Skip to content

How to encourage reading for pleasure on a budget

Claire Marris

By school librarian, Kristabelle Williams

With recent research showing children and young people’s reading enjoyment increasing during the lockdown (1), and their value of school libraries as places to relax, discover books, and find sanctuary (2), the start of this new school year is an opportunity for school librarians to build on these findings in supporting students reading, learning and wellbeing.

However as real term cuts to school funding continue, school library budgets remain under the increasing pressure they were experiencing pre-pandemic. Although the School Library Association standards for Secondary School Libraries from 2015 recommended that library budgets be allocated at £15 per pupil, this has been and continues to be out of reach for many, especially state school settings as seen in the Great School Libraries survey in 2019 (3). There should be no barriers to the benefits of free access to quality literature and information; here are some tips and strategies to encourage reading for pleasure on a budget in your school library.

Alternative means of obtaining books


First of all, approach your school management for funding; it can be worth planning specific bids, for example an evidenced proposal for using Pupil Premium funding to take part in the Bookbuzz book gifting programme. If you have a Parent Teacher Association you could also work with them to fundraise to purchase books for the school library. The Foyle Foundation and Siobhan Dowd Trust both run grants schemes for purchasing books for school libraries and a successful application could have a big impact on your collection.

Awards and Giveaways

Every year you can apply to receive a set of the shortlisted books for The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize as part of running a student judging panel for the award (and a potential collaboration with your science department). The SLA also open applications for a similar free book and judging programme with their Information Book Award".

By running a school library Twitter account you can also keep an eye on publishers and authors running book giveaways. You can keep up to date with these kinds of opportunities too on the School Library Network.

Another organisation that runs regular giveaways is The Reading Agency, through its Chatterbooks programme for children and young people. School reading groups can pitch to receive sets of books to read and discuss in exchange for anonymised review sheets, which are shared with the publisher and author. This makes them a great opportunity for children to practice their writing skills and articulate their thoughts on a book, helping them to become more confident readers. Sign up to the Chatterbooks newsletter to receive updates on new offers and opportunities.


Another way to help build your collection is to invite book and resource donations to your library from your school community; it can be especially worth asking for recent back copies of any magazines and periodicals staff subscribe to. Designate a shelf or trolley for free books for students in the library (and possibly one in your staffroom) for those books that you don’t put into your collection; if you receive titles that are younger than your intake, it can be an opportunity for students to choose, gift and read books to their siblings.

Try keeping a selection of free books at parents and carers’ evenings and donate any unwanted titles on to a local charity shop, pass them on to your local public library, or put them in a book sale to raise funds. Why not get in touch with your local bookshop to see if they can set up a wish list for your school library? You can then share this link with your school community and online for people to purchase and donate the titles you need for your collection.

Book ownership is really important for students and running book swap events can be another great way for them (and staff!) to get their hands on fresh stories and create space for discussion and recommendations. The Children’s Book Project partner with schools to donate new and gently used books so you can run book gifting events and the incredible Free Books Campaign also work to get brilliant new books by authors of colour to young people unable to access them. It’s worth enquiring with your English department if they are having a clear out of any set texts as this can provide a big stock of books to give away.

Library services

Encourage local library membership as they often have good new stock and also extensive e-book and audiobook collections. Have a chat with staff and see if there’s any requests you can put in for them to purchase; Lewisham Libraries work with school librarians in our borough to ensure branches have copies of the Lewisham Book Award shortlisted titles, which helps increase student access. For some schools School Library Services can also be a cost-effective way for you to augment and keep your library collection up to date.

Ways to enable multiple children to enjoy books when fewer copies are available


All state funded schools and most independent schools are covered by the Copying Licensing Agency Education License, which means that “one article, chapter, one short story or poem or 5% of the total, whichever is greater” of a work can be copied and shared with students and staff. This is an important educational tool at librarian’s disposal to enable multiple students to enjoy extracts, short stories and poetry. If photocopying is a budgetary limiter, and your school owns a copy of the book, the CLA’s Education Platform can be used to access a digital version of the book from which digital copies can be generated and downloaded or emailed out to students. Links to copies can also be made available on your VLE.


Some publishers also make e-books available for purchase for multiple users. For example, Badger Learning allows you to download titles as PDFs and upload them onto your VLE to be read by multiple students simultaneously. Their Papercuts series of short and super scary horror stories are particularly popular with teens. Many librarians are now setting up e-book libraries due to the need for remote access during the pandemic, and some vendors offer free trials and simultaneous access on many of their titles.

Reading aloud

Whether it is reading a whole book or an excerpt, continuing to read aloud to students in secondary school is vital and can help when fewer copies are available. Novels in verse in particular, by authors such as Kwame Alexander, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, Manjeet Mann, Sarah Crossan, Kip Wilson, Meg Grehan, Dean Atta and Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, are fantastic to read aloud.

It’s good to mix it up with non-fiction too – such as Black and British by David Olusoga (2019) and The Most Incredible True Football Stories (You never Knew) by Matt Oldfield and Ollie Mann (2019). Many authors and publishers have been sharing read aloud videos over the past year; there are some treasures on the Moon Lane TV and BookTrust YouTube channels waiting to be shared with your students.

As someone who was properly hooked on reading as a kid by Paul Jennings’ short story collections and who now loves reading sci-fi and fantasy short stories by authors including Ursula K Le Guin and N. K. Jemisin, I know the addictive and joyous quality this form can have. Anthologies such as A Change Is Gonna Come (2017) and illustrated stories such as Shaun Tan’s award-winning collections work really well, as do interactive reading activities in the form of Choose your own Adventure style books and playscripts, which work well with small groups too.

Practical tips for creating a school library space that encourages reading for pleasure


To help create a vibrant school library space, check out author, publisher and literacy event (such as National Poetry Day) websites as many have printable resources and opportunities to request free printed materials and posters. You can also order free promotional packs which include posters and bookmarks for new books through The Reading Agency’s shop. Try creating book bunting using MS Publisher (fill a triangle shape with an image!) and using design websites such as Canva to create bright signage and book lists.


Work with your DT department to explore the possibility of making book stands to help display books in your collection – having lots of titles facing outwards helps fill space and invites browsing. As well as promoting books covers on your boards, create interactive displays with QR codes to free book chapters online and display students’ book reviews and drawings.


Book penpals in a fantastic free programme where schools are paired with an author or illustrator to exchange book recommendations, writing and drawing tips by post. Students don’t have to all be reading the same title to take part in exciting manga book clubs and book clubs where everyone can discuss and share what they are enjoying; getting teachers involved in running discussion groups in the library using articles and copied chapters can also be very successful. And of course, the Summer Reading Challenge is a brilliant way to combat the summer holiday reading dip and encourage children aged 4-11 to discover and review new books.

Deciding which books to buy

Selection aids

It can be tricky deciding which books to spend a limited budget on but there are lots of resources out there to assist librarians with stock selection. Check out Books for Keeps, Kirkus Reviews, and The School Librarian for reviews. Books for Topics and LetterBox Library are great for booklists, as well as The Reading Agency’s regularly updated resources page. The Reading Agency’s Book Sorter can also be used to search reviews written by children on the books they are enjoying. Love Reading 4 Kids is great for finding sample chapters, whilst Teen Librarian" and A Library Lady are go-tos for news, interviews and articles. Finally, bookshop websites are the perfect place for discovering the latest releases, for example Gay’s the Word, and reading awards such as the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal, Diverse Book Awards, the Jhalak Prize and Little Rebels book awards can provide selection guidance too.


Some publishers are happy to send out physical proof copies for your review and you can also sign up to Netgalley to receive digital proofs of upcoming releases, which can help you with purchasing decisions.

Student voice

Make sure you are hearing directly from your students what they would like to see in the library. Have a physical and digital book request box, run questionnaires and conduct student feedback groups to help you identify how to build your collection to meet their needs and interests.

Kristabelle’s top books for reading aloud

The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle
ISBN: 978-1781129494

Boy, Everywhere by AM Dassau
ISBN: 978-1910646649

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicholl
ISBN: 978-1913311131

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore
ISBN: 978-1913322366

Proud edited by Juno Dawson
ISBN: 978-1788950602


1 (Clark, C. and Picton, I., 2020. Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during lockdown. London: National Literacy Trust)

2 (Margaret K. Merga, 2021. Libraries as Wellbeing Supportive Spaces in Contemporary Schools, Journal of Library Administration, 61:6, 659-675, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2021.1947056)