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Leveling and Labeling Your Classroom Library

By Meghan Everette on August 12, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

I once heard that if you make a major change in your home that you are unsure about, you should live with it for a year before deciding if you really don’t like it. The same might be true of a classroom when deciding to paint, drastically reorganize, or create a leveled library system. Last summer, I painstakingly reorganized, labeled, repaired, and re-shelved my entire library. For a book-a-holic like me, I assure you it was no small task. The worst part was I was unsure I liked the system once the hours of organizing were over. A year later and it is time to put the books back on the shelves. Here is what worked for me.


Organizing Books by Level or Content

I struggled with the decision to move my library from leveled boxes to themed containers. My school uses a specific leveled reading program. A leveled library system helps students select books that are appropriate based on the level they are reading at. The problem is, once I got to the point where I had six large baskets of the same level, students had trouble figuring out the type of book they wanted to read from all that inventory. Great books were being overlooked! I had trouble finding a particular book I knew was there because of the enormous quantities in each bin. Organizing by content also made theming easier.


How to Separate Books

Because I was moving schools, I had the fortune of having all my books in my living room for the summer. I started by unloading one box at a time and dividing the books into what made sense: animals, historic fiction, Magic Tree House series, etc. After a few boxes it was clear which categories needed further division and which authors or types of books were common in my library. This is how I started, and it is still a work in progress. “Other Animals” for example, will be changed this year to fiction and nonfiction animal books separately. I now need a Fancy Nancy box and a Curious George box for new acquisitions. The system isn’t perfect, but a list of what categories I created has come in handy.

Pile of books for sorting Organizing books in categories

Recording Your Library

Keeping track of what is in your library can be overwhelming. Once all the books are out for restocking, go ahead and use an electronic system to help catalog your books. Scholastic’s Book Wizard can help. Using the mobile version (available on iPad, iPhone, and Andriod), you can search by title, author, or keyword. Scan any book's barcode to get instant leveled information as well as a synopsis and then save the book to your bookshelf. You can share your lists with families or other teachers. The Book Alike feature can help locate books that are similar to your classroom favorites. If the task of leveling your library seems too overwhelming, host a book leveling party or invite parent volunteers to take a basket at a time to add to your account.

Scholastic Book Wizard Mobile


Labeling for Everyone

Books need to be returned to the basket from which they came. Nothing irritates me more than Books with leveled labelsbooks getting placed in random boxes. To make it as easy and visually instructive as possible, I created picture labels for each box. A regular mailing label with a corresponding picture on the right-hand side wraps around the bottom left corner of each book. The picture on the front of the book needs to match the picture of the box it is going in.

On the upper right-hand corner, books are labels with color-coordinated levels. Simple round labels show different student levels, and many brands are printable. If possible, coordinating your stickers to the school library labels would be very helpful, though my students have their color and level on the front of their reading folder for a visual reminder. For insurance, I write the level under the round sticker before applying, in case it comes loose. My name goes in the back cover to make sure I can tell which books belong to me.

Scholastic offers free Guided Reading printable book labels to help get you started.


Clifford book labels Printable book labels

Book labels

Book Repair and Hospital

As I labeled each book, I made small repairs. Your best friend is a roll of strong packing tape that can hold spines together and repair serious rips. I’ve gone so far as to use tape to “laminate” a book cover that is well worn. Picture books with a broad spine can be repaired by running glue down the separated portion and holding in place. Loose pages should be taped from top to bottom with excess on each side of the fold. Be sure to secure both the front and back to ensure the pages stay put. I have one box dedicated to books in need of repair that is labeled the "Book Hospital." Instead of students running to me with little rips and tears, they simply place the book in the book hospital when they are done with it. I periodically repair the books when I have time.

Book hospital label How to repair library books


Storage and Display

We judge books by their covers. It’s just a fact. Enter any major bookstore and books are turned to face you in attractive displays. The same should go for our classrooms. I use plastic tubs and baskets. The sturdier the better, though I’ve had to condense to some shoe-sized storage in order to fit them all on the shelf. When possible, the covers are turned to face students as they browse so they can see each cover in its entirety. Clear baskets are extremely helpful for finding lost pencils, errant hair bows, and for seeing full covers even in the box. In my perfect world, every container would match and be perfectly aligned on the shelf. Much like the fate of a third child, the third time through organizing and I use what works with what I have.

My class library

There’s no one right way to set up a library. Blogger Alycia Zimmerman shows how she redesigned her library and then did it again; Beth Newingham uses a similar picture system; and Genia Connell shows how to make book “shopping” fast and easy for students.


How are you setting up your library? What has worked for you?


Next week, see how my classroom library looks in my newly redesigned, repainted, and raring-to-go classroom!

Comments (2)

Thank you so much Meghan for your honest and helpful article! This is my first classroom to organize my own books, although I had been an educational assistant and had seen many classroom libraries. I needed to understand the logic as well as the technicalities. I appreciate the tip to put the level number UNDERNEATH as well as on the sticker, so that time and effort is saved when the inevitable happens. I also am grateful for the thoughtful process of sorting books. I am finding natural categories in my book donations and am so glad to have "permission" to sort accordingly! I truly appreciate your thoughtful post. Please let me know if you have further advice! Thanks, Dinah

Thanks for your kind feedback, Dinah! Good luck sorting. It is tricky to get started with such a big project and it grows every year. I have several "rescue boxes" that other teachers were getting rid of that I need to sort through before next week.

Best of luck! Let me know if you have questions!

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