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Trimming down a classroom library

I recently found myself facing the dreaded task of packing up my entire classroom. Trying to see this as an opportunity to reduce the number of boxes labeled only with question marks, I sorted through papers and miscellany, recycling and tossing with gusto. Math papers that I never used? Recycled without a second thought. A plastic bag filled with a mixture of sequins? Donated to the art closet. I was slimming down my classroom materials without remorse…until I came to the last section: my classroom library.

My classroom library is, as I believe nearly all libraries are, a thing of beauty. Eighteen categorized sections and counting, displayed in neat baskets or arranged in an orderly fashion on the shelves. But now, as I pictured having to lift and carry all of these boxes out of my classroom, the sheer quantity of books daunted me. Surely, there were some books that I could leave behind or donate.

Nicole_Hewes_ Classroom_Library_5

For some people, the task of sifting through those books may have been as simple as I found paring down my papers to be. But for me, a lifelong saver and hoarder of books, this was a challenge of near-mythic proportions. Almost since I learned how to read, I’ve been a rescuer of books discarded from libraries, a purchaser of those books on the “last chance” shelves. I simply cannot stand the thought of a book floating around unread, unloved, and without a shelf to call home.

In the past, as I’ve tried to pare down my own collection of books, I’ve struggled to discard titles unless I vehemently hate them (a feeling I rarely experience). But I was determined to make a good-faith effort to look through each of my classroom bins with a critical eye.

I sat down on the hard, scratched tile floor in my nearly-bare classroom and started going through my books, bin by bin, looking for outcasts that I could discard. As I sifted through the books in each category, I found books in need of repair, which I set aside to add to my “book hospital” bin, but the “consider discarding” pile remained especially lean a couple hours into the project.

As I sorted, I tried to consider what criteria might help me determine if it was time to toss a book. I was vaguely operating with the assumption that I would consider discarding books that were older and featured dated information, centered around very obscure topics, or were lackluster or unlikely to spark student engagement. But soon I found myself making exceptions to these rules — for classics and especially for books about weird topics, since you never know what book is going to pique the interest of a reluctant reader.

I’m sure you can see where this going. By the end of the day, I had several books to repair with packing tape and a small pile of eleven to discard — mostly books that contained false information (though I kept some of those, too, to show students that knowledge evolves.) I couldn’t bear the thought of a future student saying to me, “Do we have any books in our library about…?” and then thinking of a book that I’d left behind at one point in time.

So when it came time to move everything, I happily heaved all of those boxes of books and transported them across the state line, still contemplating when, if ever, it would feel okay to get rid of books.

Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



  1. I feel your pain! I have been able to overcome this difficulty by thinking about the space issue. I only have room for a certain number of books and if I’m holding on to my treasured collection, i can’t add any of the hundreds of new books I spy on the sale tables at the book shop!

  2. Eric Carpenter says:

    I feel your pain. I recently moved from a 2nd grade classroom to a school library position and had to pack up and take home my 2,000+ book classroom library. The library now sits boxed up taking up about a third of my guest bedroom because I’m pained to get rid of them.

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