How I Created a Classroom Library (Complete with Student Librarian)

There are few things that please me more than bringing loads of awesome books to school for my classroom library and seeing my students get excited to check them out. There are few things that irk me more than seeing those books disappear and not knowing where to even start tracking them down again. My solution this past school year? An informal library-type check-out system with cards and little pockets in each book. You know. This thing:

library check out cards

I put one of these in a pocket at the back of each book, and at the beginning of the school year, I assigned the role of classroom librarian to the student who seemed most competent at the time. I then instructed the class on the simple process of checking out a book:

  • Start reading it in school to see if they like it, and if they want to take it home or hang on to it for an extended time, they write their name on the line where indicated and the date they borrowed the book (rather than the due date).
  • Then, they would give their card to the librarian, who would keep track of them and reunite cards with books whenever they were returned.

That’s it.

My classroom librarian position rotated every few weeks, and I was delighted to see that when a new librarian was elected, the old one would pass the torch in the best of ways. They’d hand over the index card organizer someone found (I didn’t give them this, they figured it out), and “train” the new classroom librarian in The Way Of Things. It was adorable.

Some of my classroom librarians added new processes, like scratching out a line with someone’s name and a date when a book was returned, to denote they had had their turn with the book and returned it accordingly. Others organized the cards alphabetically, or even by categories of their own design. I didn’t instruct them on any of this—it evolved on its own, and I noticed these things in passing, like if I checked the cards to see who was using my classroom library. As teachers, we know that getting students to read in the first place can be a challenge, so I like to keep tabs on who reads for fun.

Some of my classroom librarians behaved more like enforcers or loan sharks, walking around to various students each day according to what cards they had in their possession, demanding to know where the book was and when they might return it.

I still lost some books. It doesn’t bother me tooooo much, mostly because I can’t get mad at a kid who loves a book so much they simply never return it. I mean. Stealing is stealing, but I pick my battles. Anyway, I love that the whole library check-out system gave them, as a class, something they sort of did on their own, and would police each other about.

In general, my classroom librarians only came to me when a book needed a pocket re-glued (I don’t allow my students to handle rubber cement), or a card was missing for a book that was present. All I had to do was keep finding new books for them, either via donations or through deals and rewards on Scholastic Book Club, or however I can get my mitts on new material for them. Bonus if they’re diverse reads that represent my students (mostly nonwhite and/or Latinx) or teach them about new cultures.

I teach fourth grade, and they’re generally nine or 10 years old. They’re still quite young, but not so young that they need me to manage everything for them. I try to give my students significant roles in the classroom, not just little jobs like someone who turns the lights on or off or holds the door (though there’s a place for those as well), and I find that The Kids Are All Right. They’re ready for these challenges, and they’re always surprising me.

So that’s the story of how I established my own little classroom library. And now I’m asking you, dear readers, especially those of you who are teachers: How does your classroom lending library work? Do your kids get psyched when you bring in new things? Do you lose books? Feel free to share in the comments.

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