Setting Up a Library: A Resource Guide

ALA Library Fact Sheet 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 some specific situations. 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


General Information

Public Library
Academic Library
Church Library, Synagogue Library
Home Library, Family Library

For information about setting up --

  • an international library, a library outside of the USA, please see Fact Sheet 16a
  • a school library, please see Fact Sheet 16b
  • a special library (medical, office, small corporate, one-person, law), please see Fact Sheet 16c


General Information

The general resources books found on this Library Management list at will provide a starting point.

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. The ones relevant to setting up a library include:

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Public Library

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 Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the federal agency for libraries, at:

State Libraries: IMLS State Programs

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:

See the Public Library Standards page from the ALA Professional Tips Wiki.

Additional public libraries news and resources are continually updated at Delicious.


Selected book titles from the American Library Association and other publishers appear on the Public Libraries - Administration list at, including:

Alabaster, Carol. Developing an Outstanding Core Collection: A Guide for Public Libraries . 2nd edition. Chicago: ALA, 2010.

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 . 2nd edition. Chicago: ALA, 2010.

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.

Landau, Herbert. The Small Public Library Survival Guide: Thriving on Less . Chicago: ALA, 2008.

Larson, Jeanette and Herman L. Totten. The Public Library Policy Writer: A Guidebook with Model Policies on CD-ROM. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2008.

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.

Stueart, Robert D. and Barbara B. Moran. Library and Information Center Management, Seventh Edition. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007.

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

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Academic Library

For information on starting an academic library - that is, a college or university library - begin with resources from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of ALA


See the Books for Academic Librarians at the ALA Online Store and consider using the ACRL Consulting Services for further assistance.

See the continually-updated Academic Libraries and Academic Library Services resources compiled by this office.

Additional resources:

Applegate, Rachel. Managing the Small College Library. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited, 2010.

Hurlbert, Janet McNeil. Defining Relevancy: Managing the New Academic Library. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

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Church Library, Synagogue Library

The Church and Synagogue Library Association (CSLA provides educational guidance and support in the establishment and management of library services in religious congregations.

Synagogue libraries may want to contact the Synagogue, School & Center (SSC) Division of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL for further assistance.

The National Church Library Association (NCLA closed its doors on December 31, 2012, after having been in operation for 54 years. The website remains online, with its print (PDF) resources and web resources for church librarians.

However, in order to get NCLA's publication, A Handbook for Church Libraries, you must now order it via the Catholic Library Association (CathLA Specifically, publications available from CathLA include A Handbook for Church Librarians, Catholic Supplement to A Handbook for Church Librarians, Developing the Library Collection: A Workbook of Policies and Resources, and Parish Library Resource Guide: An Annotated Bibliography.

These book titles, as well as several others, published chiefly by CSLA, NCLA, and CathLA, can be found on the Church and Synagogue Libraries list compiled by this office at, the free online database of library catalogs from across the country, in which you can search for a book title by zip code to get the closest library that has it.

CSLA also publishes the quarterly journal, Congregational Libraries Today.

CathLA publishes the quarterly journal, Catholic Library World.


There are a number of cataloging software programs specifically designed for small libraries (public, school, church, business, organization, etc.) and home libraries, including the list of software companies and products that appears on the Church and Synagogue Library Association Library Software page. Other programs may be found by doing a Google search on the terms "library catalog software". Or, you can check for various smaller book cataloging programs on the CNET web site. Barcode scanners can be used with some of these programs, including with Book Collector for home collections and with Readerware and Primasoft library software for small library collections.

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Home Library, Family Library

Several web sites provide tips on setting up home and family libraries, including:

Building A Family Library - RIF (Reading is Fundamental, Inc.) A home library doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive to provide rich reading experiences. Fancy books aren't necessarily the best way to capture a child's imagination. But a good family library does involve time and space—time to find materials that will interest all the readers in the family, and space to keep and enjoy them.

Building a Home Jewish Library - United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ Jewish wisdom and values can't quite give you pointers on how to build bookshelves for your home, but they will help you select the books that will fill these shelves and enhance your Jewish home library. In the pages that follow, we present suggestions from experts in all aspects of Jewish life and literature, from Talmud scholars to students of mysticism, from teachers of Jewish history to authorities on children's books.

Building a Home Library. The ALA-Children’s Book Council (CBC) Joint Committee, with cooperation from the Quicklists Consulting Committee of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of ALA), created this list to provide guidance to parents, grandparents, and others interested in assembling a high-quality library for their children at home.

Creating a Home Library for Your Family on a Limited Budget - Verizon Enlighten Me. Preparing your child for school begins the day they are born. The biggest determinant of a child's success in school is a child's home life and environment. If a child is read aloud to on a regular basis and if a child has books and literacy materials in his or her home, that child's chances for educational success go up immeasurably.


Also see the following books for further assistance:

Coblentz, Kathie. The New York Public Library Guide to Organizing a Home Library. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.

Feinberg, Sandra, and Kathleen Deerr, Barbara A. Jordan, Marcellina Byrne, and Lisa G. Kropp. The Family-Centered Library Handbook. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2007.


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Materials listed in this fact sheet that are published by the American Library Association are available through the ALA Online Store.

For all other materials, contact the publishers directly, or check the collection at your local public library.

Search for an item in libraries near you:

NOTE: The "shortcut" link to this web page is


Last updated: October 2014


For more information on this page, 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.