How to Set Up an Elementary School Library

Creating an Elementary School Library at a Small Private School is Not as Challenging as it May Seem.

Reading is an essential part of the education experience. While schools teach children to think, reading suggests what to think about. Unfortunately, many small schools, particularly small private or parochial schools, struggle enough in providing the basics, and must forgo auxiliary services like a school library. There are some easy and inexpensive steps to creating your first school library.

  • Room
  • Books
  • Tables/chairs/desks
  • Shelves
  • Paint (optional)
  • Building materials (optional)

1 Prepare the Space

2 Obtain a room

Obtain a room. An unused classroom or office is great, but an elementary school library does not necessarily need a huge room. For a small school, an over-sized storage closet can suffice.

3 Have a library work day

Have a library work day. Recruit handy parents to assist with activities such as painting walls, sanding desks, and perhaps building or repairing used shelves.

4 Scour the campus

Scour the campus for unused furniture; such as tables, chairs and desks.

5 Get Books

6 Send out a parent letter

Send out a parent letter stating that the school is starting a library. Ask them to donate any books they no longer use. Suggest that parents watch for inexpensive books at places such as garage sales and resale shops.

7 Start an extra-credit incentive for donating books

Start an extra-credit incentive for donating books. Encourage students to talk to neighbors, friends and relatives. Reward the top donors with a fun activity, such as an in-school pizza party.

8 Lists the National Education Association's

The site lists the National Education Association's, "Top 100 Books for Children." Distribute this list and give extra points for children who donate these books.

9 Get the Money

10 Have a fundraiser

Have a fundraiser. The library may need shelves, chairs, tables, decorations, and new books. Choose activities that require little, if any, overhead. Try partnering with the PE department to host a fun run, or taking donations in front of grocery or department stores.

11 Consider hosting a pledge drive

Consider hosting a pledge drive. Pledges do not have to be much. If six people commit to $10 per month, that equates to 4 to 5 brand new books a month.

12 Ask everywhere for educator discounts

Ask everywhere for educator discounts. Borders, Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble offer educator discounts of 20% to 25%.

13 Set Up a System

14 Spend a Saturday

Spend a Saturday as a public library volunteer to observe how a professional library runs.

15 Arrange meetings

Arrange meetings with other area school librarians for ideas.

16 Appoint a zealous parent as the head librarian

Appoint a zealous parent as the head librarian. Allow him to decide how he would like to set up the library.

17 Encourage the librarian

Encourage the librarian to gather a group of parent volunteers for staff. Small school libraries usually have limited hours. Have your new librarian set the library hours, and maintain a parent rotation schedule.

18 Get on the Web

19 Visit the Resources

Visit the Resources for School Librarians web page for advice on setting up and running a school library.

20 Check

Check with your state's education department for ideas and resources, as found on The Resources for School Librarians web page also gives specific state by state policies. Such standards will be mandatory for public schools, but check with your school administrator or legal resource to see if your private school must be in compliance.

21 Consider joining the American Association

Consider joining the American Association of School Librarians. This division of the American Library Association provides resources and funding opportunities for members. Membership costs $115 for the first year. If the price is steep for your school's budget, regularly visit the website,, for informative and helpful articles.

22 Sign up

Sign up for the "Read Across America" newsletter, as found on the National Education Association website. The literacy advocate group of NEA, Read Across America, provides resources, events and articles centered on encouraging literacy. Their weekly e-newsletter links to resources, ideas and even grant opportunities.

  • While it helps to get ideas from professional librarians and professional library organizations, the amateur librarian need not be intimidated. Many parochial schools operate just fine with small, part-time, parent-run donor collections.

Layla Velasquez is a freelance writer living in Texas. After graduating with a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University in 2005, she spent three long years as a corporate cube rat. In early 2009, she began working for a traveling dance company as the private educator for a gifted child.