Ideas for displaying your classroom library books - whether you want bins or no bins, and even if you don't have any book shelves!

Displaying Classroom Library Books: Bins Vs. No Bins, Shelves Vs. No Shelves

Ideas for displaying your classroom library books - whether you want bins or no bins, and even if you don't have any book shelves!

3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers have very strong opinions about the best way to display classroom library books.  Some might argue that the best way is use bins, while others think the best way is to show book spines.

But there is not simply one best way - it depends on you, your students, and your classroom.

And if your upper elementary classroom doesn't have shelves, then you have a whole other complication to worry about.  You probably aren't worried about the best way to display your books - you just want to find a place for them!

Below, find different ideas for setting up and displaying your classroom library - whether you are an advocate of bins or no bins, or whether or not you have shelves.

I sometimes recommend products and may be compensated at no cost to you if you choose to buy.

How to Set Up and Display Your Classroom Library Books if You Have Shelves

If you already have shelves that can be used for a classroom library display, then yay!  That makes your life easier - and much cheaper.

After you have figured out how you want to arrange your books, all you have to decide is if you want students to find books by looking through bins, looking at book spines, or a mixture of the two.

1. Use Book Bins / Tubs

Organizing books by tubs or bins seems to be the preferred method for the majority of upper elementary teachers.  There are several advantages to using bins:

  • Bins make it easier for students to see the cover and illustrations
  • Bins make it easier for students to see the title
  • Bins make it easier for students to sort through a lot of books and find one that grabs their attention
  • Bins are less overwhelming for elementary students
  • Bins allow for a lot of flexibility in how you sort your books
  • Bins are easy to keeping looking nice and organized!

There are some disadvantages to having bins - the main one being that it costs money to buy them.  But just like there are ways to stock your classroom library with books without breaking the bank, there are ways to get affordable bins.

  • Dollar Stores will sometimes stock tubs or bins that will work for your classroom - just know that the quality is low and you might be replacing bins regularly.
  • Hobby Lobby has great deals sometimes, you just have to be persistent and patient.  And their stuff will last longer.
  • And of course, Amazon Prime can be a lifesaver for teachers.  Sometimes your time is more valuable than the few bucks you might save driving around looking for deals.  Get a free Amazon Prime trial here.

2. No Bins - Just Show the Spine

While bins seem to be the preferred elementary school method for organizing a classroom library, there has been a movement lately to ditch the bins and just show the spines to students.  This has several advantages:

  • Book spines out is how the school library and public libraries do it, so it helps teach students how to find books in other places
  • Book spines out takes up less space
  • Book spines out doesn't require buying bins
  • You can still color coordinate your books to help students find what they are looking for

You can read more about a teacher who decided to make the switch from bins to spines out here.

If you are going to go the book spine route, consider having book dividers to help your students easily find and return books.

3. Do Both

It doesn't have to be an either/or situation - you could choose to have some of your books in bins while showing the spines for others.  Then, you get the best of both worlds!  You could:

  • use book spines for chapter books and bins for picture books
  • use book spines for most of your books, but have rotating bins for seasonal books
  • sort book spines by author, but bins by topic or genre

Do whatever works for your students and for the space you have in your classroom.  There is no best way because everyone's classroom is different.

How to Display Your Classroom Library Books if You DON'T Have Shelves

Ugh.  It's not enough that you already have to stock your classroom library using your own money, but you don't even have a good place to store the books you have bought!  All I can say is I'm sorry.  And I wish teachers were provided with everything they needed.

If you don't have shelves, then you will have to get a little more creative.

1. Get Some Shelves

While this is not a creative option, it is the easiest.  There is a reason bookshelves were created - they are a good way to store books.

Save money by building your own shelves or finding old shelves at a garage sale.

These shelves won't break the bank, will hold quite a few books if you display book spines, and won't take up too much space.

Plastic shelves are also an affordable option.

2. Use Book Bins And Take Advantage of Unused, Flat Space

I know finding unused space sounds ridiculous, as most classrooms teachers use every inch of their classroom to maximize student learning.  But if you get creative, you will probably be able to find a little extra place where you could display some books in bins.  Consider:

  • on the floor, against a wall
  • underneath windows
  • on window sills
  • on top of tables or shelves
  • underneath tables

The bins below don't take up very much space and can be crammed into all kinds of small spaces!

3. Get a Mobile Book Cart

A mobile book cart is a good option if you need every inch of space in your classroom.  You can move it around and out of the way if necessary.

You'll have to think about the size of your books and the dimensions of the book cart carefully.  Cheaper book carts like this one wouldn't be deep enough to hold a lot of picture books, but they would be perfect for chapter books.

Carts like this one are deeper, but would require some book ends or bins.

Before you buy a non-returnable cart, make sure you check the height and width of the books you want to store.

4. Book Display

This is a great option if you don't have much space - it lies flat against the wall.

Even if you do have space, it can be a great option for rotating out seasonal books or storing your "special" read aloud books.  I was lucky enough to have one provided for me by my school, and I loved it.

The sturdier, wooden ones can be pricey.  You can also find some very affordable ones made of canvas. 

5. Spinning Bookshelf

Another great (but expensive) option if you don't have shelves and don't have much space.  Like with the mobile book cart, you will want to know the dimensions of your books before buying.  Picture books are much harder to fit in bookshelves like this than chapter books!


If you are more creative and handy than I am, then a DIY option might be the cheapest and best!  One of these ideas for creative book storage is bound to work in any classroom - even one without shelves.

Never Stress Over Sub Plans Again!


Make copies, find a fiction book, and you'll be ready for any emergency that comes your way!