How to Build a Classroom Library on a Barely-There Budget

About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

After attending a Penny Kittle workshop in spring of 2014, I decided that I wanted to radically change the reading/literature instruction in my twelfth grade English class by setting up a Reader’s Workshop. In order to do that, I needed a classroom library. In fact, I needed an extensive classroom library if I wanted the RW to work. The problem was I had 104 titles–many out of date–and no money.

I teach in a Title 1 district, and asking my principal or the board for money was out of the question. I didn’t want to request Title 1 funds either because I really wanted the books to be mine. I wanted to be able to take them with me wherever I was in the district (or if anything happened to my position, I wanted the books to come with me).

As a teacher and a mom to three small kids (one who is only 12-weeks old), I don’t have extra money lying around to put into a starter library either. But I needed those books. The more I thought about it, the more determined I became that the key to turning around all those reluctant and non-readers in my classes was tons and tons of glorious books at their finger tips.

The first thing I did was hop on Amazon and create a Classroom Library Wishlist. I took all the books Kittle had mentioned that day along with a bunch of my favorites and I put them on the list. Then I asked my current students what authors and books they liked. And I asked our media center specialist (who is always very up-to-date on what the hot YA lit books are) and I added her suggestions.  Then I wrote about my dream of the classroom library on my own blog. And I shared on Facebook. And Twitter. And by word-of-mouth.

Then a crazy thing happened. People gave. They gave a LOT.

In less than a month I quadrupled my titles from 104 to over 400. I came home to Amazon boxes daily for over a month. People sent me their used books as well. People gave money and gift cards to Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I also applied for the Book Love Foundation Grant. I didn’t win the 500 books, but I was a runner-up and was awarded $500 towards books. Before the official paperwork came through for me to place my book order, my teaching position changed. I went from teaching eleventh and twelfth grade to eighth grade. Most of the books that had been donated were for older readers, so I was fortunate to be able to place my Book Love order for more junior high-appropriate titles.

A year later, my library now boasts over 700 titles, and I’m still working on adding more. My students are constantly telling me what I “need to get” and I keep adding the titles to my Wish List.

When I tell this story, many co-workers have said, “but I don’t have a blog. Who is going to donate to me?” You would be surprised. One of my colleagues, a special ed teacher in our regional center, set up a Wish List as well and put out the call on Facebook. She doesn’t have a blog or a Facebook fanpage and she still received tons of books proving that the books don’t have to come from around the country to still come.

If you want to build a classroom library without school funds, this is what I suggest:

  • Create an Amazon Wishlist
  • Routinely scope out thrift shops, garage sales, used book stores, and library sales
  • Hit up warehouse sales like the Scholastic Warehouse Sale
  • Be public about your need: Facebook, church bulletin, etc.
  • Apply for grants like the Book Love Foundation
  • Let your students’ families know you take used books

An extensive, well-loved classroom library doesn’t just have to be a dream. It doesn’t have to be something that affluent districts have. People love to give books.

You just have to ask.

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About the Author:

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

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