« Never Too Old: Reading Aloud to Independent Readers | Main | A Book in Every Backpack II »

A Book in Every Backpack


In my e-mail inbox today, I received an invitation to examine exactly how much money my school district will get from the federal stimulus package. I agree that school districts need help right now. With a flat housing market and foreclosures across the country, school districts have lost a major source of funding—property tax revenues. The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 prevents thousands of teachers from losing their jobs and sustains vital programs. If there is money left over, I have ideas about how to spend it (I bet we all do), and I don’t have to look any farther than my classroom.

I am known around my school as the teacher with the huge library. With over 2,000 books, our class library holds mythic status among my students (both current and former). They often conduct tours, leading friends and younger siblings through the stacks, proudly showing off our books and making recommendations. These tours usually end with our guests filling out library cards and checking out books to read. My willingness to share our books with any child who wants to read them is well-known, too. I acquired every book on my own through donations, book club points, countless clearance and garage sales, book swaps, and other methods. I can loan my books as I please.

I decided long ago that putting books in children’s hands over and over again was the best way to encourage them to read. Reading advocates like Nancie Atwell, Jim Trelease, Richard Allington, and the father of free voluntary reading, Stephen Krashen , agree with me. A significant factor in getting children to read is providing access to books—mountains and mountains of books. But regular access to books is beyond the grasp of many children in America. Considering research findings from numerous studies, we could rename the achievement gap the library gap. Students in poverty have the least access to books because of poorly funded and staffed school libraries, limited public library use, and fewer books at home. Additionally, classroom libraries, which positively impact reading interest and achievement, are less common in low-income schools. If you lead a kid to books, you can get them to read, but the books have to be available.

There seems to be ample funding for the latest test-prep or reading incentive programs, despite a lack of research proving such programs work. If you’re curious, check out the Best Evidence Encyclopedia at the Johns Hopkins Center for Data-Driven Reform to find data on your district’s reading programs. Wouldn’t this federal windfall be better spent on providing real books, an endeavor proven to work? I believe that a paperback book or two in every backpack would do a better job of improving reading achievement than another test-prep workbook (no need to talk about which program improves students’ attitudes toward reading and which one doesn’t).

In his recent book, Readicide, literacy leader Kelly Gallagher denounces administrators who won’t pony up funding for books, calling such denials, “unethical”. The money is there, Gallagher claims, and we should start asking for it—loudly. Unfortunately, instead of money for books flowing into our classrooms from district, state, and federal education funds, this money frequently runs in the opposite direction—we subsidize our own libraries. If you walk into a classroom with a well-stocked library, I guarantee that the teacher purchased most of those books with his or her own money. While the absence of political will or clear priorities deny access to books for our students, many teachers put their money where their beliefs are.

When the only thing standing between our developing readers and their next book is the cost of a paperback, is there one among us who would not pay? Someone will pay. Better us than the kids.

How are you funding your classroom libraries, book clubs, and other reading initiatives? If you don’t mind sharing your covert methods for finding books, we could all use a hand. I will include your ideas, as well as a few of my own, in my next post.


First, I want to say that this is my 2nd year teaching (4th grade) and next year I will be moving teaching literature to 5th and 6th, and maybe 7th. (We're a small school and are uncertain about enrollment at this juncture.) I just your book and Gallagher's Readicide on Amazon yesterday. I can't wait to read them both!

My classroom library is still a work in progress. It's not completely pathetic but it has a lot more work to go into it before I can start organizing books by genres, student favorites, favorite authors, etc. The summer before my first year, I sent out mass emails to my friends, family, and acquaintances asking for books they might have to donate. I went on e-bay and bid on bundles of Newbery books as well as other books appropriate for ages 8-12. I also visited used book stores. The teacher with whom I did my internship with, gave me a huge box of brand new books full of Tex, which I could trade in to a used book store for a selection of other titles. One of my college professors let me rifle through her garage full of old books that used to be her daughter's. After summer reading and school began, some parents donated their children's books to my library. Finally, the librarian had bags full of old books that she had no more room for in her library, as well as books another parent had donated to her. I did have to go through these books. Some of them were so old and dusty that they were no longer in print and no longer relevant - books I knew my students would never pick up. So now, I purchase fewer books myself. The only time I buy new is if I want it for my own personal library.

Because we review books, we receive lots of books ... that we then turn around to readers in need. Through our Use Your ABCs program, we help teachers match books with students. We would prefer that the books go to the reader, not a classroom library, but you make a good case for reconsidering that idea.

Clearance racks, garage sales, and library book sales are all familiar haunts for me, too. Like you, I'm an author as well as a teacher, and I've found that blogging about books has resulted in a slew of ARCs showing up in my mailbox -- ARCs that my students love to read and share reviews about too.

Teachers & librarians who follow education and author blogs can find some great opportunities to score classroom library books - often it's just a matter of submitting a quick comment and a book shows up in the mail. And here's a terrific link for requesting those advance reader copies - Deborah Sloan's Picnic Basket. Deborah is a delightful publicist who works to spread the word about great books for the classroom, and she often posts opportunities for teachers to receive free copies for review:


I have to agree with everyone else. I think the best way to build up a library is to hit up the used bookstores, library sales, garage sales, etc. I’ve got to add, though, that sometimes you can get a brand new book that hasn’t sold as well for ridiculously low prices if you peruse the clearance racks in the big chain stores. It’s not guaranteed, but sometimes you can find a great deal there. Also, if you use the websites for the big bookstores, they’ve always got a search engine in which you can sift through bargain books. I’ve gotten new books for a dollar or two this way. You just have to be willing to skim through lots of titles to find a few good ones.
As far as the stimulus money, I can’t think of a better way for it to be spent than on books, especially in low-income areas. While some of the better funded districts may not have the same dearth of quality reading material and may find their money is better spent elsewhere, I completely agree that any area in which students do not have access to books should make ensuring that access their number one priority. The whole “test-prep” fad, which will hopefully pass sooner rather than later, isn’t going to provide these students with the reading experiences that they need. For the price of a paperback or two for each of those kids, they could improve in all areas of their education. That the money isn’t already being used to bring books to those students is criminal.

Our school district is fortunately in the same county as a Scholastic Book Fair warehouse is located. We visit the warehouse for the sales and push our shopping carts and usually leave with all the books that do fill up the cart. Tomorrow is the $1 sale and you can bet I will see many of my colleagues there as well- we can keep the stimulus- both literature and economic- going!!

I love your book. I read it to confirm my beliefs that children should be allowed to choose the books they read and grades should not be based on the number of points earned or the results of a Reading Counts test. Unfortunately, that is my third grader's reality. One question, did every student earn an A in your class? I really feel that the high expectations you set and supported with your teaching, would ensure all student's success. However, when I gift this book to a teacher or principal who in committed to worksheets and Reading Counts tests for grades, they will need a practical guide to grading. Any suggestions?

I make my living trying to put as many good paperback trade books as possible into classrooms, so I appreciate and understand the perspectives shared here about the need for books and the challenge of building classroom libraries. These sentiments are exactly why we work hard to offer thousands of low cost titles at/around $2/book. I'd also recommend DonorsChoose.org (www.DonorsChoose.org). They are a wonderful non-profit that is putting millions of dollars of books and supplies into public school classrooms around the country. Www.DonorsChoose.org.

I also frequent used book stores, garage sales and warehouse sales. Another place to look is online. Usually this requires you to have a title in mind, but you can often find books for under $4 (after shipping costs) at half.com, amazon.com or ebay. This may not be exactly inexpensive, but it is a great way to add out of print books or titles from book lists that you know your kids would love.

You speak to my heart! As a librarian in both public and school settings I am doing my best to motivate kids to read. Watching kids connect with books and sharing my own love for reading has been and is still one my life's greatest satifactions! In these days of testing testing and more testing reading your blog has encourgaged me to continue to fight for a child's right to read what is interesting to them. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

I am a high school math teacher and an avid reader. Books helped me survive high school and I feel that access to good books should be a human right. I go to thrift stores and libraries and buy books. I stock my four bookshelves with these books and students are encouraged to take anything they think they might want to read. I encourage my students to keep the books they love to begin building their own libraries. Students recommend books to one another and when I bring in new books I take a few minutes to tell my students what I've brought in and what I think they'll enjoy. I also have students suggest books to me for me to read and/or buy for our classroom book supply.Once people know I do this they often drop books at my house or call me if they are getting ready to get rid of books so I can see if there are any that will work for us.

Hi Donalyn!

As a former classroom teacher, I also had a classroom library although it was certainly not as extensive as yours! As a practicing media specialist, I noticed there was no mention of the role of your school library in the efforts to put books in the hands of your students. I was just wondering if your school does not have its own library? If so, it is a resource for you for putting books in the hands of your students?

While I applaud and value classroom libraries, I'm wondering if the money would not be better spent purchasing books that could be enjoyed by all students in the building through the school library. If students or teachers ask me to buy particular titles, I do. We operate on a flexible schedule, so students are free to come and get a book as needed.

The absence of a mention of your school library really got my attention! I'm just curious about what role, if any, the school library plays in your work as a literacy educator. Thanks!

Buffy Hamilton

I teach Middle School kids, and I also have an extensive library. I will take books at all reading levels, from picture books on up. I have found that reminding students and parents several times a year (especially now... spring cleaning!!) that I will take any books that they are going to get rid of works well for free books. When bookshelves at home are overflowing I often get their past favorites.

I am a primary [elementary] school librarian from New Zealand. I was alerted to the blog and the comments from US teachers by our National Service for School Libraries which provides free books on loan, advice to support school libraries and online curriculum links plus a blog which encourages reading both for students and teachers. I am constantly horrified by the news which comes out of the US on the lack of funding for libraries and books - for both public and school libraries. My school of 500 students is able to support a budget of $7500NZ [US equivalent approx $3,750] per annum to buy books and other items to support literacy. Added to that are my wages for 21 hours per week, other library and software/computer costs. This funding is added to by parent, community and publisher donations, fundraising and Scholastic Book club points and while there is no typical budget for New Zealand schools there is a high regard for providing these resources through whatever means available.
In our school this means we maintain an up to date, appealing library stock of around 9,000 items suitable for ages 5-11 yrs
I am horrified that the richest nation in the world cannot maintain this minimum level for all its students and has to rely on the goodwill of teachers to maintain stocks in their classrooms. Most class teachers here also have a small stock of books they keep for use solely withing their class[but they do not see this as a major task] plus we also have numerous readers and curriculum support material for the children to use [part of the literacy programmes which has a lot of child appeal] which is also owned by the school and provided free by the Ministry of Education.
I hate to chastise fellow professionals but it is time the US education system and it's practitioners rose up and demanded some basic rights for their children. You have at least achieved some levels of common sense in national policy with your new President - I sure hope there is someone in his administration who feels the same about supporting the youth of the nation

Classroom libraries are great. I believe that it is essential to have a small collection of paperbacks in classrooms so that students always have books to choose from at the spur of the moment. They should be considered as consumables and refreshed with new titles frequently. As a librarian, my view is that it is more cost effective to have a well maintained library with a flexible schedule allowing classes and individual students to visit often for book selection. Perhaps I have missed it but you don't seem to mention the role of the library in the reading program. This seems more feasible than creating 2000 volume mini-libraries in all classrooms. Also visits to the library create the opportunity to get reading advice from another reading advocate other than their own teacher.

I read your excellent and insightful post this morning and moaned in despair. Yes, of course teachers need bucks to develop their classroom collections of children's books. That's a no-brainer that seems to elude most administrators and budget-makers. I commend you for having amassed a library of 2,000 books. That's mighty substantial for one classroom. The more access to books children have, the better readers they become. That's why I groaned. I think you're overlooking the most essential component in helping children become lifelong readers: the library, both school and public.

If you've read Steven Krashen's The Power of Reading, he states that if you want kids to read, nothing succeeds better than giving them time to read and access to great books. If you've looked at the many state studies done by Keith Curry Lance, his statistics show that the one constant variable in a district's raising reading scores is having a well-stocked school library, staffed by a trained school librarian.

So what happens? School districts decide they can do without the "frills" and that includes music, art, recess (a study described in the 2-24-09 Science Times section of the New York Times sighs about that), and, of course, the library.

You are one teacher. You have an entire curriculum to teach, children to inspire and turn into readers. Why on earth are you having to go it alone? I was a school librarian for 25+ years (now a consultant), and we had 17,000 books in my well-weeded, decently-funded NJ school library, grades preK-5, with 500+ kids in the school. In the library, we provided an ongoing and joyful weekly curriculum of booktalks; storytelling; creative drama; Reader's Theater; library skills, study skills, and lots of life skills; reading motivation; and curriculum collaboration across the curriculum. It was glorious.

It's a happening place, the school library. A great school librarian keeps up on all the 5,000+ new books that come out each year, and buys whatever the budget allows of the best titles out there; makes teachers, staff, and kids aware of those books; provides assistance, books, and ideas to all classroom teachers in integrating literature into all aspects of the school day; and inspires kids to become lifelong readers. ("I want to be a librarian when I grow up," one third grade girl said to me." "That's great!" I said. "Yeah, and then I'm going to take over YOUR job!" she crowed. You go, girl!)

My philosophy of librarianship (and teaching and life) is: Give them (teachers, parents, kids, everybody) more than they asked for, more than they thought they needed, more than they ever knew existed. That's what a library does. Go to your school librarian and say, "Got anything on poets or planets or Pennsylvania?" You'll get an armload of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, folklore, picture books, and more. NO classroom collection can duplicate the depth of a great school library collection. (In my library, if I didn't have something, that often meant it just hadn't been written yet.)

Why do we keep trying to reinvent this wheel? Parents and teachers and kids should be up in arms when their school does not have an exemplary (or any) school library. It's a service a school can't function without. I've met lots of spectacular, dedicated teachers like you who work in schools without a functioning school library and they're functioning under an unnecessary and harmful handicap. It's just not right and it's just not practical or efficient to run a school without a great library.

Speaking to thousands of teachers and librarians across the U.S. each year, I am still shocked and dismayed at the lack of basic services so many schools endure, especially inner city or low-income schools. We somehow believe in this country that if we just teach our kids how to take tests, they will do better. So administrators hack out the heart of the school and fire the librarians, cut or eliminate the budget, and instead, spend their bucks on computerized reading tests for books so kids can answer lots of low level comprehension questions and prove they read the books on their "level." It's scandalous and sad.

Why are the Finns number one in literacy worldwide? Because they read to their kids, they tell them stories, and they take them to the library. That seems too easy for all the test-happy folks in the U.S., so we disregard their results and blithely bore kids half to death with barrages of tests about reading instead of letting them become readers by, um, reading. There's no easy way to raise readers, but if teachers are readers and fire up their kids, and librarians provide a daily barrage of reading inspiration, and parents read to their kids and take them to the public library as well, then we will raise readers, kids who are curious and ask question and educate themselves all their lives. We teacher and librarian types have dedicated our lives to doing just that.

With Michelle Obama and Laura Bush out there reading to our kids and promoting literacy, I'm hopeful for the future of our kids and schools, but they can't go it alone. All of you book fans out there, you need to stand up and demand books and libraries for your kids. We raise readers one book at a time, so if you want to do something small but essential today, just pick up a great book and read it to your kids. It's a fine place to start.

Judy Freeman
Reviewer, www.READKIDDOREAD.com
Author of Books Kids Will Sit Still For 3 (Libraries Unlimited, 2006)

I, too, am one of those that feel that a classroom full of books is the key. I have spent hundreds of dollars of my own money to fund my own library. I am a first grade teacher and will 'loop' with my students to second grade next year. I want to add more books, so I had an idea. I decided to use my 'green thumb', perennial plants from my garden (they need to be thinned out), and a 'garden center' at school to fund more books for my library. I have been selling my perennials to teachers and other staff members at school. I have also gotten my students involved. They helped me plant seeds for marigolds, phlox, and a few other annuals, as well as cucumbers and squash. We are planning a big plant sale the first week in May. The proceeds will go towards the purchase of additional books. The kids are very excited! I will let the students help me pick out some new books once we have some additional funds. Whenever a new box of books arrive, I bring the box to school and let them open the box. I love to hear the oohs and aahs!!!!!

You are right on! I have spent years building my third grade classroom library. Students read all the time in my classroom and I never want them to be without a book for any reason. If books and reading are a priority in the classroom, they quickly become valued by the students, even as you say, the most reluctant readers. It becomes a competition in a way. How many, how long, which authors...they just want to keep reading! I've spent my own money, used Scholastic Book Club points, and I was fortuntate to have some books donated by retiring teachers who knew where their treasured books would be used well. I also have a system where former students donate books they no longer read. They write a message to me in the cover, add their name and the date. This becomes a tradition and they bring books to me several years after they have moved on to middle school. Thanks for a very timely and thought provoking blog. I can't wait to read you book!

Ditto on the school library! Classroom libraries are great, but if we're going to get the most for our limited funding, it's best to have an exciting central location where all teachers and students can browse. They can browse with their teacher as a class - or even browse individually at any time.

Our school libraries are currently struggling with budget cuts (in Georgia, our budgets have been cut in half). We have to think frugally these days - and pooling our resources and managing them with quality staffing (who will partner with every teacher in the building) is pivotal!

Thanks for your enthusiasm and passion for books!

Telling a teacher that the funds for books should be used for a central library can be taken a step further: why not take all the money from every school and give all that money to the city libraries so everyone can benefit from a better and more extensive selection? Then young readers would see that everyone reads, not just kids. (I'm not really proposing this. I think the notion that teachers shouldn't have large libraries silly. I teach at a school with a large population, and scheduling a library day is not that simple a task. My classroom library is convenient and necessary.)

Anyway, I heard an excellent idea today. Hold a book swap. Everyone brings in 5 books (or 10 books) and they receive a ticket of some sort for this. The way it was explained to me, kids can get as many books as they bring in, but the teacher asks that they donate a book to the room library. I have 125 students; so, in theory, I could end up with 125 books. You can add as many rules or conditions to the swap as you deem necessary.

Your ideas are a big help to the teachers in our middle school. I'd like to echo the comments of a couple previous posts concerning the school library. I know there are shortsighted districts who do not invest in school libraries and certified librarians, but there are thousands of very active school libraries and librarians across the country. We have a strong professional organization, Amer. Assoc. of School Librarians (Div. of Amer. Library Assoc) and the group advocates on national and state levels for legislation and funding to support school libraries. I haven't seen much mention of libraries in your columns. Is this because there is no school library in your building or is the school library/librarian less than optimal?

I want to second the suggestion to post a request for books on Donorschoose.org A few years ago, I had the honor of serving on a board that funded teacher classroom grants. We used DonorsChoose to find projects to fund within our county. I'm pretty sure we funded every single request for books that was made that year. Being somewhat specific about the books you'd like helps. You don't need to list titles and authors, but saying something like "I want to buy non-fiction books about sports for my classroom library to encourage the reluctant boys in my class to read" will take you far!

People, if you want better centralized library systems in schools, that's great. But why are you telling teachers what to do with money that does not come from within the school system? We don't take money from our respective libraries for our own classroom libraries. We use our personal money. Do you not understand that? We are using whatever resources we can to create a convenient, extra source of books for our students. I mean, does anyone honestly think one classroom library is going to undermine an entire school library? Get real. The ideas here are great. If you're concerned about school libraries, go talk to librarians about that because it's a different issue than what is being discussed here.

Hi Andy! I don't think anyone here is criticizing the author for wanting to purchase books for her classroom library or saying that a classroom library would undermine a school library collection. As a former classroom teacher, I personally have spent my share of resources on materials for my classroom.

However, I think the point many of us are trying to make here that school monies (local, state, federal) would be better served in purchasing books that ALL students in a building could enjoy in a centralized SCHOOL library with flexible scheduling. It sounds like you unfortunately are not in a situation where you have access to a school library that operates on a flexible schedule---sadly, this is becoming more of the norm in the U.S. (which is why more than ever, school libraries need support).

Unless I misread the original post, I believe Donalyn is referring to use local and federal monies as funding sources for purchasing classroom books. She then sought advice on additional free or inexpensive ways to get books for her classroom.

Donalyn says, "A significant factor in getting children to read is providing access to books—mountains and mountains of books. But regular access to books is beyond the grasp of many children in America." Who else better than the school library to accomplish this task to support classroom teachers and students? Do you think it is really better for local, state, or federal monies be used to put books in one classroom or in a library where hundreds of students can enjoy the books purchased with those monies?

Like others, I really would like to know what the library situation is in Donalyn's school. If she is not in a place that has a school library with a rich collection and flexible access, then that is all the more reason why the issue of every school having a well-stocked school library with a certified media specialist and flexible scheduling is worthy of conversation.

Buffy Hamilton

Hi Buffy,
In answer to the question that favors your position, I pose my own: Do you think monies are really best spent on one section of a school that students visit once or twice a month, or in the majority of rooms where students are more likely to be exposed to literature on a daily basis? Neither your question nor mine is completely fair.

The best answer is Donalyn’s second post. It proves that her intention was to solicit as many ideas as possible on how teachers can acquire books for their room libraries (where teachers and students spend at least 95 percent of their time).


Hi Andy!

You state that you only visit your school library once or twice a month, and that teachers and students spend at least 95 percent of that time in their classrooms, so that is why the majority of monies should be spent on classroom libraries.

First, I feel 21st century learning lends itself to collaboration. What better place to help students discover resources for 21st century learning than your school library? Your school librarian should be an invaluable resource for your information needs as well as resources for literacy instruction.

Is your school library operating on a fixed schedule? Are you not allowed to send students to the library to check out books? If not, a flexible scheduling model would allow you more regular visits and the freedom to send students at will to get the books they want. In my school district, most elementary classes visit weekly and are welcome to send as students. In middle and high school, teachers are welcome to schedule visits as often as they want---they only need ask! Students are also welcome to visit through the day to get a book.

While I don't discount the value of classroom libraries, the original question in the post (if I read correctly) began with a conversation about using state and/or federal monies for purchasing books. I still do not feel spending those monies on classroom libraries is the best way to get books in the hands of students. Building strong libraries that welcome teachers like you and your students on a regular and flexible basis is the solution that can help everyone in the building.

Teachers are busy enough as it is---should you really have to spend your time tracking down free books and visiting yard sales to get the books you want? And what happens to those classroom libraries when the teachers leave if they are purchased with state, federal, or local money? Hopefully, they will stay with the room, but what if the teaching position is eliminated? How you fairly decide who gets that classroom library purchased with local/state/federal monies? That is something to consider as teaching positions are being cut nationwide.

I am sorry that you seem to feel so negatively toward the idea of school libraries being an important partner to classroom teachers like you. As a classroom teacher, I always expected my school library to have books for my students and to support my efforts as a literacy educator. Your school librarian can be a helpful partner to you---I hope that at some point, you have a chance to enjoy the benefits of a successful partnership with your school librarian.

Like other people who posted on this blog, I still would like to know what the school library situation is for Donalyn---her silence on this question is a bit troublesome to me. As I said earlier, I have no problem with classroom libraries, but I think teachers don't realize how much their school librarians could do for them to support their literacy efforts.

Buffy Hamilton

I can speak first hand about money from the school for classroom libraries. Just this past summer I was called to help select and order $1500 per class for 9 classrooms. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I fulfilled the request. All year long this year those same books have made their way back to the library regularly. I put the ones that have a teacher name or grade displayed back in the department head's box (I want her to see how they are not necessarily being monitored or kept up with--though we all know kids will be kids). I display the unclaimed others in a case for a while that says "DO I belong to you? I'm lost..." --hoping teachers or students will realize its their missing book.

My expressed concern with that large investment was the lack of accountability for such an investment. When I make large purchases for books, they are cataloged and inventoried annually (as required.) When I make large, expensive equipment purchases, they have a district record and an asset tag placed on them, and also inventoried annually. The accountability peice is in place for books in the school library. Not necessarily true for classroom libraries, though the web 2.0 tools like Shelfari and Librarything if used could help. Where would a teacher learn of such tools? From their school library media specialist of course. (Note--I did introduce these two to my teachers getting those books. Only one uses it to my knowledge.)

My very hard work this summer has resulted in me finally cataloging MANY of these same unclaimed/lost classroom library books I selected and ordered and putting them in the library where they do see circulation and are accounted for (through inventory.) Oh and by the way, when budgets were created this school year for the new fiscal year, guess who did not get a dime for books. The library. (I suppose this money went straight into those classroom libraries this year.)

I am not against home grown class libraries, and I dont think Buffy is either. But I am really bugged about an investment that has no real accountability. I'm also concerned that the books put in the classroom library through methods outlined above may or may not be in alignment with district selection policies or provide a balanced and unbiased selection of materials. Do these books support all curriculum areas as well as diverse interests of students? That is what the school library offers. Are teachers ready to deal with a book challenge? Most probably are not. It's wonderful to see so many advocates for reading out there, but please recognize the benefit of a open flexible library staffed with a trained school teacher librarian. As to the issue of some classes only visiting the library one or twice a week--well best practice shows that in terms of reading, visits should be contingent on the individual need of the child and NOT the class. The library is a place for much more than a once a week fifteen minute visit to check out books, though we all know many schools that do JUST that, if not having a fixed scheduled class (many without a classroom teacher staying to ensure grade level appropriate material is checked out by the the students in those classes.) I have experienced before a teacher showing up to drop of a class and leave ME a list of lexiles with the directions "do not let them check out books above or below their lexile. WHAT? Lexiles are a leveling progrma teacher suse. I do try t purchase books to match the ranges, and I can match readers to books based onlevels, but come on--that is a collaborative lesson waiting to be planned TOGETHER with the teacher, not dropped on me at the door as the teacher leaves the class.

As far as fixed schedules (a whole new can of worms) schools will continue to have this scheduling until classroom teachers demand otherwise. Students deserve access to that resource in the school, and it is a shame how many do not provide for it to be open other than as a planning period for teachers.

Nice classroom libraries do have their place, and as a former classroom teacher the 11 years before coming to the library for the past 11 years, I know the value of finding books to make available in the room. But not at the expense of the school library program. That is the point I want to make in this discussion. Thanks for the lively and interesting discussion thread.

Cathy Nelson, NBCT, Teacher Librarian
South Carolina

I just have to add my voice to this debate! I am a school librarian also and my concern mirrors that of Buffy and the other librarians who have spoken here. With such limited funding available for school libraries I have to agree that the money available should be spent for the maximum enjoyment of the majority of students. A school library/resource centre is the most obvious answer.
In addition I seriously have to question the value of filling a classroom library with half price, discounted and/ or discarded books - they are that way for a reason.....
It is important to expose children to a variety of reading materials that not only support curriculum but ALSO represent all cultures and viewpoints. In addition, the children deserve a balanced collection of materials suitable for all reading abilities and interests. A school library AND a school librarian are invaluable in providing this to a school and its community. In our school we have classroom libraries, but many teachers choose to utilise library resources instead - they keep their classroom libraries fresh and interesting by changing them out for different books on a regular basis. This provides the students with lots more choice and the teachers are utilising the librarian's skills in choosing appropriate resources.
I too wonder whether Donalyn's school has an effective library?
Leanne Windsor
Tokyo International School

Dear Librarians,

Of course, I value the school library and I agree that school libraries and librarians are vital resources in getting children to read. I mention school libraries both in this post and the follow-up post. Yes, my school has a well-stocked library staffed by a certified librarian and a library aide. Yes, my students regularly visit the library.
What research shows us is that surrounding children with books (creating a book flood), not just in the library, but in the classroom and at home positively impacts reading achievement. School libraries, while powerful, are just one component in providing access to books.
When four children want to read the same book and share it with their friends, when a child wants to check out six books in a series so he can read them all in a weekend, when a teacher needs to pass a book to a parent or sibling in order to promote family reading-- classroom libraries can fulfill this role.
Reading over my posts on this subject, I do not see mention of diverting funds from school libraries in order to give money to teachers. While a shortage of funding for books in general is criminal, I do not get e-mails and queries from librarians who are using their own money to fund their school libraries. That would be preposterous, wouldn't it? What I do receive are plaintive requests from teachers who shell out thousands of dollars of their own money to provide books to their students and need ideas to find further sources of funding.
By all means, continue your outcry to promote funding for school libraries-- I agree with you. But let's not lose sight of the fact that more books in more places serves kids best.

Just to add 2 cents to this debate (from a teacher librarian aspect which has recently come up at my school). A teacher was bemoaning that he did not have enough books for his classroom and that he did not have a budget for such things as we were a brand new school. I mentioned that his class could come to the library, each child could select one or two or more books that they would like to see in their classroom for the next month or so. These books stay in the classroom and if a student wants to borrow one of the books to continue reading at home, they check them out through the library. he tried it and was happy with the results. A number of the other classes do the same thing (not all yet). Students have open access to the library all through the day and also have a regular check out time with their class.

This system has a couple of advantages - the books are selected by the students, not the teacher, the collection is rotated often so that titles are not stagnating in the room, the library staff can check for damage and replace as necessary and the teacher is not out of pocket. At the end of the school year the classroom is clean and waiting for the new year, if the teacher leaves, or there is a change in rooms etc - all is well. It serves the same purpose as a classroom library, there are some losses, but it is minor compared to an unaccountable loss of a traditional classroom library.

At the end of the year we offer a pizza party to the first class who returns all their individual and class loans - including teachers individual loans - this works a treat to 'find' some of the books that were taken home accidently!

In these times of economic struggles in education accountability is the key to effective management of resources.

Thank you for responding to the questions several of us had posted earlier! I agree that classroom libraries are an essential part of any educator's literacy toolbox.

However, I still stand by my argument (and that of others) that federal, state, and local monies you referred to in your original post would be better served in boosting the school library collections. If additional monies were poured into the school library collection, your school library could easily buy extra copies of the most popular titles so that everyone who wanted one could get one (I do that already).

Most school librarians are also happy to make exceptions to circulation policies to accommodate a student who has been identified by his/her teacher was a voracious reader.

None of us here are discounting the value of a classroom library. However, consider if you received funding to buy 2,000 books for your classroom (the approximate number you have collected through your own hard work/efforts). Imagine if funding were given to the library to purchase that many titles for the library. Rather than buying 2,000 books for each teacher's classroom, imagine if that money was given to purchase that total amount of books for your school library. I can only imagine the excitement and joy teachers and students would feel at being able to freely circulate all those new books!

I think the idea here is that teachers and librarians should be working together to develop the maximum number of resources that can be available to all students.

You stated in your original post, "I am known around my school as the teacher with the huge library. With over 2,000 books, our class library holds mythic status among my students (both current and former). They often conduct tours, leading friends and younger siblings through the stacks, proudly showing off our books and making recommendations. These tours usually end with our guests filling out library cards and checking out books to read." Isn't this what should be happening through your school library? While I applaud your willingness to share, it seems to me that what you are doing is identical to what your school library should/can be doing for parents and children of all ages. If your school library is well stocked, it seems the first place to go for these great books should be the school library rather than an individual classroom.

I respect your views, but I feel the "outcry to promote funding for school libraries" should be taken up by classroom teachers and administrators, not just school librarians.

Buffy Hamilton

I'd like to comment on this quote from a previous post from Donalyn Miller.

"I do not get e-mails and queries from librarians who are using their own money to fund their school libraries. That would be preposterous, wouldn't it? What I do receive are plaintive requests from teachers who shell out thousands of dollars of their own money to provide books to their students and need ideas to find further sources of funding."

I'm an Media Specialist in a Title I elementary school and I do spend hundreds of dollars every year buying books, dvds, puppets, cords, and supplies every year. I'm sure there are many others that do the same.

I'd also like to comment on classroom libraries. I think all of us are working towards the same goal. But, isn't it redundant to spend money on classroom libraries when you and the students can go get books from the school library for free. I allow teachers the check out unlimited books and use them for their classroom library.

I am a high school librarian in a small, rural community that receives very little funding each year, and NO FUNDING this year for books and/or supplies. In order to provide students with new books, especially the new popular books that have come out this year and that students BEG me for, I've been purchasing books OUT OF MY OWN POCKET - at least $500 worth in the last three months alone. Granted, I'm single and have few bills to pay and can afford to be this generous, I SHOULDN"T HAVE TOO! It is the federal/state/district/school's responsibility to see that the SCHOOL library is adequately stocked. It is also MY responsibility (and the responsibility of the school stakeholders) to advocate for library funding...which I do.

That said, I agree that surrounding students with books (library, classroom, home) is a wonderful goal. I just don't think it should be at the expense of the school library. Teachers spending their own money for classroom libraries is THEIR CHOICE, and I applaud them for doing so. I would just be in tears if my school/district/state decided to spend money that should go toward the school library (and ultimately access to ALL student in the school) and spend it instead on classroom libraries.

To increase student access to books, I've removed limits on the # of books students' can check out and extending the number of weeks they can remain out. I've worked with classroom teachers to allow students to keep one or more books in the classroom so students have books to read at any time. I even bring carts of books to the classroom for a book swap activity and check books out right there in the classroom!

Students are welcome to come to the library at ANY time during the day (and our hours of operation are extended from the school day) to check out books - even if other classes are already in the library. If I or a student helper are not available to check the books out, they simply write their name and the book's barcode on a post-it and stamp their book themselves with the date due stamp. I'll enter it into the computer later. I want students to know that reading is important; therefore, I try to remove as many barriers as I can that keep books out of students' hands.

As a side note, I've recently been informed by my principal that our school received a state award that comes with a monetary amount and that part of the money will go toward the school library. The library will receive money only because I have been speaking out about the state of our collection, the students' needs, and collaborating with my teachers. If I had just sat back and done/said nothing, I'd have gotten nothing. Advocacy is everything!

These are all such selfish comments. In the same breath, all of you say you respect a teacher's classroom library, BUT what you really mean is you don't want money taken from your program.

Money is all this comes down to: a financial argument complemented with a note of utilitarianism.

You librarians (the little man said wagging an accusing finger) are trying to draw us into your realm of argument, attempting to steer this down a familiar road, attempting to make this -- our silly romantic inquiry -- into something serious.

We love to read books, and we like sharing that with our students. When we said look at our room libraries, it was a moment of pride that overtook us; when we said look how we built it, it was our egos that said this; and when we said we wished we had money to do it right, none of us had theft in mind.

Do you still want to continue with this argument about your money? Keep it.

We have shared our ideas with each other, very good ideas, and now we intend to put them to use. That was our intention all along.

I find it incredibly sad that this discussion has evolved in to a "them vs us" tirade. We all have the same goal in mind - how do we get quality books into children's hands and get them excited about reading.
My question in all this is not who is right but how do we all work together to ensure that this happens?
In my mind the discussion/argument is not about money at all and it's certainly not about casting dispersions on our colleagues and fellow teachers.
I applaud and congratulate all the teachers who toil and devote time to this cause. From my understanding there are many elementary schools in the US now without qualified school librarians and I feel very much for the teachers who work in those schools.
So lets not turn this in to a slinging match. Focus on the real issue - how do we encourage kids to read and love books and how best do we get books in to their hands....

Donalyn and other classroom library owners, do you ever ask for baskets of books from the library--i.e. when studying poetry or maybe personification? Do you ask your librarian for suggestions for titles that might supplement an ongoing unit? Do you have students make a basket run to the library to checkout (in your name) some books that may not be a part of your classroom collection to ensure you are offering a balance of material, and at the same time exposing students to a wider variety. I dont doubt you have a fantastic classroom collection, but the post here fails to encourage teachers to also use their own school library. Actually it painfully ignores it. My hope is that in the future you will also encourage your voracious readers to not forget the powerful resource that is free and right there in their own building. We are all interested in the same thing-our learners. We are not on opposites sides, but rather the same sides. And we are fighting a different kind of battle...one that is diverting funding away from many programs in schools, not just classrooms and libraries. I leave you with this. Please, as long as you are advocating sources for reading materials, don't forget to encourage the free resources within the walls of most school buildings-the library.

Books warm up a classroom. Each year when my new sixth graders enter my classroom they can tell right away that this is a place for reading. Like Donalyn, I take pride in my classroom library. I've collected almost 1500 quality books, not because I had to but because I wanted to. I'm not against the school library, in fact I'm working in a master's program to be a librarian now! I love to collect books and share them with others and my classroom library allows me to do that without restriction because I paid for it.

Like many of you I find that yard sales, library sales, and Scholastic are a big help. I get donations each year from students who need to clear space on their bookshelves for the new exciting titles that we have been booktalking. Additionally, I recently started using a site called paperbackswap.com. The site is free and allows you to swap unwanted books with people all over the country. It's better than Amazon.com or half.com because all you have to pay is postage. If I get a donated duplicate of a title that I already have I immediately list the book to swap. Hope this helps!

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Tammy Duvall: Books warm up a classroom. Each year when my new read more
  • Cathy Nelson: Donalyn and other classroom library owners, do you ever ask read more
  • Leanne Windsor: I find it incredibly sad that this discussion has evolved read more
  • Andy Esquivel: These are all such selfish comments. In the same breath, read more
  • Heather Loy: I am a high school librarian in a small, rural read more



Technorati search

» Blogs that link here