Classroom Library Organization: Ditch the Bins

classroom library organization

In my opinion, the library is the most important part of any classroom. It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with having an organized library tailored to my students’ wants and needs. Two years agoI decided to “ditch the bins” and seek a different form of classroom library organization. After seeing how much my students loved browsing the shelves in our school’s media center, I quickly decided I wanted to embrace a “bin-free” library. I posted about this on Instagram, you can see it here. I ditched the bins for a few reasons…

classroom library organization bins

First of all, I noticed many bins were gathering dust, while the same bins were continuously empty due to popularity. I loved that my students were feeding off of each other for book recommendations and eyeballing what others were reading, but there were some really good books being overlooked in those dusty bins! Organizing my classroom library without bins makes it easier for students to explore all of the books I have to offer without having to sift through an overlooked or unloved bin.

Another reason I decided to de-bin (that’s a word now) was actually due to necessity! I overheard a student say something along the lines of “I want to book shop but it’s hard to see what’s in the bins.” BINGO — BYE, BINS!

classroom library organization without bins

Now, I know every classroom, every teacher, and every student is different (I make that disclaimer on every post I make), so bins might actually work well in your classroom. You might have been using bins to organize your library for decades… great! I’m here to share my logic and maybe inspire you to reconsider yours.

I teach third grade, and we still need help navigating a library. I wouldn’t expect my third graders to shop for books based on author’s last name without a search engine equipped with the Dewey Decimal System or something similar (and I’m DEFINITELY not implementing that in my classroom anytime soon). So, I used my own simplistic, kid-friendly library labels to organize my bookshelves. This way students know where to look if they’re in the mood for humorous fiction, or where they could find the third book in the Ivy + Bean series. The library labels have a brief description of each genre type, as well as labels for featured authors, fiction/nonfiction series, and topics for nonfiction books. They’re also editable to fit the needs of your own library! I used the square adhesive pockets from Target to display the labels, and since they’re removable I’m able to adjust their placement as my library grows. If you don’t have those Target pockets, you could laminate the label and attach it with Velcro so it’s easy to change out as needed.

Without the bins, my students are able to peruse the classroom library in the same way they would explore our media center or the public library. They’re able to see the entire selection, not just the first few books displayed in the bin. Don’t get me wrong, I used bins to organize my classroom for 5 years. But classroom library organization without those pesky bins is a change that I am loving, and sometimes it’s the smallest change that makes a big difference in the lives of young readers. If you’re not ready to take the plunge and ditch the bins completely, maybe try starting with the fiction side of your library. It’s easy to group nonfiction books by topic and they make sense in bins. Plus, oftentimes nonfiction book are shaped differently than your average chapter book and are best kept in a bin of some sort.

classroom library organization shelf markers

In an effort to recreate the feel of our media center and to reinforce the importance of respecting books, I made shelf markers (an editable freebie) for each student. I printed them in black and white on card stock, allowed students to decorate them, then laminated them for durability. Students were taught how to use shelf markers, in our media center. In short, the shelf marker goes in place of the book you want a closer look at. If the book suits you, you take it (and put it in your book bin). If the book is not a good fit, it goes back on the shelf right where your shelf marker is. This helps to ensure that the books remain on the right shelves matching their label.

Common Question: When students return books, how do you know they make it back on the right shelf? Truth is: I really don’t! In the beginning of the year, I return the books to our classroom library shelves myself. When I introduce classroom jobs, I will train 2 Librarians to put the books back on the shelves. If they do not know where a book goes, they will leave it on the table for me to figure it out. Most of the time, by looking at the cover, reading the back, or recognizing the author, students are able to identify where the books belong. This comes with practice examining books for their own choosing and lots of modeling and genre exposure (we mock book shop for the first 2 weeks of school, modeling how to choose books that fit our interests and abilities). It also helps to have positive behavior expectations in place so students learn to respect your classroom. To read more about how I establish those expectations, check out this blog post.

Overall, “ditching the bins” has proven to be a successful classroom library organization strategy. Students are able to browse with ease and books don’t collect dust in a neglected bin. How do you organize your classroom library? What questions do you have for me to help you get/stay organized? Leave a comment or message me on Instagram! Remember to follow my blog and TpT store!

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CLASSROOM organization system ditch the bins pinterest



15 replies to “Classroom Library Organization: Ditch the Bins

  1. I love this idea! i threw away all of my bins at the end of this thinking that I was to going to galvanized tin containers. I think I am going to try this idea!!

  2. I love this! Thanks for sharing! I’ve used book book bins for a few years now and was looking for a change. Like you said, I noticed good books were going unnoticed and kids weren’t really looking at the books in the bins!

  3. I have noticed the same issue with bins – good books going unnoticed. I always thought being able to flip through the books in bins was motivating to see the covers, but it doesn’t do anything. Plus, kids weren’t interested in taking the bin off the shelf to peruse the books. Also, where did you buy your black bookcases? They look really solid and not cheaply made. Thanks!

    1. I agree, students would rarely take the bin off the shelf, so they’d really only flip through the first few books in a bin! The bookcases are from Walmart and Target, they’re definitely affordable, but I’ve found that they need to be replaced every few years due to the shelves warping.

  4. Thank you for sharing this! I love the idea of getting rid of my book bins. Plus, I like the overall look of your classroom library because it resembles what a real library looks like- books on a shelf, organized by author and genre. I teach in a multi-age classroom (grades 1-3). I have a lot of emergent readers, easy readers, and Bob books, which are tough to store on a shelf because they’re thin. Do you have any suggestions for how to organize such books? Would you use bins for thin, soft covered books or try to store them on the shelf alongside the chapter books? Any advice would be appreciated.

  5. I am contemplating this idea! Kids find books easily in our school library which has very few “bins”. My question and dilemma is, and has been for a while, is displaying picture books! I have tons and I’ve noticed kids don’t flip, or browse, the picture book bins..but you can’t see them in a bookshelf, especially soft cover. So what to do?!?

  6. I love this idea…I literally went out and bought bins yesterday and I wish I saw your post before I shopped, what a great idea!! so simple and you get more books on the shelves! So, I’ll use my bins for other things. Thank you for your post!

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