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Setting Up a Library: A Resource Guide

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 16

“How do I set up a library?” is a question the American Library Association receives from people in a wide range of situations. In some cases, the need is to organize a large personal or office collection; in others it is to set up a library where there is, at the beginning, only the desire to have library service where there is none, such as in a village where a Peace Corps volunteer is working.

This fact sheet will provide an overview of resources common to all types of libraries, along with some references for each of seven specific situations. Two situations—setting up a school or public library—may include the initial phases leading to hiring a fully credentialed staff. These will be taken up first, as the resources for these libraries will also be useful to those working to establish the other types of libraries. The other four situations are those which may need to be run by volunteer or other available staff, at least for the short term. However, as libraries do tend to grow, it is best to utilize sound library management practices from the outset insofar as possible.

Establishing a new library, or developing an existing collection of books and other materials into a library, involves several functions: creating the oversight or governance structure, defining the mission and purpose of the organization, securing funding, planning, developing a collection, securing or building an appropriate space, equipping the space, and marketing services. In all cases, planning for the collection should come first: 

“A library collection should fit the mission for which it is created. The number of books it holds does not determine its worth. A well-selected library of 25 books could very well be an excellent library for its purpose.”
-- Erma Jean Loveland

Selected book titles from the American Library Association, including a few from the ALA Editions Administration and Management list at the ALA Online Store <>, and some titles from other library publishers, such as those in the Neal-Schuman How-To-Do-It Manuals book series for libraries and library professionals, appear throughout this document.



The following are general resources and will provide a starting point: 

Eaglen, Audrey. Buying Books: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2000.

Moorman, John. Running A Small Library: A How-to-Do-It Manual. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2006.

Reed, Sally Gardner. Small Libraries: A Handbook for Successful Management. 2nd ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

Sager, Donald J. Small Libraries: Organization and Operation. 3rd ed. Ft. Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press, 2000.


The ALA Library has several fact sheets on various aspects of setting up a library; all may be accessed from the main ALA Library Fact Sheets page at <>. The ones relevant to setting up a library include:

Library Products and Services (ALA Library Fact Sheet 9)
Building Libraries and Library Additions: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (ALA Library Fact Sheet 10)
Weeding Library Collection: A Selected Annotated Bibliography for Collection Evaluation (ALA Library Fact Sheet 15)
How to Acquire Cataloging Tools (ALA Library Fact Sheet 18)

Automating Libraries: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (ALA Library Fact Sheet 21)
Library Fund Raising: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (ALA Library Fact Sheet 24)


For information on starting a school library, begin with the online resource guides compiled by ALA's American Association of School Librarians (AASL, a division of ALA <>):

AASL Resource Guides for School Library Media Program Development  

Starting a School Library Media Program from Scratch 

Collection Development 

Standards and Guidelines 

Facts and Figures
(National school library surveys) 

Funding Opportunities  

Additionally, each state will have specific resources available through governmental and library agencies, such as: 

* Your state department of education, as they may have some guidelines; see a list of web sites at:

* Your state school library media association - see a list of their web sites at:

Selected book titles from the American Library Association and other publishers:

Morris, Betty J. Administering the School Library Media Center. 4th ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

Santa Clara County (Calif.) Office of Education. Where Do I Start?: A School Library Handbook, Worthington, OH: Linworth Pub., 2001.

Stein, Barbara L. and Risa W. Brown. Running a School Library Media Center: A How-To-Do-It Manual. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2002.

Wasman, Ann M. New Steps to Service: Common-Sense Advice for the School Library Media Specialist. Chicago: ALA, 1998.

Woolls, Blanche. The School Library Media Manager. 3rd ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

Yesner, Bernice L. and Hilda L. Jay. Operating and Evaluating School Library Media Programs: A Handbook for Administrators and Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998.

Also see the web site of the non-ALA periodical: A Service of School Library Journal. Reed Business Information. <

NOTE: School Library Journal now requires site registration for access to online full-text versions of articles appearing in the print edition; a 30-day free trial is available on the site. Access to all online articles is automatically granted to print subscribers, so check to see if your local library already has a print subscription and can access the article for you. 


Within the United States, the American Library Association can provide guidance and information on your project. However, because state library laws vary, checking with your state library should be an early step, in order to get an idea of what it takes to establish a library, and what kind of assistance, including financial, is available for your library. See a list of the web sites for state libraries, maintained by the State of Wisconsin, at:

State Library Web Sites

In addition, the library association in your state will also have resources to assist you. The list of state library association web sites is available at: 

Selected book titles from the American Library Association and other publishers:

Alabaster, Carol. Developing an Outstanding Core Collection: A Guide for Public Libraries. Chicago: ALA, 2002.

Brumley, Rebecca. The Public Library Manager's Forms, Policies, and Procedures Handbook with CD-ROM. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2004.

Cassell, Kay Ann, and Elizabeth Futas. Developing Public Library Collections, Policies, and Procedures: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Small and Medium-Sized Public Libraries. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1991.

Driggers, Preston, and Eileen Dumas. Managing Library Volunteers: A Practical Toolkit. Chicago: ALA, 2002.

Hage, Christine Lind. The Public Library Start-Up Guide. Chicago : ALA, 2004.

Hallam, Arlita W. and Teresa R. Dalston. Managing Budgets and Finances: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians and Information Professionals. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2005.

Hennen, Thomas. Hennen's Public Library Planner: A Manual and Interactive CD-ROM. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2004.

McCabe, Gerard B. and James R. Kennedy, eds. Planning the Modern Public Library Building. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2003.

Nelson, Sandra, and June Garcia. Creating Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity. Chicago: ALA, 2003.

Weingand, Darlene E. Administration of the Small Public Library. 4th ed. Chicago: ALA, 2001.


For information on starting an academic library--that is, a college or university library--begin with the online resource guides compiled by ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of ALA <>):

ACRL Standards & Guidelines (by topic)

Standards for Libraries in Higher Education
NOTE: Take a look at the new "Standards for Libraries in Higher Education" as it provides a good framework for crafting policies in many areas of concern to accreditation commissions.

Guidelines for University Library Services to Undergraduate Students

Guidelines for Branch Libraries in Colleges and Universities

Selected book titles from the American Library Association--see the ACRL Publications Catalog page, which lists the newest titles in the ACRL Publications in Librarianship (PIL) series and ACRL's CLIP (College Library Information Packets)  Notes and also publications on academic library administration and management, collection development, and student instruction/information literacy--and other publishers:

Budd, John M. The Changing Academic Library: Operations, Cultures, Environments. Publications in Librarianship, No. 56. Chicago: ALA, 2005.

Goodson, Carol. Providing Library Services for Distance Education Students: A How-To-Do It Manual. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2001.

Grimes, Deborah J. Academic Library Centrality: User Success Through Service, Access, and Tradition. Publications in Librarianship, No. 50. Chicago: ALA, 1998.

Hastreiter, Jamie A., Marsha Cornelius and David W. Henderson, compilers. ALA Mission Statements for College Libraries. 2nd ed. CLIP Note #28. Chicago: ALA, 1999. 

Head, John W. and Gerard B. McCabe. Introducing and Managing Academic Library Automation Projects. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Johnston, Wanda K., ed. Library and Learning Resource Programs Evaluation and Self-Study. CJCLS (Community and Junior Colleges Library Section) Guide #3. Chicago: ALA, 1998.

Kelly, Maurie Caitlin and Andrea Koss, eds. Making the Grade: Academic Libraries and Student Success. Chicago: ALA, 2002.

Montanelli, Dale S. and Patricia F. Stenstrom, eds. People Come First: User Centered Academic Library Service. Publications in Librarianship, No. 53. Chicago: ALA, 1999.

Nelson, William Neal and Robert Fernekes. Standards and Assessment for Academic Libraries: A Workbook. Chicago: ALA, 2002.


The American Library Association can provide guidance and information on your project in general terms, and in the American context. It is imperative to work with the governmental agencies and main library organizations of the designated country for any available assistance, both administrative and financial. 

View the information available courtesy of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA <>):

National Libraries of the World: Address List  

Library Associations Around the World 
(joint IFLA/ALA project)

Use the information on the book donation fact sheet in reverse; see if you are eligible to apply for and receive the books donated to the agencies and organizations listed:

ALA Library Fact Sheet 12
Sending Books to Needy Libraries: Book Donation Programs

Also, check the resources offered by ALA's International Relations Office:

ALA International Relations Office (IRO) 

        Book Donation Programs

        International Donation and Shipment of Books

Those working to establish a public library overseas may wish to consult the IFLA publication, The Public Library Service: IFLA / UNESCO Guidelines for Development, which was prepared by a working group of the section of Public Libraries chaired by Philip Gill. This publication can be purchased from its publisher, K.G. Saur, or freely accessed online as a free Adobe Reader PDF file at <>. Philip Gill described the publication this way, saying, "The publication of these new IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines for Public Libraries, following wide consultation, present librarians worldwide with standards and guidelines which will help them develop public libraries relevant to the information age. In this exciting and complex information world, it is vitally important for those in search of knowledge, information and creative experience that they succeed. I believe that these guidelines will help public librarians around the world meet that challenge.”

These online publications also provide guidance:

“How to Set Up and Manage a Resource Centre.” London: Healthlink Worldwide, 2003. <>.

Healthlink Worldwide described this publication: "This manual contains practical information on all aspects of setting up and managing a resource centre, from planning, fundraising and finding a suitable location, to collecting and organising materials, developing information services, and monitoring and evaluating the work of the resource centre."

Wendell, Laura [for the General Information Programme and UNISIST]. "Libraries For All!: How to Start and Run a Basic Library." Paris: UNESCO, 1998. <>.

Laura Wendell described this publication in the preface: "This book is for community leaders, librarians, library committees, volunteers, aid workers and others who are interested in the practical aspect of starting and maintaining a successful library. Throughout the developing world, countless dedicated people respond to the pressing need for information in their communities by helping to start a library. They often have no formal training in library science and overcome enormous difficulties to establish collections of resources that enrich their communities. This is a practical guide to help communities meet the challenges of setting up and running a library. It was inspired by my own experiences setting up a library with a community in West Africa and shaped by letters from hundreds of other aid workers and community librarians from around the globe. First-hand experience with the frustrations, challenges and rewards of setting up a library has given me a deep sense of respect for and solidarity with community librarians facing similar challenges. Like many of them, I am not a librarian by training and had to be very resourceful in seeking help and advice, which I have been fortunate to receive from many people and organisations."


The most comprehensive information on establishing and administering special or corporate libraries is from the Special Libraries Association (SLA <>).

In particular, SLA offers its Setting Up and Managing Special Libraries (Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1999) and a number of other resources via interlibrary loan; see listing and details at the SLA web site, at:

SLA derives much of its strength from its network of 58 regional chapters. For expert assistance in your area, contact the chapter nearest you; see a list of SLA Chapters online, at:

SLA is also organized into divisions representing subject interests, fields, or types of information-handling techniques. For expert assistance for your type of library, contact the appropriate division; see a list of SLA Divisions at:


SLA also provides resources for the one-person library, or OPL, that make up a great many special and corporate libraries. Access the section of the SLA web site for the Solo Librarians Division, which specifically administers to OPLs, at:

View the Solo Librarians Division Resources page, at: 

Additional print and online resources for the OPL:

Berner, Andrew and Guy St. Clair. The Best of OPL II, Selected Readings from "The One-Person Library," 1989-1994.  Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1996.

Siess, Judith. "Information Bridges International Inc./The One Person Library." <>.

Siess, Judith. "OPL Plus (not just for OPLs anymore) (web log)." <>.

Siess, Judith. "Starting a Library." The One Person Library 16 (9): 1-3 (2000).

(Reprinted in:
Siess, Judith, ed., and Jonathan Lorig, compiler. The Essential OPL, 1998-2004: The Best of Seven Years of "The One-Person Library, A Newsletter for Librarians and Management." Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005.)


Selected book titles from the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, and other publishers:

D'Angelo, Barbara J. "Assembling and Managing Virtual Libraries." Library Technology Reports 37, no. 5 (September 2001).

Evans, G. Edward and Margaret R Zarnosky. Developing Library and Information Center Collections. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 1999.

Kreitz, Patricia A. "Librarians as Knowledge Builders: Strategic Partnering for Service and Advocacy." College & Research Libraries News 65, no. 1 ( January 2004): 8-10, 15. 

Lee, Hur-Li. "Information Spaces and Collections: Implications for Organization." Library and Information Science Research 25, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 419-436.

Moorman, John A. Managing Small Library Collections in Business and Community Organizations: Advice for Nonlibrarians. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989. 

Mount, Ellis and Renee Massoud. Special Libraries and Information Centers: An Introductory Text. 4th edition. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1999.

Nuckolls, Karen A. "Change in a Small Law Library: How We Moved Our Department into the 21st Century."  Information Outlook 9, no. 4 (April 2005): 23-24.

Porter, Cathy A., Mary E. Beall, Janice F. Chindlund, Rebecca S. Corliss, Christina M. Krawcyzk, Sara R. Tompson, and Lorri A. Zipperer. Special Libraries: A Guide for Management. 4th edition. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1997. 

Rashid, Shahida and Taodhg Burns. "Innovation and Survival: A Case Study in Planning Medical Library Services." Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 86, no. 4 (October 1998): 508-517. Also available online at <>.

Schwartz, Jim. "Thinking of Managing an Information Center?" Information Outlook 8, no. 8 (August 2004): 22-24. 

Stuhlman, Daniel. "Think Like a Business, Act Like a Library: Library Public Relations." Information Outlook 7, no. 9 (September 2003).

Tegart, Shelley. "Setting up a Library from Scratch." Wired West 5, no. 1 (31 October 2001). Also available online at <>.


There are a number of cataloging software programs designed for small special or one-person libraries, including the list of software that appears on the Church and Synagogue Library Association Links web page. Other programs may be found by doing a Google search on the terms " library catalog software" or accessing the list of collection manager software at the Google Directory.

Or, you can check for various smaller "book cataloging" programs within the web site:
" is a service from CNET: The Computer Network that features the Virtual Software Library (VSL) search engine and much more. You can search for, browse, and download the best software-including freeware, shareware, demos, fixes, patches, upgrades-from the top managed software archives and computer vendor sites on the Internet." 
--from the Resources web page of ALA's Public Library Association (PLA, a division of ALA) at <>.


The most comprehensive information on establishing and administering church and synagogue libraries is from the Church and Synagogue Library Association (CSLA <>). 

There are several denomination-based websites with extensive information and bibliographies which would be of use to church libraries. A list of some of these may be found at:

        Libraries in Churches

Another online resource for church libraries, with links to suppliers and other resources, is: 

        The Church Library: An Outline of Procedure, 3rd Revised Edition
        by Erma Jean Loveland, 2000

Synagogue libraries may want to contact the Synagogue, School & Center (SSC) Division of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL <>) for further assistance; see the SSC section of the AJL web site, at:

Also, there is the online article, Building a Home Jewish Library, from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ <>), at:

See the entire list of CSLA Library Services publications at <> as well as the organization's Library Services Checklist of library set-up and recommended reading list bibliographies at <> and the Basic Supply List for Congregational Libraries at <>. 

Scroll down to the center of the CSLA Links page at <> for brief lists of links to the web sites of companies and organizations that can provide your library with Library Supplies and Furnishings, Resources, and, important to cataloging your collection, Software.


Selected online resources as well as book titles from the Church and Synagogue Library Association and other publishers:

A Policy and Procedure Manual for Church and Synagogue Libraries: A Do-It-Yourself Guide. 2nd rev. ed. CSLA Guide No. 9. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 1998. Description available online at <>.

Beck, Linda. A Handbook for Church Librarians: Everything You Need to Know to Create, Organize, and Manage a Successful Church Library. Minneapolis: Lutheran Church Library Association Resource, 2002.

Corrigan, John T. Guide for the Organization and Operation of a Religious Resource Center. Haverford, PA: Catholic Library Association, 1986.

Deitrick, Bernard. A Basic Book List for Church Libraries. 6th rev. ed. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 2002. Description available online at <>.

Dotts, Maryann J. You Can Have a Church Library; Start, Enhance, and Expand Your Religious Learning Center - A Step-by-Step Guide for Church Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.

Fox, Linda S. The Volunteer Library: A Handbook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1999.

McMichael, Betty. The Church Librarian's Handbook: A Complete Guide for the Library and Resource Center in Christian Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Smith, Ruth S. Getting the Books Off the Shelves: Making the Most of your Congregation's Library. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 1991.

---. Setting Up A Library, How to Begin or Begin Again. 2nd Rev. ed. CSLA Guide No. 1. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 1994. Description available online at <>.

Ward, Lois H. Developing an Effective Library: Ways to Promote Your Congregational Library. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 2003.


There are two recent books written on organizing one’s home library:

Coblentz, Kathie. Your Home Library: The Complete System for Organizing, Locating, Referencing, and Maintaining Your Book Collection (with CD-ROM). Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.

Ellis, Estelle and Caroline Seebohm, authors, and Christopher Simon Sykes, illustrator. At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995.

As mentioned previously, there are a number of cataloging software programs designed for small libraries, including home libraries, such as the list of software that appears on the Church and Synagogue Library Association Links web page. Other programs may be found by doing a Google search on the terms "library catalog software" or accessing the list of collection manager software at the Google Directory.

Or, you can check for various smaller "book cataloging" programs within the web site:
" is a service from CNET: The Computer Network that features the Virtual Software Library (VSL) search engine and much more. You can search for, browse, and download the best software-including freeware, shareware, demos, fixes, patches, upgrades-from the top managed software archives and computer vendor sites on the Internet." 
--from the Resources web page of ALA's Public Library Association (PLA, a division of ALA) at <>.

For information on keeping your home library in good condition, see the following web page from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Work (AIC), at:

Caring For Your Books


Several web sites provide tips on setting up home libraries for children, including: 

Building A Family Library - RIF (Reading is Fundamental, Inc.)

Building A Home Library - Natomas (CA) Unified School District (NUSD)

Creating a Home Library for Your Family on a Limited Budget - Verizon Enlighten Me

Creating A Home Literacy Environment - Idaho State Library

And don't forget the aforementioned Building a Home Jewish Library article, noted above.

Most importantly, visit your own local public library for further assistance, advice and suggestions.

See ALA's Recommended Reading page for book titles.

NOTE: The "shortcut" link to this web page is <>.

February 2007

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.

Related Links

Planning, Renovating, Expanding, and Constructing Library Facilities in Hospitals, Academic Medical Centers, and Health Organizations - First Chapter (pdf)
How do you set up and run a Consumer Health Library? (Medical Library Association)
Starting and Managing an Information Center (Special Libraries Association)