Starting a Library

Recently, a reader of our I Love Libraries website sent over an inquiry about setting up a library in her community.  According to the IMLS  report, Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2008 (most recent in the series), all but about 2% of the U.S. population falls within the legal service area for a public library, so this kind of question for a public library is unusual--but we were delighted to get news of a new library despite all the news of closings!  As it is a frequent question for other types of libraries, however, the ALA Library has developed a series of Fact Sheets to serve as initial guide to those seeking to establish a library.

For a new public library, the place to start is with the library development department of the state library, as there may be a district library serving the area or plans already underway to enhance library service.  That department is also likely to have state-specific guidance.

The next steps, though, start being the same for any library:

  • Work with the community to be served to determine the overall program of the library: what are the demographics of the population to be served? What kinds of programs will be offered? What are the community information needs? For public librarians, the PLA Planning for Results series is invaluable.
  • Establish a funding plan and determine the sustainability of that plan.  For a public library, on average, 80% of the funding is local, with another 8-9% coming from various fees, gifts, etc.  Thus, it is necessary to understand how tax dollars are collected, then allocated in your state (and each one is different!). For other types of libraries, consider that there might not be ongoing funding once the start-up period has passed.
  • Prepare a collection plan--and begin to investigate the costs of building the collection, including reference resources, both paper and electronic.  Consider the role of book donations: will people really give you what should be in the library, or just what's cluttering up their home?
  • Finally, once the planning for the overall program for the new library is in place, investigate planning the facility.  Again, the ALA Library has a fact sheet to serve as a starting point.

It's exciting to think about starting up a new service, and careful planning will ease the process.



I have to add that Christine Lind Hage’s "Public Library Start-Up Guide" is a fantastic resource.  Published in 2004 by ALA editions, it covers all the bases.  From the original idea to start a library to the creation of the opening day collection.  It is very easy to read but is also extremely comprehensive.  The book discussing everthing from getting the initial contracts and agreements, finding the funds, developing necessary policies, and even what to look for in good library furniture!  It also includes a list of all state library agencies with their contact information, sample policies, site evaluation criteria guide, and much more.  It’s truly an indispensable guide that will ensure that those planning a new library will not miss a single step along the way!

What are the legal implications involved in starting a library. I’m the Children Coordinator in my church. We need to create a library for our children. I am a little skeptical what about the legal implications would be like, especially regarding lending out books. Are there any legal implications (in terms of copyright) or any general issues that I need to fix in this regard?

While there are numerous copyright issues to be aware of when running a library, in the United States there is no concern about lending a book, thanks to the “first sale doctrine”.  This practice holds that the copyright owner has no further rights to a copy of a book, as long as no additional copies are made from it, and the purchaser may loan it, sell it, or give it away.  There are, however, limitations on copying from a book which must be followed.  Thus, you cannot purchase one copy of a book and make copies for a whole Sunday school class.  Note that there are limits on how you can use videos or other media—see ALA Library Fact Sheet 7 on Video and Copyright.

I am starting a library in my small community. With luck I will have it opened by Sept. 1. The community is very excited; however, this is not (as of yet) a tax based library. I had no problem securing a location rent free but I would like to bring in money for the utilities and other amenities to the library. What are some ways to raise money for a library? I am planning a book sale shortly after opening to get rid of the unwanted or un-loanable books but I am simply blank on other ideas to use. This has been a task, overwhelming at times, but I have made it this far with very few volunteers. I plan on getting the book by Hage mentioned in an earlier post, is ther any websites beyond the ALA website with tips on organzing and ideas. Thanks in advance.