Setting Up a Special Library: A Resource Guide

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 16c

"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.

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. 

General Small Library Resources
Medical Library, Health Sciences Library
Office or Small Corporate Library
One-Person Library (OPL)

General resources for any small library

Erlandson, Rene J., and Rachel A. Erb. Technology for Small and One-Person Libraries: A LITA Guide. Chicago: ALA TechSource, an imprint of the American Library Association, 2013.

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. 

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.

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).

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 Download.com web site. Barcode scanners can be used with some of these programs, including with Collectorz.com Book Collector for home collections and with Readerware and Primasoft library software for small library collections.

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Medical Library, Health Science Library

Further resources may be obtained from the Medical Library Association (MLA <http://www.mlanet.org>)

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.

Willard, Carolyn. "How to establish a successful health information library in community." presented at the 65th IFLA Council and General Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 1999.

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Office or Small Corporate Library

The most comprehensive information on establishing and administering special or corporate libraries is from the Special Libraries Association (SLA <http://www.sla.org>). SLA derives much of its strength from its network of 56 regional chapters. To contact the chapter nearest you; see a list of SLA Chapters online.

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

Kelsey, Sigrid, and Marjorie J. Porter. Best Practices for Corporate Libraries. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.

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

Matarazzo, James M, Toby Pearlstein, and Sylvia R. M. James. Special Libraries: A Survival Guide. Santa Barbara, California : Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013.

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

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.

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

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One-Person Library (OPL)

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.

Siess, Judith A. The New OPL Sourcebook: A Guide for Solo and Small Libraries. Medford, N.J: Information Today, 2006.

Siess, Judith A., and Jonathan Lorig. 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.

Smallwood, Carol, and Melissa J. Clapp. How to Thrive as a Solo Librarian. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

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Last updated: August 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: library@ala.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.