need you to recommend one is that not distracting you from teaching the rest of your class? Allowing your students out of the classroom to find a new book need not take any more time, especially if you have a school library with a librarian to help them choose. Is this not a more effective use of time and staff? The school library, hopefully, will have a larger collection than you can have in your classroom that is constantly being refreshed so there should be more choice. Letting students out of the class can be risky but if it is managed properly with the right expectations and collaboration with the librarian it can be just as quick.
Saying all of this I think it is wonderful that you love books and are getting them into the hands of your students, but unless teachers help and actively encourage students use the school library they will disappear altogether and your selection of books in your classroom will be all that your students have access to.
Sorry if this sounds negative but I know a lot of teachers who think that by having a classroom library they never need to take their students to the school library as the students should do this in their own time. Just as they need to see adults reading they also need to see that teachers demonstrate that they know the importance of the school library too. There has to be a balance which I do think from your blog you are trying to reach.
I love your thoughts here and you have definitely made my thoughts spin too, but I think it comes down to that there does not need to be an either or decision. I think we need both, plain and simple. We use our librarian and librarian assistant as well, but the students need more than just one place to go for books. I do not think it is unsustainable to maintain your own library, you get better and better at finding the books you need and you replace the ones you need to. I spend money on my own library, yes, but it is an investment for me as it makes my job as a teacher easier. And it is not just my opinion, research studies have also highlighted the increased benefit in having both libraries. In fact, one study said that classsroom
libraries increased reading time by 60% (http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/paperbacks/downloads/library.pdf).
I agree it’s good to have both. The more books available means more chance children will find that book that inspires them to continue reading. It’s great to hear that you have a good relationship with your school librarian so it sounds like you have a great balance between the two.
Can I ask how you arrange your classroom library and do you have non-fiction in it as well as fiction? Its more a question of how you find time to manage it. From the picture it looks very organised 🙂
Here is a post on it and yes both fiction and non-fiction https://pernillesripp.com/2015/06/21/how-i-organize-my-books/
Thank you Pernille for highlighting how important classroom libraries are at each age right up through high school. I share your passion for classroom libraries and am always adding to my own. I have had students make similar comments to the child in your post that to me capture so much of what we are doing when we have a classroom library that is extensive, beloved and grown with care. “Wow, it would be easy to be a reader here,” one child visiting my classroom recently said. I also appreciate that you point out this is not an either/or situation. I have bins of library books in my classroom library. My students visit the library and take out books all the time. My Teacher Librarian actually works in my classroom for our Reading Workshop block each day and she writes little notes to herself about which books to book talk next or a book to sign out for a specific child when they visit the library next. Thank you also for the research links. It is not just our own instincts that tell us how important a classroom library is. But watching a reading community grow in a classroom rich with books is a daily testament to the power of the classroom library.
Fantastic post Pernille
As a former high school English teacher, then 5th grade teacher, now librarian for Prek-5, I love that you have continued your classroom library in the middle school; so many of the best teachers do.
It shows you value books, literature, choice and that reading for pleasure doesn’t end in Elementary School.
I know my colleagues in Middle and High School libraries lament the loss of regular classroom visits, they offer so much for students and I hope you take the opportunity to visit your library too, however I don’t think one discounts the other.
I love the poster above and am happy you and others continue to create passionate reading environments; the more the better I say!