Are you a broke teacher with a sad classroom library?  Make friends with the librarian.

Every year, I restocked my classroom library, going to bookstores, looking for used books on Amazon, and spending up a storm.  I always lost a ton of books–the best books walk quick and never seem to come back.

This isn’t the way to do it at all!

Hacking Education founder Mark Barnes suggests something different:

“Befriend the community librarian. Make it clear that you’re building a classroom library,” he said.  “Teachers are always on the lookout for used books.  Attend library events.  Encourage your students to visit the library.  Or take them there on a field trip.”

That’s good for getting kids into reading, but what about the teacher who wants to restock the classroom shelves?  Mark’s got that covered, too.

“Find out when the librarian is going to cull the shelves.  Let him know that you would love to have any extra books for your classroom library.  I picked up more than five hundred books for my classroom library in one school year after cultivating a great relationship with the local librarian.”

Five-hundred books?  That’s an awful lot of Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter.  Is this for real?

Turns out the answer is yes.  Libraries often buy extra copies of popular books, then get rid of some when the craze dies down.  Because of this, you may be able to get the books your kids want by sourcing them at local libraries.

My favorite local library puts culled books on a shelf where patrons can buy top titles–hardcovers even–for fifty cents or a dollar.  That’s far cheaper than shipping costs restocking online.

That’s not the only way to stock your classroom shelves.

Stalk garage sales: Spring is garage sale time near me.  Garage sales are hit or miss, because often people are getting rid of very old things.  Still, sometimes I get lucky and find a teen that went on to college and is parting with The Collection.

Craigslist:  Put an add in the “Wanted” section saying you’re a teacher and specifying age levels and even titles you’re looking for.  Sometimes people don’t get around to donating, but will reach out if they read a good ad.  Make sure to include a really catchy title to grab attention.  “Help! My kids can’t read!…” then say in the ad, “because they need new books.”

Donors Choose:  Crowdfunding may be an option for your class.  Many teachers get things for their classroom on Donors Choose.

Have a book drive:  At the end of every year I put a callout to students.  “If you’ve got any books you’ve outgrown or got bored with, I’ll take them.  I repeat this request at locker cleanout time at the end of the year.  I usually get a good solid bunch of teen-favorite books this way.

Any way you do it, it’s easy to get books on your shelf on a broke teacher budget.  You don’t have to get everyone’s rejects, either–you can get some pretty good stuff, just by asking, placing a free ad, or making a few friends.


Mark Barnes is a former English teacher turned writer-entrepreneur.  Mark is the co-creator of the Teachers Throwing Out Grades movement and the founder of the Hacking Learning platform and book series where educators keep busy “solving big problems with simple ideas.”