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 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 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.

Laughlin, Sara and Ray W. Wilson. The Quality Library: A Guide to Self-Improvement, Better Efficiency, and Happier Customers . Chicago: American Library Association, 2008.

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:

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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:

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

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 the online resource guides compiled the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of ALA

Selected books:

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

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.

Harris, Amy, and Scott E. Rice. Gaming in Academic Libraries: Collections, Marketing, and Information Literacy. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2008.

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

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

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.

Steiner, Sarah K., and M. Leslie Madden. The Desk and Beyond: Next Generation Reference Services. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2008.

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Church Library, Synagogue Library

The most comprehensive information on establishing and administering church and synagogue libraries is from the Church and Synagogue Library Association (CSLA This website is well-prepared, and many of their resources are applicable to all small libraries, regardless of purpose or location. See CSLA Resources for a brief list of links to the web sites of companies and organizations that can provide your library with library resources, library software, and library supplies and furnishings.

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

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

Selected books:

Campbell, Carol, Dianne Oswald, and Glenda Strombom. Organizing a Library or Resource Center: Creating a Policy and Procedure Manual. 1st ed. Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 2010.

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.

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.

A Handbook for Church Librarians. 2nd rev. ed. Stillwater, MN: National Church Library Association, 2006.

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.

Ward, Lois H. Developing an Effective Library: Ways to Promote Your Congregational Library . Portland, OR: Church and Synagogue Library Association, 2004.

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Home Library, Family Library

The ALA-Children’s Book Council (CBC) Joint Committee has updated the four Building a Home Library bibliographies to provide guidance to parents, grandparents, and others interested in assembling a high-quality library for their children at home.

There are a few 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.

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

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.

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

Software: Some desktop cataloging software programs designed for small special or one-person libraries may be found in the list of software that appears on the Church and Synagogue Library Association Library Software page; others may be found by doing a Google search on the terms " library catalog software," accessing the list of collection manager software at the Google Directory, or, checking for various smaller book cataloging programs on the CNET web site.  Apps for mobile devices may be found by doing a Google search on the terms "book database app."

For information on keeping your home library in good condition, see Caring for Your Treasures from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works.


Family Library

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

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.

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

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

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

See the ALA Library Fact Sheet 23: Recommended Reading for reading lists and book titles.

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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: September 2014


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.