How to Build a Diverse Classroom Library

Most educators understand that to help students thrive, children’s books need to reflect and uplift a child’s own identity. This can be accomplished when students have access to diverse and inclusive children’s literature, but challenges exist in both the lack of diverse children’s books on the market and limited access to funding for teachers to acquire books for their classrooms. Here is a guide on how you can overcome these challenges to make your classroom library one in which all of your students can see themselves in the pages of a book.

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

Evaluate the Books You Have

 

Before you make any changes to your classroom library, it is important to evaluate the content and quality of the books you already have.

 

As you start to evaluate and expand your library, work with school administration to prepare for potential complaints, opposition, or censorship. Ask your school board to develop and implement policies in support of inclusive written material and clear intellectual and academic freedom statements, as well as measures to handle opposition. These policies should include a formal complaint process and indicate possible reasons for exclusion of written material.

 

Make a list of topics you want your classroom library to cover. A diverse library will include books written by or about the experience of people including (but not limited to):

  • LGBTQIA+ individuals
  • Indigenous people and people of color
  • People with disabilities
  • Families with varying socioeconomic experiences
  • Ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities

Next, clear your classroom library’s bookshelves or bins. Label the empty shelves/containers with the topics you’ve identified. Then, sort your current books into these categories, based on content and/or author demographics. Permanently remove books from your library that work against inclusion; for example, books that reinforce stereotypes or books that promote offensive depictions or descriptions.

 

Identify the types of books that are missing from your collection, based on which shelves are sparse, empty, or not varied. Remember that while it is important for children to read about racism, discrimination, and marginalization, it is essential for children to see themselves thrive. As Dorian Smith-Garcia notes, “When you’re picking stories with Black lead characters, it’s important to choose diverse plots. Not everything needs to focus on slavery, racism, and inequality all the time—the Black experience is not a limited one!”

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

Expand Your Classroom Library

 

Now that you have a better understanding of the books already in your classroom, expand your library by researching which books will fill the gaps in your collection and figuring out how to fund and acquire those books.

 

Research books that cover the topics that are missing from your current collection. You will be able to find expert help from a librarian, or you can consult online lists of books with diverse subjects from reputable sources, such as We Need Diverse Books and the American Library Association “Best of” lists. Your students might also be able to provide great recommendations!

 

Obtain funding to purchase new books. Since PTA and classroom funds are often limited, consider applying for grants through the American Library Association. Teachers in the US can receive free diverse children’s and young adult books through the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Diverse Books for Classrooms Program. If you teach in a low-income school, there are free diverse books available through We Need Diverse Books in the Classroom.

 

You can also solicit the support of your community by starting a crowdfunding campaign through organizations like PledgeCents, Teachers Pay Teachers, or Adopt A Classroom. Collaborating with other teachers, working with a local librarian, or checking with your school administration can help you to identify additional funding sources.

 

Acquire the books on your list. A great way to use funds efficiently is by shopping at public library sales, secondhand stores, or “budget” book websites. Consider asking your local indie bookstore for discounts or donations. If your funds are very limited, harness the power of social media (especially Twitter and Instagram). Many children’s book authors and bloggers host book giveaways with hashtags like #FreeBooks, #BookGiveaway, and #KidsNeedFreeBooks.

 

Finally, integrate the new books into your classroom. Don’t just put your new books on the shelf! Having a “featured read” section can highlight a new book for your students. You can also prompt interest by reading books aloud in class or integrating them into your curriculum. Encourage student ownership in caring for the books by assigning a student “librarian of the day” to organize the library. This ownership will help assure your inclusive collection lasts for many school years to come.

From Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler

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