June 14, 2024

Stocking Your Classroom Library: 8 Inexpensive (Or Free!) Possibilities

If you are building your classroom library or just starting one, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, or any! Here's 8 ways to do it on a budget.

Building a robust, diverse, and inviting classroom library is something I truly enjoy. Spending lots of my own money on it is not. Students interests can change from year to year, so I am always looking for books that match those, and offering new books is a great way to keep reading enthusiasm high throughout the year. 

If you are building your classroom library or just starting one, you don’t have to spend a lot of money (or any!) either. Before you spend any of your own money, ask at school to see if money from the budget can be used to purchase books. If you get a yearly stipend for your classroom spending (I do), try to save your book purchases until you receive that. If you are spending your own money, consider setting a budget for yourself for each month or the school year as a whole. Read on for 8 places to purchase inexpensive books or get them for free.

1. ThriftBooks

I use ThriftBooks when I am looking for a specific title to add to my classroom library. Often you can get hardcovers or even ex-library copies for five dollars or less. Newer titles can be more expensive. ThriftBooks has a points reward system, which allows you to earn free books (every dollar spent equals 10 points and 500 points earns you a free book), but even better is their teacher rewards program, which earns you a free book with every four books purchased. For the reason, I always order at least five books at a time. Shipping is also free on orders over $15, so I don’t have to worry about that added cost at checkout.

2. First Book Marketplace

Title 1 schools are eligible for the First Book Marketplace which has newer titles at inexpensive prices and a diverse selection. They also sell boxes of book titles, which would be good for literature circles. First Book only has what it has. When I am spending my yearly stipend, I’ll often look through First Book to see what they have in stock before I purchase specific titles on ThriftBooks. Graphic novels are often the biggest bang for my buck through First Book since new titles often run $10 plus elsewhere and can be less than $5 here. 

3. Thrift Stores

Thrift stores or places like Goodwill or Salvation Army are places where you can purchase books for one dollar or 50 cents depending on whether the book is paperback or hardback. For stores like these it is always good to check if they have a teacher discount, or if they have a weekly sale day or seasonal sales throughout the year.

Thrift stores can be great for finding popular titles (not always the newest) and high interest nonfiction. I always keep my eye out for Ripley’s Believe It or Not books, National Geographic titles, and anything about sports.

It can be easy to go overboard at thrift stores because the books are so inexpensive, but over time I’ve learned to be pickier with what I am purchasing. I only have a certain amount of shelf space in my classroom library, so I want to buy books that are high quality. 

I have all of my books scanned into BookSource (it is a free library management system), so I will check to make sure I don’t already have a copy of a book before purchasing. If it is a popular title, I may buy another copy so that students can buddy read together or start to build up a group of books for literature circles. 

4. The Public Library

Similar to thrift stores, libraries may have an area that they have books for sale or have book sales at certain times throughout the year. Sometimes their sales are all ex-library books, sometimes their sales are donated books, and sometimes they are a combination of both. 

It is best to be one of the first people there on the day of a library sale as they can get busy and similar to when I shop for books at a thrift store, I gather all the books I think I am interested in purchasing and then check them against my BookSource to make sure I am not purchasing anything I already have.

I always recommend connecting with your local librarian as they may be able to give you books for free or at an even further discount, or at least set books aside for you before a sale. Also, it doesn’t have to be your local library for you to shop at their sale. It may be worth it to scope out sales of neighboring library systems as well.

5. Free Little Libraries

Be on the lookout for Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood or when you are traveling. They also have a website where many folks register their LFL. I have several in walking distance of my home and make at least one part of my walking route when I go out for a walk. I always try to add a few books from home that we want to donate before taking any.

6. Scholastic Book Clubs

Scholastic Book Clubs is another great way to build up your classroom library. You can send home paper or digital flyers to share with students’ families and all of the ordering is done online. You earn points through families’ orders that you can then cash in to buy books for your classroom. You can also place orders of your own. Different months have different point bonuses and deals. Similar to First Book, Scholastic often has recently publish titles (sometimes you can even pre-order), but they only have what they have. You can sign up here with my referral link and we’ll both earn $10 with your first order of $25 or more.

7. Book Giveaways

If you are on Instagram, follow publishing accounts or authors as they frequently run giveaways. Teachers like me who love books also run giveaways. Each month I run a giveaway with other teachers and book lovers to help keep classroom libraries full of new titles with diverse representation. Websites like GoodReads also run giveaways for advanced reading copies of books.

8. Donations

Don’t be afraid to ask for donations whether it is a social media post to your family and friends or an email to your students’ families. People are always happy to do a little cleaning out and it is an easy way for them to support a beloved teacher in their lives. You could also set up a specific donation campaign on a site like DonorsChoose (I have never used it so I don’t have any specific tips for success there).

Happy book shopping! Let me know in the comments if there's another possibility I missed.

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