How to Build a Classroom Library Easily and Affordably

How to build a classroom library

Whether you just signed your first teaching contract, are a seasoned educator, or you are still working toward your earning your teaching license, it is never too early (or late) to start building your classroom library. In fact, the earlier you start building your classroom library, the easier the task will be. Read on to learn how to build a classroom library easily and affordably.

I believe that classroom libraries are an essential part of every single secondary classroom, whether you teach English language arts or not. Teenagers need to have easy access quality, interesting books: books that they will actually want to read. Even if you don’t have an independent reading program attached to your curriculum, it is important for your students to know you value reading and that you have a plethora of books just waiting for them.

While the easiest way to build a classroom library would simply be to buy every.single.title.available, that isn’t the most economical way to start your collection, especially if you are just starting your teaching career.

How to Build a Classroom Library

Donate your old books

As teachers, we are natural readers. We can’t help it; we enjoy reading. And most likely, as teachers, we have stacks of books just taking up space in our house. This is perhaps the easiest and cheapest way to add books to your classroom library (and also de-clutter your house). Just make sure that the books you take to school are appropriate.

How to build a classroom library

Check your local thrift store

The majority of my books came from thrift stores. The summer before I started my very first teaching assignment, I scoured almost every single thrift store in a thirty-mile radius of my house. My favorite store is the Goodwill Bookstore. Yes! There is an entire Goodwill store dedicated to just books! It’s a book lover’s paradise. I found some great books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Goosebumps, books by Sarah Dessen, books by John Green, the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and the Twilight series. As I continued my thrift store search throughout the years, I’ve been able to add the Divergent series and the Mockingbird trilogy.

All of these books were pretty inexpensive. Some books were just a dime! At that price, I don’t really mind if a student (accidentally) loses the book.

Include a variety of books (genres, as well as reading levels)

Reading for fun should be just that –fun! Students get enough academic reading during their school day. Classroom libraries need to foster the idea that reading is fun. And for that reason, classroom libraries need to include a variety. There should be a good mix of genres as well as reading levels. Sure that Guinness Book of World Records isn’t written at the collegiate, or even high school, level, but your students are guaranteed to be interested in the fun and gross records. And guess what? They will have fun reading. Isn’t that the goal anyway?

When purchasing and collecting books, try to keep all of your students and their interests in mind. Try to find books that speak to specific interests: technology, science fiction, realistic fiction, memoirs, sports, health, war, celebrities, food, nature, horses, extreme sports, fashion, etc. The more variety you have, the more likely you are to help a student find something he or she is interested in. Even magazines and old comic books make great additions to classroom libraries. The goal is to get students reading.

How to build a classroom library

Sometimes Target carries abridged versions in its dollar section!

Ask for donations

At the beginning of the school year, send a letter home with your students informing their parents and guardians that you are building up your classroom library. Explain why you like to provide books to your students, and that you would happily accept any used book donations. This is a good way to get books that you know your students will be interested in!

Just in case the letter doesn’t make it home, it is also a wise idea to include a request for donations slide/handout in your Back to School Night presentation to parents. This way parents are guaranteed to get the information, and they can also see your growing classroom library!

Ask Retiring Teachers Building Your Classroom Library Easily and Affordably

We, teachers, tend to accumulate a lot of junk educational resources throughout our teaching careers. Some of these supplies include dozens and dozens of books. Chances are, retiring teachers won’t want all of these books taking up space in their homes. Ask retiring teachers for their classroom libraries (and other supplies, too. I’m currently on the “waiting list” for a podium. I should get it in about 7-10 years). You might luck out and a retiring teacher could just give you their entire library!

Garage Sales and Craigslist

Scour the newspaper ads and Craigslist listings. Sometimes people will list that they are selling a large number of books at a garage sale. The good thing about garage sales is what you can bargain a little. People are much more willing to lower the price of some books if they know a teacher plans on using them for a classroom library!

Craigslist is also a great place to find used book collections for sale; however, I’ve noticed that the books on Craigslist are a bit more expensive than thrift shops and garage sales.

With these suggestions, you should easily and affordably be able to start building your classroom library. And once you have your books, you can label them by genre using colorful book labels. (affiliate link)

For more book and teacher recommendations, be sure to check out my Amazon Storefront. It is filled with book recommendations and my favorite classroom supplies.




  • Last year, I put out a call on Facebook for book donations. I just posted that if anyone wanted to get rid of some books, I'd gladly take them. A former student, who has done quite well for herself, sent me several boxes of brand new books. She went on Amazon and found all the hot YA books and ordered them! Ask and ye shall receive!

  • That's a great idea, Jackie. What a nice gesture from your former student too.

  • Our local library has a book sale once a year where you can get good finds too. I also have done decently at Half Price Books- they're actually great for audio books!


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