Establishing a Reading Culture: Access

“Access to books and the encouragement of the habit of reading: these two things are the first and most necessary steps in education and librarians, teachers and parents all over the country know it. It is our children’s right and it is also our best hope and their best hope for the future.”

– Michael Morpugno

The best hope for the future. Getting books into kids’ hands. Everyday.

Quote from a student: “Ms. Linke, Book Fair is like your Comic Con.” #nailedit

Hopefully, you’re nodding along in agreement. But….how do you GET interesting, diverse, engaging books into your students’ hands? Particularly, on a teacher salary?

Answer? Be creative. Use all of your available resources. Remember that it takes time.

Last year, my sixth grade classroom library contained well over 500 fiction and non-fiction books. My kids had access to my library every single day during ELA class, homeroom, and dismissal. I often had sixth graders from other homerooms – and even fifth, seventh, and eighth graders – stop by at various points throughout the day to browse the library.

Half of last year’s classroom library! Realistic fiction and historical fiction books were in other sections of the room.

So…how did I get all of these books?

First, they did not appear overnight. I spent three years building up my library. If you are just starting, start small. Buying 1000 books in one summer is not realistic. (Unless you have an unlimited budget. In which case, YES, do that! And I’m jealous.)


There are so many places to get high-interest books on the cheap. Some of my go-tos are:

  • Goodwill and other consignment stores
  • Public library sales
  • Secondhand bookstores, such as Half-Price Books
  • Scholastic points and Book Fairs (Sign up for Scholastic immediately and create excitement around the flyers each month!)
  • Target and Amazon sales
  • Donors Choose
Photo from Pixabay

Use your school library and public library. I often sent kids to our school library if they were looking for a book that I didn’t have, and I was in close contact throughout the year with our local public library, having the librarians gather class sets of books for novel studies and literature circles, as well as assortments of books geared toward my students’ preferences. Librarians are a great resource on middle grade and young adult books and are usually so excited to work with classroom teachers.

Finally, put yourself out there on social media and ask for donations! We both did this last summer and were gifted over 100 books.

Photo from Pixabay

Once you start to build your library, you need to consider how you will arrange your books in a way that best increases access for your students. Because I started each year with a genre study, I arranged my library by genre using book bins. The books were arranged sideways, so students could see each book in the bin. The bins were labeled but also color-coded by genre. (Bins from Dollar Tree, and they hold up very well! Click here to find them.) My students reported that they loved this method because it was easy for them to find books they were interested in.

Want to start your year with a genre study? Check out our Genre Study Unit on TpT here!

You could also sort your library by author’s last name, series, and topic. Just make sure that YOUR students can find the books they want to read. That’s the important part!


While you have choice in how you organize your classroom library, sorting by level will not work. Students should select high-interest books not books at their assigned “level”. See this post by Donalyn Miller for more information on how sorting by level decreases reading engagement.


I often get the question: “How do you keep track of who has what book and make sure they get returned?” My honest, short answer is: “I don’t.” I write my last name on the inside cover and the bottom of each book, so if they are found at home or in the hallway, they can be returned. My students sign out books in a binder sorted by class, and I’ve always had a student or two who likes to keep track of the binder for me. I’ve also read that Booksource is a great digital check-out system, which may make it easier to keep track of who has what book.

All teachers know the struggle of students returning books to the wrong spots, and the library ends up all out of whack. I (mostly) solved this problem by having a Return Bin for all books that get returned. Then, a few students spent a bit of time every other day or so returning books to their correct spots. My kids usually did this during homeroom. Usually, you’ll have students who volunteer for this job, or you could make it an official Classroom Job. If my students weren’t sure where a book belonged, they asked a classmate or me, which worked great.


To build a classroom reading culture, you MUST get books into kids’ hands and give kids time to explore your classroom library every single day. Build up your library slowly and creatively, and figure out an organization system and check-out and return methods that work best for your students. ♥Lizzy

Check out the past posts in this series:

Next Up in Establishing a Reading Culture:

  • Community
  • Commitment

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