How to Start a Church Library

Discussion in 'The Literary Forum' started by jwithnell, Nov 25, 2011.

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  1. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    What works (or does not work!) for having a church library?

    I am considering putting my theological books at the disposal of the rest of the congregation and encouraging a few others to do the same. I've heard of this being a vital ministry in some churches while in others, the books just gather dust in a corner somewhere.

    So what makes a church library work? What is the best method for record keeping? (I've thought of a spread sheet, but then you'd need a PC nearby.) What is the best way to organize -- by theological loci? What kind of review process do you use? I think it would be important to restrict donations to solidly reformed works with some literary merit.

    Clearly the church leadership would need to approve the idea, but I'd like to go in with a fairly detailed recommendation. The background work would be within my skill set. (I love organizing and systematizing information.)
  2. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    You hit on the central point. It seems like the key to success is having a congregation that reads. The question then is how to foster that habit?
    You might start a book club or reading circle, for one approach.

    As to record keeping, take a look at OpenBiblio software. It's free and fairly easy to set up.
    I've just begun an OPAC for the library holdings at the PCA Historical Center and have only discovered one or two bugs or faults with the software.
    [you heard it here first! :
  3. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    We make notes on a regular notebook when books are checked out and cross off the entries when they're returned. Very low-maintenance, simple system that anyone can use. Of course, that does mean that we really have no clue what's in the library, and anyone who wishes to borrow a book has to pore over all the shelves to see if we have it. It's not a very scalable system, but for our small church it works. =)
  4. O'GodHowGreatThouArt

    O'GodHowGreatThouArt Puritan Board Sophomore

    Link you posted is bad Wayne, can you remove the ] at the end of the address? It'll be fine after that.
  5. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.


    Thanks for catching that.
  6. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    I'd recommend organizing them by the Library of Congress system, or at least Dewey Decimal.

    It depends on what level to which you wish to take it. There could be some benefit to have some bad stuff - Dispensational or Roman - for comparative study, but you might want a 'bad theology' warning sticker on those so that the less sophisticated don't get confused.

    You might want to have a committee. Some folks are going to get offended when you decline their presentation of a boxed set of the "Left Behind' series. Best to have a committee rather than a lightning rod.

    If it's going to be more than a few books, or scalable, you need a system with a computer and barcode scanner.
  7. FedByRavens

    FedByRavens Puritan Board Freshman

    Good observation.
  8. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks y'all. We do have a well-read congregation, so that shouldn't be a problem. The committee idea sounds good too -- even if it's just me and one of the elders and someone else so it doesn't get unwieldy. And thanks so much Wayne for the open source library software recommendation. I had wondered if something like that might be available, and SourceForge is a very reliable site.

    I've thought about having a few "bad" titles. We all probably have some on our shelves. I sure don't want this to be a dumping ground for books. Perhaps at the beginning we'd keep a few books that consider other positions without jumping into the wrong camp.
  9. westminken

    westminken Puritan Board Freshman

    One of the PCA churches in my presbytery has a very well stocked library and has actually has a librarian on staff. The idea of it being under the authority of a committee is the best. Our library is the responsibility of the Christian Ed. committee. It might be a good idea to ask the CE if there is a line item in their budget for books.

    The bad theology idea you have is a good one. If anything is donated that would be just useless, you can always take it to Half Price Books and get a few cents for it. That is if you don't mind doing that sort of thing.
  10. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    If you are thinking of the same one I'm thinking of, it also has a bookstore section, which wouldn't be a bad idea if a church was able to cover the startup costs.
  11. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    We've had books for sale by consignment in the past. We've had some changes with the new addition to our building, but I think the "book store" will be coming back. The same addition gives us room for a library.
  12. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    I wouldn't recommend the Dewey Decimal if your going to have books focusing mainly on Christianity, because than you'd only be filling the Dewey Decimal numbers for religion, and perhaps for biography. I'd just do it alpha-order and ask for old books used by people in the church, put them in some bookshelves.
  13. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    No, I wouldn't use the Dewey system. I'm leaning toward the theological disciplines or LC. I want to use a system that can grow. And I'm not giving old books: I'm giving all the good theological titles that I have and believe others will do likewise.
  14. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    As an old duffer (got my first library card in 1959), I've never gotten used to the Library of Congress system. You end up with a book on auto mechanics next to a history of Turkey. That's an exaggeration, but not by much.
  15. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    If they deal with repairs of Fiats, the juxtaposition would be appropriate. Nothing says 'turkey' like a Fiat, in my experience.

    The LoC system makes sense once you've really used it - Dewey needs to be abolished.
  16. GulfCoast Presbyterian

    GulfCoast Presbyterian Puritan Board Junior

    We lost our "library" in Katrina (my personal one, too). The biggest issue that I have struggled with in figuring out what to do to get it back up and running at a functional level is "how to keep commentaries and reference books from being taken and then forgotten." I have thought about suggesting to the CE Committee a big expansion of the available space, with some comfy chairs and make it a "reading room" and not a "circulating library." However, someone simply chasing down "missing" books after 30 days or so might be much simpler! ;)
  17. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    FPC Jackson has a bookstore too, with pricing that is quite reasonable.

    ---------- Post added at 11:56 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:54 AM ----------

    In days when funds are tight, a library is a good idea. It's a good idea anyway to have access to books that one might not necessarily want to purchase and keep long term.

    Many churches also have a book table ministry in which books are sold at cost or near cost. In addition, it's good to make some smaller booklets available for free.
  18. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    Our church library is a huge area of ministry to our church family. My church is not large (35-40 families), and our library consists of about 3500 items. It gets a LOT of use.

    I started to take care of it about 6 years ago (making purchases, tracking circulation, doing weekly upkeep) and consider my work here to be my most important ministry, outside of my family. I could go on and on, but here are a few bits of advice that I would offer:

    Don't rely on donations. You will get older things that generally aren't all that good. Set apart a portion of the church budget for new items-- even as little as $500 a year can go a long ways, if you take advantage of special sales.

    In the beginning, you don't need to invest in more than library cards and a filing box. Once you aquire a few hundred items, or start to see a circulation of 20+ items per week, you might consider a computer purchase with some software. We use DEMCO for most needed items. Our software program doesn't save me a lot of time, but its helpful for tracking circulation and record keeping (for insurance purposes).

    The most popular items that we have are Children's Books, Marriage and Family Books, Juvenile History and Biography Books, books on Apologetics and Creation, and DVDs and CDs. Don't overlook these last items-- people like to listen to things in their car, or find a substitute for a secular movie for evening watching, but generally won't purchase these items for themself.

    If you do a weekly bulletin or monthly newsletter, give a short review of a featured item. I will write 4-5 brief sentences on something each week, and quite often find that item checked out the same day.

    We handle awkward donations by letting the member know that everything is subject to elder review, for suitability and usefulness, and offer to return any unwanted items. Things that we don't use I will box and later take to a local Bible College to donate to their library.

    Again, I stress, build the children's section. Reformation Heritage, Grace and Truth Books, and Vision Forum have some great items here. If parents start taking kids into the library to get things to read (the kids will beg them), the parents will check things out too.

    We have about 50 categories that we place books in. It's a simple system (Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Creation, Ecclesiology, Worship, Puritan Works, Marriage & Family, Biography, Church History, Commentaries, etc). Each category has a number (starting with #1) and each book has a number on the spine and library card for assigned section. Each section is arranged by author's last name. Simple, yet effective.

    I do most of the purchasing yet clear every item with an elder. I try to get a variety of things-- a wide range of topics with a wide range of ease of reading.

    Consider a special section for basic, intro level items, concerning the Reformed faith. This is good for people new to Reformed faith and practice. P&R publishes several pamphlet type items that are useful here.

    And find someone, if you won't be taking care of it yourself, that can dedicate an hour or two every week to keeping things going. For me, it's a labour of love. But a fully functioning library, as it grows, will require regular attention.
  19. Brother John

    Brother John Puritan Board Sophomore

    Timothy great point on the children's section, CDs and DVDs. I hate to say it but it almost seems like a church library would be dead on arrival without a great children's section. Sounds like your churches library is impressive, can you post some pics for us to see?
  20. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    Sure. I'll take some pics and post in a few days.
  21. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Timothy, you offer some great ideas, particularly in regard to the children. In our church, just about everyone home schools, and I am seeing a possible 2nd phase of making the non-consumables available. At the start, I'm afraid this could be overwhelming.

    I have considered offering a listing of AV materials -- for example, I have digitized (and can digitized) sermons from before our church went to an online MP3 storage system. I believe that we will start with more than 100 works so an expansible organization system will be needed from the get go. I agree about the possible pitfalls of using donated material. At the start, I believe we will have many excellent donated items (I'll have a lot of J. Edwards, C. Van Til, G. Vos, John Murray, etc., coming out of my shelves alone.) Our church has already been in the habit of purchasing books to encourage discussion on certain topics; it seems more cost effective to buy a few to have available via the library rather than individual copies.

    Anyway, keep the ideas coming and I look forward to seeing pictures :)
  22. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    We have a home-schooling church too. I don't really know why, but homeschool-type textbooks don't get used much. You may find your experience different, but that's been the case here.

    Otherwise, it sounds like you have a good starting base.

    We have a lot of AV things from Vision Forum, and these are all popular. The quality is spotty and differences of opinion vary a bit, but I have found some of their best things are those that they don't produce. Some of their stuff is very good and some average at best. Start slow and see what generates interest. We have the "Lamplighter Theater" cds and these are immensely popular, as are the Jonathan Park cds. We also have a lot of DVD's from Anwers in Genesis and other creation ministries, and these too get a lot of use. My recommendation in looking for things to interest homeschoolers is to focus on things that will supplement the families' curriculum, not be the curriculum.

    Also, in kid's books, the "Ten Boys" & "Ten Girls" series by Irene Howat are popular-- cheap and durable. Joel Beeke's "Buliding on the Rock" series is another good one to have. We have nearly all of Henty's volumes and these see a lot of use. This time of year you may be able to pick up the entire series of "Puritan Paperbacks" from Banner of Truth for a good price. All these things will do well and serve to generate interest.

    Slightly off topic here, but there are a couple of lectures by Joel Beeke availible on sermonaudio about building children's libraries (for some reason Im having trouble posting the links-- scroll down first page of his sermon listings) that have some great suggestions that could apply to a church library as well.
  23. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    That reminds me - our church library has a section of outgrown home school materials. Even though we use public schools, we supplemented the reading lessons with the materials from the church.
  24. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    These were taken with cell phone, so they're not all that clear.

    View attachment 2505

    This is where we feauture our new items, so members can see them all in one place.

    View attachment 2506

    This is our doctrinal section-- includes Theology Works, Apologetics, Creation & Ecclesiology.
  25. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

  26. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    View attachment 2509

    This is our Marriage & Family, History and Biography sections.

    View attachment 2510

    A section of DVDs. As you can see with shelves on right, I like to make use of empty space to display feautured items.
  27. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    View attachment 2511

    A weeks worth of work. This is everything currently checked out. It's a simple card box where I keep cards until items are returned. We use a laptop with ResourceMate software for tracking and records.
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