July 17, 2016

Building a Classroom Library - 10 Ways to Get Books for FREE

I bet you're reading this because you know access to a wide variety of age-appropriate, attractive books can open the world of reading and learning to a child. Some lucky teachers walk into schools where there is a Reader's Workshop/Daily 5 instruction model in place and have a classroom library ready to go. Most of us don't though - and most of use have limited (read that as no) funds to purchase books. How did I get literally thousands of books for my classroom library for FREE? Read on. Here are 10 ways I started and grew my classroom library collection for FREE. You can do it too.
1. Tap into your friend circle.
Tell all your friends you're looking to grow your classroom library. Let them know if they clean out their kid's book collection you'll save them a trip to the donation center. One friend told her family members at their weekend BBQ. I ended up with a great variety of picture books the next day.
2. Tap into your friends' friends.
Post on facebook. This gets the word out fast and to an audience larger than your immediate social circle.
"Hey your town friends. I'm actively looking for books to add to my your grade level classroom library! Do have any unwanted picture books or chapter books? It would be a win-win-win if you give them to me! You win by getting rid of books taking up shelf space. I win by giving my students easy access to great literature. The books win in the hands of kids who want to read and learn. They get a new life. If you ,or anyone you know, in the your town area has recently cleaned out their child's book shelf please message me.
After writing a similar post on my Facebook page four years ago, my friend from church reposted it with the comment "I'm collecting for this on Sunday! Clean out your shelves!" I end up with seven boxes of books!
3. Get to know your neighbors.
Along the lines mentioned above, ask your (or nearby) neighborhood association if you can post on the community website or be included in their newsletter. The side benefit is you get to meet new neighbors!
4. Love the Goodwill
Gift certificates to Goodwill are GOLDEN
When I spend money on classroom books this is usually where I spend it. I have found so many high quality, barely used books here I've lost track how much of my collection is thanks to Goodwill! At 25 to 50 cents each, you can't get a better bang for your buck. But we want FREE! In your newsletters periodically ask parents to donate Goodwill gift certificates to your room. Another option is to ask if a parent will purchase a collection you set aside. Goodwill is a great place to get hardback books.
5. Hit the road.
Visit garage sales and yard sales
Here are two things to know:
1- there are A LOT of kids' books out there.
2 - the owners WANT to get rid of their stuff as fast as possible.
Take advantage of both by going later in the day. When you find books that interest you tell the homeowner that you are a teacher looking to build your classroom library. Be bold and ask if the books don't sell by the end of the day would they give them to you? More often than not, the homeowner has said take it all - now - please - and you won't need to come back! This is how I got the entire The Magic Tree House series for free.
It is also possible you have friends or a student's parent who spends their weekends at yard sales so more legwork for you. If you tell that person what you are looking for s/he may text you pictures asking "Is this what you want?"
6. Reach out to former students
Dig out that old parent email list and ask if their family has any books they could donate. Offering to have the former student fill out and attach the donation book plates adds a personal touch. Two things usually happen with this method. First, the books are usually grade level appropriate since kids will remember what they liked to read when they were at a specific grade level. Second, books will usually be delivered right to your classroom door!
7. Check out Craigslist
Every so often I'll search for 'kids books' or 'childrens' books' on Craigslist to see what comes up. Send a message to get more info about what's being offered. A few things about Craigslist. One, you'll have to act pretty fast. Two, if you're not comfortable with Craigslist don't do it. Use common sense. Three, this method is hit or miss, but the payoff can be big. Through Craigslist I met a family whose business is buying and cleaning out abandoned storage lockers. They now call me to pick up the children's books recovered.
8. Good old book orders
This is how I started building my library collection. The thrill of turning in the points, choosing the free books and then opening the box! Given the online process these days, this is an easy one. Click here to see how one teacher has the whole process streamlined and maximizes getting the free books. Wow!
9. Amazon wishlist
Start an Amazon wishlist for books you really want. Let parents know about your wishlist!
10. The librarian is your friend!
Each year my school librarian purges books that haven't been checked out after a certain amount of time. A coffee every so often can work magic because guess who she notifies first when those books are up for grabs? A side benefit to befriending your librarian is s/he may ask for your input or recommendation on new purchases. Those books may not end up housed in your classroom, yet you'll know where to find them when needed!
As you go through this process you'll find that people want to help you. Most empathize with the challenges teachers face. Quality literature is out there for FREE. Yes, you'll get books that are inappropriate, trashed and just plain junk. But you'll also get books to proudly share with your classroom.
Here is my BONUS tip - don't start this process alone. Collaborate with a few other like-minded teacher friends at different grade levels. You're going to get duplicate books, books better suited for older or younger readers. Working as a team means you'll get more books to work with and find homes for them faster.
Do you have other strategies to share? Please leave a comment below!

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