16 Cheap, Free, & Creative Ways to Get Books for Your Classroom Library
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Complete Show Notes:
I get asked this question A LOT in my work with beginning elementary teachers, so I knew I needed to do a show on this topic!
I know that 16 is kind of a weird number, especially because this is Episode #16, but as I kept thinking about and doing research about this topic as I prepared for this show, I just couldn’t leave anything out. 😉
Now, before we get into ways of getting free or inexpensive books for your classroom library, just a word of caution:
Be sure to build your library with books that your students will actually be interested in reading!
Having a LOT of books is not nearly as important as having books that your students really want to read.
When I first began teaching, I took ANY books that anyone offered me because I just wanted to ensure that my classroom library was filled with books at the beginning of the year.
That might have made me feel better because I had books in my classroom, but the result was that many of my students took FOREVER to choose a book to read because there really wasn't anything there that they loved and couldn't wait to get their hands on.
I soon realized that less books, with far more engaging titles and authors - and books that I was clearly excited about (quality), was far more important than quantity.
If you aren’t sure what kinds of books to collect for your class library, ask other teachers at your grade level which authors and/or titles are most popular with this age group.
You can also ask on Facebook groups for your specific grade level which titles and authors are most popular for your grade, and even doing a quick Google search for “best books for 3rdgrade” or “must read books for 3rdgrade,” or whatever grade you will be teaching can give you a pretty good idea of titles to get started with.
All right, let's dive in to our 16 ways to get free (or cheap) books:
⭐️ Make friends with the librarian at your school.
If you are a new teacher, you are likely going to be spending a lot of time at your new school over the summer, so find out who your school librarian is and when he or she is planning to be there.
I will never forget the name of our school librarian because she was just such an awesome human being and the kids absolutely loved her. Her name was Laura Morden, and I hope you are as fortunate as I was in the treasure she became in my teaching life.
You are likely to have some immediate synergy with your school librarian because you are both pretty passionate about books, but I didn’t know the ally I was actually making when I came by the library and introduced myself in the middle of the summer.
So, when you’re at your school this summer, introduce yourself to your school librarian, and then just ask her if you can meet with them one day and bring her some coffee, and then explain that you are just starting out and you’re trying to build your class library, and you’re wondering if she has any ideas for how you might be able to get some books.
You’d be surprised by how many extra copies of free books or old books librarians sometimes have that they have discretion over who they might give them to.
Getting your school librarian on your side early in the year and beginning to develop a genuine relationship with her can also save you SO much time throughout the year when you really need books on a particular topic or unit of study.
The librarian at my school, Laura, and I developed a great relationship, and I was so grateful and surprised when she began offering to pull books for me whenever I was beginning a new unit of study in my classroom because we became really good friends.
I was telling her one day how overwhelmed I felt as a new teacher and she pulled me aside and said,
Here’s what I can do for you. Each month, why don’t you send one of your little sweethearts down to the library with a list of the books you need or just the topic you guys are going to be studying the next month, and I’ll pull those books for you.
I mean, really. How lucky was I?
So, it became a huge reward in my classroom for who would get to earn the privilege of going to the library to spend some time with our librarian to get some new books for our classroom.
I would send a list of books I really wanted to use in my classroom over the next month or so, and a half hour later, our librarian would show up with an entire bin of great books for us to use!
Seriously, it was like having my own personal, magical unicorn in my back pocket. 🦄 Is it weird that the unicorn emoji is in my highlight bar as being one of the most popular ones I use? Right, TMI. I digress..
I was so grateful for Laura's help and friendship, and it sure made my planning a lot easier knowing I didn’t have to hunt for books every month.
If you listened to Episode #14: 6 Things to Do This Summer to Ensure You are Ready for Your First Year, I talk about developing relationships with a lot of the key people at your school during the summer months when everyone is a lot less busy and stressed – and it’s also a great way to begin to feel more at home and less isolated as a new teacher when you develop these relationships.
⭐️ As you develop this relationship with your school librarian, ask her about any local library book sales that are going on in your community.
Often you can get some fantastic deals at these local library book sales, so find out whey they happen, and find out if she knows if schools get any kinds of special discounts.
Your librarian might even get an extra discount that you didn’t even know about, and depending on the quality of your relationship with her, she just might invite you to tag along when she goes. You just never know!
⭐️ Garage sales: I have found some INCREDIBLE treasures at garage sales.
So many times, empty nesters whose kids have just gone off to college are finally ready to give away their children’s books that they’ve been holding onto for ten years – and they’re often in fantastic shape because they haven’t been touched in years, and they’re some of the best titles because they were their children’s favorites!
At one garage sale, a young mom told me that she gave away all of her children’s books from the previous year EVERY YEAR so she could make room in her house for new books each year.
I got to know her and when she realized I was just starting out as a teacher and that I taught at her kids’ school, she started saving all of her books for me each summer, which was amazing, because all of her books were only about a year old, and she just loved to buy books for her kids.
⭐️ Your Teacher Wish List:
One of the things I did every year was at the beginning of the year, I sent home my Teacher Wish List of book titles that I really wanted for our class library as part of my back to school newsletter to parents.
I would also ask parents to donate any books that their kids had outgrown or didn’t read any more.
You can also create a "Mrs. Friesen’s Wish List" of books you’d love on Amazon and then share the link with parents on your back to school newsletter.
You’d be amazed by what some parents will be willing to donate to your classroom if you just ask.
One year I had a couple of kids in my classroom whose dads were dentists and their moms didn’t work so they spent a lot of time in my classroom as volunteers – and when I sent home my wish list, they came back one week later WITH EVERYTHING I HAD LISTED ON IT!
I suddenly found myself wishing I had asked for more! Lol – but seriously, they must have spent at least $300 on books for me!
The third year I was teaching, I had no idea that I had the superintendent’s grand-daughter in my classroom… (GULP!) When I sent home my request for books, he contacted me directly and invited me to put in an application for some special funding the district had that I had no idea even existed, and I was able to get a lot more books for my classroom.
Seriously, you just never know who is in your classroom or what kinds of connections their parents might have that can help you – and you’ll never know if you don’t ask!
And by the way – it's a great idea to put a dedication sticker inside of each book that says “Donated by_____.”
Kids love to see the books that have been donated from their families!
You can just use address labels to create quick and easy “Donated by” stickers, or you can even buy a rubber stamp to stamp on address labels “Donated by…” and then fill in the family name.
Here's another awesome idea: You can also send home your Teacher Wish List of books at Christmas time and at the end of the year.
You can also ask for other supplies or things your class needs, like an electric pencil sharpener. Oh my gosh, it was a GAME CHANGER when I finally got one of these babies for my classroom! Again, I realize that it might sound weird to anyone who is not a teacher to get THIS EXCITED about an electric pencil sharpener, but come on - GAME CHANGER!
⭐️ Ask teachers at higher grade levels if they have any books that they aren’t using in their classroom that they might want to donate to your new library.
This is also a great way to get to know some of the other teachers at your school, because it gives you a reason to knock on their door and make conversation.
Doing this is how I got to know one of the most amazing teachers I think I’ve ever met. She became like a mentor teacher to me because the moment I reached out and let her know what I needed, she then popped by my classroom to drop off books whenever something came across her desk that she didn’t need.
Those small connections are what help to build relationships in a new school – and I will also be doing an entire show on lots of ideas for how to make new friends at a new school later on, so watch for that.
⭐️ Enlist the help of your principal: Ask your principal if she has a budget for books for new teachers, or if they know of any money that might be available for this purpose.
Again, the more people in your immediate vicinity that you can let know that you want help with developing your library, the better chance you have for small contributions from numerous sources that add up to a fantastic classroom library!
Again, ask your principal if they know of any other organizations locally or nationally that might provide free books.
Oh my gosh, I love Scholastic! Each time your students purchase books from Scholastic, you earn free dollars to spend on books for your classroom, so you can save up your Scholastic dollars for specific titles you really want.
One way I really helped to encourage Scholastic sales in my classroom was to send home suggested titles for the upcoming order by having students circle specific books I would recommend, or list them in my newsletter that month, telling parents why I recommended specific books and/or authors, especially if I was planning a unit of study around a specific topic.
Now of course, I would never be pushy about asking parents to place an order with Scholastic, but I see it as part of my job to recommend books that will help not only get their kids reading at home, but will also help them to get more out of upcoming units of study our class would be working on at school.
For example, every spring in 2nd grade we did a small crawling and flying animals unit, so I was sure to highlight any books (both fiction and non-fiction) that either featured animal or insect characters like Fly Guy, or that would encourage my students to learn more about this topic.
If I was reading a chapter book aloud to my students, or if I saw any titles I knew they would really enjoy, I would be sure to highlight those books and give a short book talk about which ones I recommended and why.
It really helped to boost not only interest in specific books for my students, but parents tended to want to buy more books because their children came home telling their parents how much they wanted them.
You know how excited I get about things I’m passionate about – and I can get really excited about books!
These happen a few times each year and it’s Scholastic’s way of clearing out old inventory – and it’s heaven for us teachers!
These sales are exclusively for librarians, teachers, district/school employees and volunteers, Book Fair chairpeople and homeschool teachers.
During these warehouse sales, teachers can buy ALL of the selected titles for 50% off! Learn more about Scholastic Warehouse Sales by clicking here!
⭐️ Write to publishers (esp. in the summer), to authors, and to Amazon.
Tell them that you are a new teacher and then ask them if they have any free copies they would be willing to give you in exchange for a review or for feedback?
I’m always seeing this on Amazon, that reviews are offered in exchange for a free product, so this could be a great way to build your classroom library if there are specific titles you really want.
⭐️ If 50% or more of your students are living at or below the national poverty line, Kids Need to Read may be another option for you to get free books.
They start accepting applications every July, and applying early will definitely help you to have a better chance at being selected as a recipient.
So, mark your calendars for that one because it’s coming up soon!
You can also check out the First Book marketplace for free books. First book is a non-profit and their mission is to help educators to get access to everything they need, and you only pay a nominal fee for the shipping.
⭐️ Write to your district office and ask if there are any teachers at your grade level who are retiring – would they be willing to donate their books to you?
I sold my entire leveled library to another principal for $500 when I retired who donated it to a new teacher at my grade level!
Some of these sites will offer even more great deals on specific titles you really want or need to build up your library for topics your students will be studying.
⭐️ Ask your principal if she would ask at a staff meeting if other teachers have extra copies of books they would be willing to donate to your classroom.
Principals are often very aware of how much it costs to build up your first classroom library, and other teachers remember this struggle well.
So, if introducing yourself to other teachers and asking if they have any donations directly feels too intimidating to you, you might want to ask your principal if he or she would be willing to ask for you.
⭐️ If you’re interested in setting up a crowd-funding venture to fund your class library, Donors Choose is a fantastic option.
This organization’s mission is to connect the public to public schools, and to make it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need.
Donors Choose was started by teachers, so they really know how to set up your request in a way that will resonate with people who want to help.
⭐️ Want to get a little creative?
Create a class art sale and invite parents to come and purchase art with a “Suggested Retail Price” on each piece, and/or charge admission to your art exhibit, with all proceeds going towards your class library.
I did this in my classroom and it was a HUGE hit with both parents and students!
It allowed students to show off their art work, while giving parents the opportunity to donate funds for our library. You could even make the "suggested admission price" a donated book. 😊
OR, you could set up a class science fair, or a readers’ theatre presentation with a donation box available and all proceeds going to your class library as a class fundraiser.
You can also create thank you cards from student art work and have students vote on one or two pieces that will be selected to be made into cards for sale.
Just be sure to ask your principal about rules around creating class fundraisers and specifically what you are and are not allowed to do.
All right, hopefully you now have some great ideas for how you can begin building your classroom library!
It’s crazy to me that classrooms don’t come already equipped with libraries that are full of high quality, engaging literature for students, but if you start early, which is why I’m releasing this show now, you will be able to build an incredibly high quality library of amazing books for your kiddos.
I hope you tune in next week because it’s going to be an awesome show!
We’re going to talk all about How to Create Your Classroom Management Plan so that you can step into your first year knowing exactly what kind of a classroom community you intend to create for your lucky students!
If you haven’t already downloaded and read through the Ultimate Classroom Management Checklist, please do that right away so that when we talk about how to create your Classroom Management Plan next week, you will be ready to take that next step towards creating the classroom of your dreams.
Ratings & Reviews:
If you are getting great value from this podcast, and if you’re feeling extra loving, please go ahead and leave me a positive review. I love hearing from my students, and it’s very helpful to me to know what you’re finding valuable and what you need more help with.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember, just because you are a beginning teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one! Bye for now.
Links that were featured in this episode:
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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