Let Them Go Shopping: How to Redesign a Library

On Wednesday, I introduced my 72 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students to our classroom library. And for the first time in 96 hours, I relaxed.

In the past, my classroom library has been a source of stress for me—an insistently nagging problem that’s usually not quite high enough on the priority list to warrant the inevitable Sisyphean effort required to revamp the system. I’ve brought many of my own childhood books to share with the kids, bought more than a few more, and spent many laborious hours painstakingly tagging all of my books with genre-specific stickers. It was an endeavor rewarded with about 12 minutes of success…and deemed a complete failure when stickers began falling off by the bucketload. Not that they would’ve done much good anyway; I learned the hard way how important library routines and procedures are.

But solid systems in place or not, when I got an unexpected shipment of new books courtesy of Scholastic bonus points from our book fair, I groaned, wondering how many stickers I had left. Not the correct response for an ELA teacher and self-proclaimed lover of all things literary. So I decided to figure out what was going wrong.

And now—I have a classroom library prototype! And initial testing is favorable.

Here’s how it works:

All of our classroom library books have been scanned into Libib (check out our library here!), and the physical books are arranged on the shelves in alphabetical order by author’s last name. The students go “book shopping” online, then go to the physical classroom library when they’re relatively certain of a book (or a few) that they want to try. Then, when they finish a book, they put it into the return box, and trained (12-year-old) librarians return the books to their proper places on the shelves.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. The kids like it. A lot. When I asked students why they thought I might have organized our library this way, one responded. “Cause you love us!” True, my friend. True.
  2. The ability to tag one book with multiple genres/categories and for students to search by these tags is invaluable.
  3. A few kids still like to book shop by perusing the physical library.
  4. Book shopping happens significantly more quickly this way, and more kids find a book that they stick with on the first try.
  5. It takes quite a long time to scan upwards of 1,000 books into an online library system, particularly when there are quite a few glitches (not recognizing the barcode, identifying the wrong title, etc.). My solution: I found someone who loves me very much and has similar perfectionist tendencies, and I got them to do it for me. That was a good move.

Here’s what I wonder:

  1. Will it be worth it in the long run? It’s been successful for two days, but only time will tell…
  2. Was Libib the best choice? I’m paying five bucks a month, and I love the layout, but the circulation system isn’t as intuitive as I’d like.

The bottom line: One week into my first school year as a classroom teacher, I feel pretty happy with our system, and that’s saying quite a bit. It’s kind of delightful to watch kids trying to sneakily read books under their desks while I tell them how we’re going to transition to our next activity.

Samantha Ellerbeck, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Center City Public Charter Schools—Brightwood Campus


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