Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Classroom Library

I've noticed that twitter (#engchat in particular) has been full of a lot of classroom library talk. It's been so long since I last posted, so in the interests of keeping this blog 'alive', and of course in the interests of sharing, here are pictures of my classroom library (last year, at my last school).  

Last year I got a grant from le gouvernement, as we don't really call it here, to buy books and furniture to create a classroom library. I taught (and still teach) grades 10, 11 and 12, so the books I bought ranged from YA to adult literature. I got a good mix of fiction, non fiction as well as some great poetry titles. (Read: award winners, not bestsellers). Not as many graphic novels as I'd like, so I have to work on that one. Very luckily, there was another teacher who volunteered to order the YA books (so she could have the Scholastic points, which was absolutely the least I could do) and I ordered most of the adult titles online from 

 The comfy chairs are from my sister's basement. I totally recommend buying secondhand and spending a Saturday afternoon with one of those steam cleaner machines, that would be a big money saver. The pillows and ottoman below are from Superstore.

Funny thing about the pillows: they were absolutely the best purchase I made. I got about 6 in total, and even when students weren't using the reading corner, they'd just grab a pillow, and literally 'hug' it or keep it on their laps for the entire class. (Same with the two stuffed animals- our class mascots- which unfortunately never made it into the pictures). I know it might sound a little strange, but I think having those pillows really helped some students focus or be more comfortable in class. One student who suffered from sports-related back pain was especially grateful. Plus, I got to add "no pillow fights" to my course syllabus.

The carpet is from a liquidation outlet (as is the artwork). Incidentally, that same liquidation store was where I previously got about 100 journals for 50 cents apiece. The carpet looked nice at first, but there weren't any vacuums around, so it got pretty grungy by the end of the year.

In case this is news to anyone: fabric makes a great bulletin board cover.

Baskets were organized very superficially by genre: "Pink Covers" or "There could be vampires in this book" or "These books are thinner than the other ones". (I got the baskets from another liquidation centre.) Whenever I wandered over to that corner of the room I'd move the front book to the back of the  basket. Circulation!

The high tech sign out system, which I borrowed from the phys ed office. (The clipboard, not the containers.). Not that I really kept track; kids signed their own books out. Students were pretty diligent about signing out, less so about signing back in. I know that books walking away is a major concern for many teachers with in class libraries, but you can't stop the beat. That's what Hairspray taught me.

 Anyway, theft happens and I figure the best I can do is remind students that it's never too late to bring a book back. Another good anti-theft device is talking to students about the books they've borrowed, and making recommendations. For example, I know two former students who have just finished their first year of university: one still owes me 'The Glass Castle' and the other my copy of 'Equus'. Ok, so clearly those conversations were terrible anti-theft precautions, but at least I know that two of my students have some good literature on their home shelves. 

On a separate note, is anyone out there teaching Equus? There's a conversation I'd love to have.

The shelves in the photos were already in my classroom, and I know that shelving is a major budget killer for most people. I've heard of people stacking milk crates and other things, but the truth is, I actually prefer tables to shelves.

Laying out books this way took up more room, but for me, book shelves are kind of like junk drawers. (As in, if I can't see it, I basically forget it exists. Like my marking, or my car.) And, for a beginning library, this is probably a good way to make less look like more.

On that note, the pictures are a little misleading, because the books on the purple shelf were actually lifted from the book room to fill the shelving out a little. Also exempt from that grant were the tupperware containers on the bottoms of the shelves, which were purchased by the school for a separate project that just ended up being stored in my classroom.

 I usually had a few students who would volunteer to organize the books, which meant rearranging, picking up stacks that fell over, etc. Some students preferred to organize alphabetically, some liked to keep like colours together: didn't really matter too much to me. I think as the years go on I'll likely supplement the library with books of my own, purchased from second hand stores and library sales. Also not shown are a number of picture books: some very low reading level to the most popular book in the collection- an illustrated book about Nazi Youth. 

So there it was, my classroom library. I really liked how it changed the feel of my classroom to a markedly more welcoming space. I got a few comments from other adults about how my High School English Classroom looked more like an elementary classroom, but that doesn't bother me- and why should it? I figure that 'higher learning' refers to little more than the height of the students and the furniture.

Now, I wonder if anyone looking at those pictures would find it strange to know that that classroom also had an interactive whiteboard mounted on one wall, 20 dedicated laptops, a wireless environment, and two mini greenhouses full of tomato seedlings on the windowsills? It was a regular flea market in there.

Wish I'd taken pictures of that side of the room. 


  1. I wish you'd taken photos of the rest of the room also! I'm imagining that your classroom is FAR larger than mine. I love seeing how others are organizing their classroom libraries. My checkout system is a notebook and my students are generally good about giving the books back (although I don't think I have seen Before I Fall or Delirium since I got copies...) but they rarely check them back in. Having conversations with them about the books is a great way to make sure they come back.
    I look forward to seeing you in #engchat!

  2. I have been envious of your library from day one! The other day I was entertaining the question of what I would buy for my classroom should I ever win the lottery (for which I never buy tickets, so this was definitely an exercise in delusion). The first thought that came to mind: a class set of bean bag chairs. My second thought, borne purely out of frivolity: one of those rolling ladders like Belle has in Beauty and the Beast, just so that I can go whipping from one side of the whiteboard to the other.