Finally, a classroom library checkout system that is both effective and easy to use. This page will explain how I answered the question, “How do I keep track of my classroom library books?” and simplified my life as a teacher.
I often get asked for advice on creating a classroom library checkout system. Teachers invest a lot of their own personal time and money into accumulating books and setting up a class library. While they want those books in the hands of their students, they have just cause to be concerned that books will get damaged or lost. I have some solutions.
I’m going to start with my own system because it worked well for me for over a decade and therefore, I think it is the best by far. I love it because it takes no time at all, there is nothing to manage, and it is 98% effective….which is good enough for me. My system is simple because there is no system.
That is correct. I experimented with elaborate check out systems. I even bought adhesive pockets to put into my books at one point. I’ve tried sign out sheets. I have played around with having students or parent volunteers play the role of a librarian to track where the books were and when they were returned.
I found it was all a waste of time and, quite honestly, books still went missing or became damaged, so I stopped trying to monitor which students were in possession of which books. Instead, I simply set up a few guidelines for using the library and borrowing my books.
Guidelines for Borrowing Classroom Books
- Students were allowed to take three books at a time and keep them in their “book bag.” I found using gallon sized Ziploc bags to work best. They needed to be replaced throughout the year, but since they don’t cost a lot that was not a problem. I had used canvas book bags in the past for each student, but much preferred the plastic bags because I could write their names on the outside, easily see how many books they had, and they could even keep a pencil inside for logging notes into their interactive bookmarks. Sidenote: the interactive bookmarks were complete game changers for me (in a good way). You can read all about them here. (link will be added).
- The books in the book bag were not allowed to leave the classroom. This solved the problem of lost books. There were times a child didn’t know where a book was, but it always turned up.
- I used a Sharpie and wrote my name on the front and the back of each book. There were times a book “accidentally” was taken out of the classroom, but they almost always returned.
- Because I stopped allowing my students to take my classroom library books home, it was important to me to find a new way to make books available outside the classroom for all my readers. I knew many of them did not have access to much literature after school hours. My solution had three parts. I created a lending library in my classroom. This was a smaller selection of books that were only used for the purpose of taking them home to enjoy. I had a sign-out sheet to make it feel more official, but in all honesty I never looked at it. It was simply a method of increasing responsibility and accountability. I stocked this little library with books that had been donated to me, books that were duplicates of titles in the classroom library, and books that were in sad-shape, but still had some life left in them. In addition to the actual books that were available for checkout, I kept a collection of printable books (from www.readingatoz.com) stocked for take-home use. It is a membership site that requires a subscription, but you can do a free trial membership. Finally, for my students who I knew truly lacked quality literature at home, I collaborated with the school librarian and made arrangements for them to take home an extra book each week.
- I made sure my library was well organized. This was accomplished by engaging my students in many activities to teach them about genre (you can learn more about how I did that here), so I could organize the classroom library like a real library or bookstore. They will never walk into a Barnes and Noble and ask for a “level L picture book” or “something with a Lexile Level in the 600 range”, so I felt strongly that they should understand real world organizational systems of books. Their understanding of genre, in conjunction with sturdy containers in appropriate sizes and a labeling system, made it easy for responsible students to keep the library organized. Being in charge of the library was one of our classroom jobs (learn about how I get my classroom to run itself and save a lot of time by assigning tasks to specific students). When a student was finished with a book, he or she would place it into the return bin and the classroom librarian was responsible for putting it back into the correct spot.
- We also had a “book hospital.” This was simply a dishpan that was labeled. The students knew to place “injured books” inside. Parent volunteers knew to check the hospital when they came in to help and would automatically fix them and put them into the book return location for my student librarian to re-shelve.
How to Use This System in your Classroom
If you do opt to try this method, I suggest you do the following:
- Plan to explain, model, and practice the routines for browsing, borrowing, and returning books from the classroom library just like you would any other classroom procedure or routine (you can learn more about my classroom procedures and how to teach them here).
- Open your library slowly. Allow students to select from specific areas at first and then expand it as the routines become established.
- Don’t randomly pick students to be the classroom librarian. Be very selective and choose responsible kids who will take the job seriously.
- Set very clear expectations. Remind them that the books are part of the community and need to be treated with care and respect so that future students can enjoy them.
- Add the words, “The classroom library is CLOSED when I am absent” to your sub plans. Trust me on this one. Speaking of sub plans, I have a very detailed FREE guide explaining how to write great plans and prepare, so you can call in sick on a moment’s notice. I highly encourage you to download it.
Overall, this system has been outstanding. A couple books may become damaged or lost, but honestly, no more so than when I was logging every book a student was using. The time savings is huge and more than makes up for the very rarely misplaced book.
If you would prefer to experiment with a more elaborate classroom library checkout system, there are options such as classroom library checkout scanners and classroom library checkout apps that some teachers have found useful.