#ShelfieShare – Growing Your Library

FullSizeRender[1]Yesterday was our last real day of school, and it was a busy one.  My students spent our last class periods together sharing their final multigenre writings with one another, clearing out their writing portfolios, and packing up their notebooks.

They also flooded me with classroom library books and sheepish smiles.

“Sorry,” Riley said, as she entered my classroom with a shopping bag full of books.  “I didn’t realize I had like 12 of your books at home.”

“I opened a cabinet and found like 20 of your books!” Emily said.

“If I bring back all your books, can I borrow like five for the summer?” Jordan asked.

“I found The Book Thief and almost just kept it, for the irony,” Hailey explained.

Now that all the books that are usually on kitchen tables, under beds, and piling on nightstands have begun to find their way back onto my bookshelves, things are looking a little crowded:


The five bookshelves in my classroom are mostly full of independent reading books–a class set of literature and grammar books, dictionaries, and book club collections provided by my department find their homes on the bottom shelves, but everything else has been a labor of love to build on my own.

FullSizeRender[4]I began building my library six years ago, and started with anything I could find at Half-Price Books.  I spent $20 a month in the clearance section, netting $1-2 finds that built my sci-fi and YA sections, and used my staff ID to get an extra 10% off.  During the holidays, HPB ran promotions for free $5 or $10 gift cards with the purchase of a $25 gift card, and I took advantage of those aggressively.

Next, I discovered Barnes & Noble‘s very generous 25% teacher discount, and shopped mainly in their clearance section, which was always well stocked with “former bestsellers.”  This was perfect, as a book had been out just long enough to generate buzz among my students.  I became a bit of a regular there, and began to ask the manager if he had any damaged, extra, or reject books he didn’t want.  He obliged, providing me with class sets of The Perks of Being a WallflowerWaiting to Exhale, and Tuesdays with Morrie–totally gratis.  I also got lots of hardcover books that were being replaced by paperback editions, again, for free.

Next, I discovered the generosity of my school’s PTA, which granted teachers up to $100 per year in classroom supplies.  Every year, my $100 was spent at Wal-Mart, Half-Price Books, or any other purveyor of cheap books.

FullSizeRender[3]By the time the summer of 2013 rolled around, my library was in decent shape–I had about 800 books, mostly paperback, mostly YA and general fiction.  I traveled to New Hampshire to take Penny Kittle’s course about informational writing, and fell in love with nonfiction.  I also met my amazing friends Amy, Jackie, Erika, and Emily, who told me about DonorsChoose.  I created, and funded, several projects–especially ones that helped me get lots of nonfiction–right away, which increased the number of books in my library up to about 2,000–all without a dime of my own money.

I also created DonorsChoose projects that were funded every October by U.S. Cellular, a partner of DonorsChoose.  Depending on your state, big businesses or even celebrities may fund your existing projects of up to $1000.  I used this partnership to fund two $1000 grants, growing my library up to about 3,000 books.

FullSizeRender[2]For my next brainstorm, I began to write letters to local big-box businesses, asking for donations of gift cards to purchase books.  Target, Sam’s Club, Kroger, and Wal-Mart all granted me gift cards, nearly monthly, of up to $50 per month.  Target in particular was wonderful, as their website offers a wide variety of books, especially great nonfiction finds, and free shipping on purchases of $50 or more.

When I finally got an iPhone in October of 2014, I joined Instagram and followed lots of bookish accounts.  Through these book fanatics, I learned about Book Depository, which offers discounted books with free shipping to anywhere in the world; Books-a-Million, which has a wonderful bargain section and an awesome used books market; and the glorious world of GoodReads giveaways, where free ARCs can be won by one and all.

This summer, I’ll take a week of rest, then begin to write book donation request letters, a DonorsChoose grant, and a variety of Morgantown-specific grants.  I’ll focus on replacing lost or stolen books, getting newly-paperback titles, and building shelves I think are a little weak.  I hope you’ll use this slew of resources to build your library, and your readers’ choices, too!

What are your favorite strategies for building your library?


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9 thoughts on “#ShelfieShare – Growing Your Library

  1. […] are so fortunate. We weren’t. But finding resources and is certainly possible. Shana wrote this great post awhile back about grants she’s been awarded and the many businesses that give funds to buy books. […]


  2. […] is an expert at grant writing, and I’ve highlighted her post in the past. I do it again here.) It takes some time to write grant proposals, and then once awarded, it takes some time completing […]


  3. […] the expert on building a classroom library by getting donations. Read about how she does it here. She’s got more ideas than just Donor’s Choose for […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lpdeal July 1, 2015 at 11:13 pm Reply

    A couple of questions – you said that you wrote to Target, WalMart, etc. requesting free books or gift cards to purchase books. Who did you address your letters/e-mails to when contacting them? Also, did you only contact businesses with a store in your area, or any big-box stores like that? We only have a WalMart locally but I’d like to appeal to a variety of stores in hopes of getting donations this summer.


  5. cmadeleine0816 June 6, 2015 at 12:54 pm Reply

    I’ve always wanted a classroom library – my first attempts have been small and reading this post, plus the comments, and watching my husband’s English classroom library grow, I’m motivated to keep working on mine. (Believe me….two English teachers in one house = lots of money going to lots of books). But here’s my thing: what’s the best argument to give an administrator about WHY I need books on shelves (I have one shelf for books in my room and it only holds about 30) in my classroom as opposed to just sending the kids to the library?


    • Amy June 7, 2015 at 7:30 am Reply

      Why don’t you do a survey of your students? I don’t know your instructional goals, but a survey that includes attitudes towards reading, how much pleasure reading the students have done, and whether they’ve visited/checked out books from the school library or public library on their own. From there you might make an instructional decision that has nothing to do with asking to build a classroom library but might be more focused on teaching them how to use the resources that are already there. You could do a follow-up survey later to see how many students are using the resources you introduced.

      I attempt to teach my middle school students to be independent of my classroom library in book browsing and book selection:
      1. I teach them how to check out a book from our school library and our school library’s policies.
      2. I teach them how to check out an e-reader from our school library and how to download e-books through our school’s Overdrive account for their e-device.
      3. We have TWO terrific libraries with strong YA departments that are walking distance from our school.
      4. I teach them how to use our county library system’s browse/reserve process should they want to put a book on hold.
      5. We have library card drives throughout the year, and the town librarians (our district covers two towns) spend time in the school.
      6. If I have time at the end of the year I show students how to read indexed reviews from PW and SLJ through our county’s system.

      And yet, despite all this teaching towards independence of my classroom library, the vast majority of the time both my most and least experienced readers’ favorite way of getting a new book is fresh (or not-so-fresh) from my classroom library. The only times my students usually ask to use the school library is when they know exactly what title they want and it’s not available through me, or if they want to read a book with a friend and they want to see what multiples the school library has.

      That’s not to say I couldn’t use the school library more…. but at least for me, my classroom library is the primary library and other libraries are “backup.”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. lpdeal June 6, 2015 at 9:39 am Reply

    I’ve just started REALLY building my library this year – prior to this school year, it was entirely built of YA books that I’d bought for my own reading and then brought to school. This year I started trying the Book Whisperers ideas with my classes, and it was a wonderful – but expensive – experience. I did get a DonorsChoose grant back in the fall that netted us about 50 books, and after doing the math last week, I realized that I spent over $1000 out-of-pocket on another 170 books, mostly through Amazon. I love the idea of hitting up big-box retailers for discounts or freebies, but I feel like my hands are kind of tied on that; we have a WalMart, but the closest Sam’s Club/Barnes & Noble/Books-a-Million/Target/etc. is more than an hour away. We do have a couple of great indie bookstores that offer me 20% as a teacher, but they can’t afford to discount prices on the books and so I can usually get books through Amazon (especially used) cheaper. Amazon Prime has been my best friend this year.

    One strategy I’m going to try this summer is visiting consignment bookstores while I have time to travel; there’s one several hours from here that had a huge YA section last time I visited. During workdays, I’m going to bag up the books parents have donated that the kids haven’t had any interest in (lots of thick adult paperbacks) and take those to trade in for stuff the kids want to read, especially sci-fi and fantasy. The kids suggest titles to me all year that I’m constantly ordering, and they’ve been making a list of the best sci-fi/fantasy authors (since those are the genres I read the least of myself) to stock up on.


  7. Amy June 6, 2015 at 8:44 am Reply

    1. Befriend local bookstore owners and see if you can pick up their ARC or promotional castoffs, e.g. bookmarks.

    2. Attend librarian conferences for paper ARCs

    3. Bookoutlet.com has been a true friend to me for high-quality low-price books, as has Powell’s bookstore in Oregon. Titles are in terrific condition and free shipping over $50.

    4. I prefer my classroom library to be quality over quantity… and I say that perhaps because I have one of the bigger classroom libraries in the school supplemented by a plentiful school library. I’d rather know the 300-400 titles in my library well so that I can handsell, booktalk, and “fit” a kid into a book than have 1,000 books that I got on the cheap. So I usually spend more money on fewer strong titles.

    5. For whatever reason I find that paperbacks wear much better than hardcovers do. Perhaps when hardcover dustjackets get chewed up the book looks very worn and secondhand. But when a paperback gets a little warped the kids realize that the book must be pretty popular, so maybe they should try it, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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