10 Ways to Build a Classroom Library on a Budget

It's no secret that teachers don't make tons of money and that they often spend their own cash to purchase classroom supplies. I can't even tell you how much of my own money goes into my classroom each year - I really should be keeping track to deduct it from my taxes, but that's an entirely different post!

Over the years, I've acquired quite a collection of children's literature, amassing 20+ file boxes of books and miscellaneous teaching materials - It's a total mess right now since our move this past summer. I would love to have it all organized beautifully on bookshelves... but it looks like this right now:

My husband HATES this collection and is constantly pestering me to get rid of some of them. I repeatedly defend my ever growing collection by try to explain that being a teacher is a close cousin of having a hoarding problem...However, I am not actually a hoarder.  Teachers just keep anything and everything that they think might be useful in their classroom...  over the next 25 years!

I'm not a hoarder, I'm a teacher!
Back to the classroom library... So how have a created an extensive classroom library without going desperately broke?! The majority of my books have been acquired cheaply through donations, thrift stores, yard sales and school book clubs. You’d be surprised at what you might find when you make the effort to look through the stacks of books at your local thrift store or who might donate books once they know you’re a teacher trying to stock your classroom without breaking the bank.

When building your classroom library, I personally think that there are two primary challenges: knowing where to look and knowing what to look for (I'll get to my thoughts on this in another post). 

Where to Look:

1. Thrift Stores Check out your local thrift stores for a wide selection of used children’s books a low prices – often between $.25-$2.00 each. Don’t limit yourself to just the Goodwill or Salvation Army Store, but checkout smaller thrift stores and look for lesser-known shops. Consider the area that the thrift shop is located in; some of  my best finds  have come from thrift stores located near upscale neighborhoods!

2. Consignment Sales/Stores - Consignment stores can be a good place to find books for your classroom. Often the books at consignment stores are in better condition than thrift stores, as they have to meet certain standards to be accepted for consignment. Prices at consignment stores are often a little higher than thrift stores, but still very reasonable. 

3. Yard Sales/Garage Sales/Flea Markets - Yard sale season is coming up soon! A quick outing on a Saturday morning can be very productive for a motivated teacher. I usually mention that I’m a teacher while I’m searching through a seller's books and often they'll end up being extra generous with their pricing once they know that you’re a broke teacher trying to stock your classroom. I've even had sellers simply hand over boxes of books for free just to get rid of them and know that they'll be used again!

4. Freecycle.org - Freecycle groups are located all over the United States and are specific to cities and regions. You can find a local Freecycle group by simply using Google to search your state & city. Individuals post items that they want to get rid of or items that they’re seeking to the group and people respond via email to claim, pick up and offer items. Books are usually offered as a ‘lot’ and can sometimes be poor quality and selection, but whatever you don’t want can always be Freecycled again or donated to a local thrift shop after you’ve picked through them.

5. Amazon Used Books - I absolutely love Amazon used books! You can find just about any book that you’re searching for and usually pay only a few dollars for the book - often $.01 plus shipping! I have rarely had problems with the quality of the books, but shipping is usually media mail and can take several weeks to arrive.

6. Craigslist.org - Craigslist is a great place to find things for your classroom. Sometimes retiring teachers will post their items for sale on the site and you could score a huge lot of teaching materials for cheap. Books are often offered as a 'lot,' but since you can see the items before paying for them, you'll be more likely to get books that you can actually use. 

7. Library Sales - When the library clears out extra books, they usually offer them for purchase at a very cheap price. You might be surprised what the library is getting rid of! 

8. eBay - Often times, books can be purchased cheaply by 'lot' on ebay. If you take a little time to search through postings, you might find a seller that organizes book lots by age/reading level and/or type of book. Some sellers will even take special requests and create a custom book box for you. Don't be afraid to ask! 

9. School Book Clubs - Book clubs offered through school are a great way to purchase new books at low prices. I usually save my money for special collections of books based on seasonal theme, author or audio books. When the book order flyer arrives, I feel like a little kid with a pen and a toy catalogue! You might even earn points from all of the books that your students purchase that can be applied to purchases for your classroom! 

10. Warehouse Sales - If you have a Scholastic warehouse nearby (they're located all over the country), it's absolutely worth making a drive for their warehouse sales that they throw every few months. New books can be purchased for a couple of dollars and the selection is pretty good. Make sure that you go on one of the first days of the sale for the best selection! 

Scholastic Warehouse SALE... a teacher's dream!


11. Social Media - Why not harness the full power of your social media accounts?! Post a request for gently used books that would be suitable for your classroom and see what people have to offer. Who knows, you might get a huge donation from someone who was cleaning out their kids' old books! You might also look for people who are selling books on social media - this is relatively new, but there are many used book sellers on Instagram that offer hard to find books, in good condition and many will even take requests. Two of my favorite book sellers on IG are @togetherweread @retroriotreads

Any places that I left off of my list?

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