What books does our primary school library need?

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: School fundamentals

Topic: World challenges

Year Group: All stages and ages

Synopsis: There are three elements to the well-organised library – space, stock and staff – that lead to a fourth, personalisation, which will help your pupils get the best from your library resources.  Here Gillian Harris from Tower Hamlets SLS looks at stock.

Gillian Harris

Gillian Harris
Tower Hamlets SLS

Librarian’s view:

A library needs quality books in it. Less is more: I so often see libraries full of out-of-date, dull and raggedy books that are not at all inviting because teachers tell me they are loathe to throw anything away, for fear they will have nothing left.  But we are not going to instil a love of reading with books like that. 

Books do go out-of-date (so does information on the internet!) they age, they get yellowing pages, they get worn and torn with lots of use and when that happens, they need to be replaced.  On the whole the recycling bin is the best place for your old books.

Your withdrawn books are not usually of a standard that the local charity shop would be able to sell, nor will tatty, out-of-date books be wanted by charities who ship books to the global South. 

It is much more effective to have a small collection of attractive, interesting, up-to-date books that can be well displayed, rather than shelves and shelves of out-of-date books that nobody seems keen to touch or read.

So, what books should you have in your library? 

There are around 180,000 children’s books published each year, and it is quite a challenge to sift these down to the small number that the school can afford to buy. 

Book selection skills involve assessing the quality of the book – be it fiction or non-fiction – as well as knowing what the library needs, what the children like to read.

Books in your library need to reflect the cultural backgrounds of the children in your school, as well as be a window into other cultures and environments that children can only discover through books. So, ensure diversity by including:

  • history from alternative viewpoints
  • maths from around the world and diverse settings
  • characters in fiction
  • books written by Black, Asian or other ethnic minority authors.

To keep up-to-date with books being published our librarians keep an eye on the following:

We also visit local bookshops – often buying from them as local bookshops need supporting whenever possible. 

A good activity when sourcing books is to take a group of children, library helpers and/or school council reps to a local bookshop and task them with choosing books for the classroom. They will need to identify books they want as well as books that they think their classmates will want.

On the shelf

When it comes to organising the books in your library, there are multiple options.

The tried and tested way to organise non-fiction is using a classification system, and the most widely used version globally is Dewey Decimal Classification. This is extremely detailed for university and specialist adult libraries. It can be simplified for secondary libraries and even more simplified for primary libraries. Children introduced to this in their primary school library acquire a skill for life and will be able to use any library they come across in adult life. 

The idea behind the classification is that as well as books on the same subject being near each other, similar subjects are also nearby.  It’s relatively easy to explain the system in a nutshell, but the nuances and nitty gritty – essential details that ensure the effectiveness of the system – less so. This could be where you need the help of a librarian or your local Schools Library Service.  A librarian brings speed and efficiency to the task that could take the uninitiated many weeks to complete.

Should children’s fiction be in alphabetical order?  Essentially yes, although you can have sections of books in genres too, such as fantasy, animal stories, historical fiction and so on. Not all books fit neatly into a genre, and so there always needs to be a “general” section, usually so large that alphabetical order just makes sense. 

Picture books in kinder boxes don’t generally need to be in any order. In fact if you try to put them in an order it just creates more work trying to reinstate it after your little treasures mix them all up.  Likewise, book spinners – their circular nature does not invite an easy arrangement, so just put them on, mix them up and let the children browse.

My view is that the more face-on display of books you can arrange, the better, while your themed displays ensure the library stays vibrant and relevant in the life of the school.

If you found this post helpful you may enjoy:

Introducing a computerised library system into your primary school: