18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

Fill the shelves, foster a love of reading.

18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

There is no better way to encourage classroom reading than to give your students books. Yet, we know you don’t have the funds to constantly buy books with your own money. Here are some of our best tricks for finding cheap or free books. 

1. Create an Amazon wish list.

Have you ever used Amazon’s Wish List feature? You can create a list of books you would love to receive for the classroom and share with families or simply add a link to your email signature. Ask and (maybe) you shall receive! 

2. Visit the marketplace at First Book.

If at least 70 percent of the students in your class come from low-income families, check out First Book for your classroom library needs. First Book offers a marketplace where teachers can find new books at 50 to 90 percent off retail prices. Additionally First Book has a National Book Bank offering free books. The only catch is that you pay the shipping of between $0.35 and $0.50 per book. First Book has a huge selection, with Spanish language titles, music and arts books, global stories, STEM books, as well as ordinary fiction and nonfiction.

3. Check out Kids Need to Read.

Kids Need to Read is another program that provides free books and literary resources to schools and libraries. To be eligible for the program, 50 percent of your school population must be children living at or below the national poverty line. There is no guarantee of acceptance. However, unlike some programs that only target early readers, Kids Need to Read serves middle readers and young adults as well.

4. Apply for book grants.

There are also a number of grant opportunities available that provide funding for the purchase of children’s books. Some of these include the Snapdragon Book Foundation , The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Work together with other teachers at your school to write a killer grant and let your classroom libraries reap the benefits.

5. Tap into the Reading Resource Project.

The Literacy Empowerment Foundation sponsors the Reading Resource Project, an ongoing program that distributes softcover books to support literacy programs. Reading levels are available for pre-K through second grade. The Reading Resource Project offers book sets in Spanish as well as English, in various subjects. Recipients are required to pay shipping and handling of $0.78 per book. Team up with other grade level teachers and split the 100-book box among several classrooms!

6. See what the The Library of Congress has to offer.

For teachers in the DC-area or those already planning a trip to our nation’s capital, don’t miss The Library of Congress surplus books program to stock your classroom library. While the selection of early-level books is limited, the supply is constantly changing. The surplus books can only be received in person. However, you can send an authorized representative for your organization. If you have friends or another teacher planning a trip to the DC area, you could ask them to pick out some books for your classroom.

7. Scour resale shops.

Goodwill and children’s consignment stores are fabulous resources for inexpensive books. It can sometimes be a scavenger hunt, but you should be able to find some fun titles to add to your classroom library. You can also shop annual consignment sales as well. These typically have lower prices than stores. Find a consignment sale happening near you.

8. Look for online bargains.

In addition to finding bargain book deals at your local stores, it also helps to know where to find them online. Some of the ones you might want to check out include: Book OutletThrift BooksBetter World Books and Books A Million.

9. Use your social media to have your own book drive. 

People who are readers universally love other readers. They want to spread the love of reading to others, and they’re usually more than willing to share books. So create your own little book drive with a call-out on social media. Be as specific as possible and be sure to emphasize they should be gently used books. You could even hold a book drive with a group of teachers or your entire school. Then you can sort them as a group and distribute evenly. 

10. Go to warehouse sales.

Periodically Scholastic Book Fairs hosts warehouse sales. This is a great way to purchase books and activity sets for your classroom library at up to 80 percent off the published price. Most books are at least 50 percent off, and there are hundreds of items priced at $2 or less. Some locations even offer a build-a-box option! Grab a box, pack it with books from a selected collection of clearance items, and pay only $24.95. To find a warehouse sale in your state, just enter your zip code. Also, once you find your local event, be sure to register online to receive a special coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase or $25 off a $100 purchase.

You can also shop the online Scholastic Teacher Store. They have deals specifically for educators with hundreds of titles as low as $1. Occasionally they offer free shipping days to make it even more affordable.

11. Join a classroom reading club.

The Scholastic Reading Program is a fabulous source for acquiring books for your classroom. When parents purchase books through your classroom catalogue, you earn bonus points to spend on books for your class library. The more parents order, the more free books you receive. There are options for all parent budgets. The catalogue even features a $1 book each month. We also found this blog post that has some fabulous ideas for boosting parent purchases!

12. Sign up for BookBub deal notifications. 

If you would rather have the free books for your classroom library come to you instead of hunting for them, check out BookBub. This is a free daily email that notifies you about limited-time, free and discounted bestselling e-book titles in genres you choose. 

13. Request free books through Half Price Books.

18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

Half Price Books donates books to classrooms and school libraries. Make a requestonline and cross your fingers! Half Price Books also offers a 10-percent-off educator discount to help you save on books throughout the year.

14. Visit your local library sale.

Public libraries receive book donations on a regular basis. Most of these titles do not actually land on library shelves but instead are saved for book sales. The majority of these sales are sponsored by Friends of the Library volunteer groups. You will typically find books priced from $0.25 to $1 in a wide range of subjects and genres.

These sales are a win-win since your money goes back to supporting public library programs. Call your local library to find out when they will hold their next sale. You can also check Book Sale Finder to find sales in your state.

15. Peruse garage sales.

18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

People often sell children’s books they no longer need or want at garage sales. The prices vary, but usually you can negotiate and purchase them very inexpensively. Your best bet is to search for neighborhood-wide garage sales so you can visit a large number in the same area. Grab some teacher friends and make a fun morning out of it!

16. Ask parents for donations.

You can post a sign-up sheet during open house times and parent-teacher conferences. If parents know that donating books to the classroom is an option, they may choose your classroom over donating book they no longer want to a resale shop. Put a sticker inside donated books. Kids will love when their donated book is being enjoyed by their friends.

17. Ask the middle school or high school students to get involved.

Many middle school and high school students need service hours, and they can feel good knowing they’re bringing in books for younger kids in their district. They might even remember going to school at the same elementary school that they’re getting books for. Ask organization like the national honor society or others if they want to hold a book drive for your class or school. Students can bring in a book or two that they enjoyed in the previous grade. Then have a buddy day where her students can read the donated books to your class. Reciprocate with a book drive for another teacher in a younger grade.

18. Go digital to find free (and great) deals.

18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

If you have tablets in your classroom, a digital classroom library can be a great resource for students as well. There are a number of sites that are exceptionally helpful for finding free e-books. The most comprehensive is the Digital Book Index. This is a catalogue of all the major e-book sites, university collections, and other smaller publishers. Also be sure to check the International Children’s Digital Library. This is the world’s largest digital collection of children’s books. They have thousands of books in a variety of languages.

The Library of Congress also has a selection of free books that have been digitized. These include many illustrated children’s classics. Project Gutenberg is a collection of free electronic books. The site boasts more than 40,000 free titles. The site features all types of e-books, but there are titles for children.

Come share your best tips for getting free or cheap books in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook. 

 Plus, more ways to find cheap or free stuff for your classroom

18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library

Posted by Shellie Deringer

Shellie Deringer loves saving money and is always on the hunt for a great deal or DIY hack. She shares her favorite frugal living ideas, inspiration and deals at SimplyShellie.com.

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