Where the world comes to study the Bible

Starting a Church Library

Related Media

Are you thinking about starting a library in your church? If so, this article sets forth some suggestions, and some preliminary issues that you should consider.

Recommended resource: The Church Librarian’s Handbook, a book by Betty McMichael (Baker Book House, 3rd Edition, 1998). This book is very helpful, and deals in detail with many of the issues discussed in this article. However, it is not currently in print. You can often find used copies at www.amazon.com, or try other used book sources. Used copies of even earlier editions will still prove worth having.

1. Determine the specific groups you wish to serve, i.e. young children (pre-readers), beginning readers, older children, pre-teens, teens, marrieds, parents, home-schoolers, church leaders, Sunday School teachers, specific ministries (such as outreach), elderly (large-print books, books on care-giving), etc.

2. Determine the media you wish to have available: books, magazines, audiocassettes, DVDs, videocassettes, CD-rom, etc.

3. Determine whether you wish to begin with donated books, or with donated books plus a budget to acquire new books.

4. Determine the classification system to be used (the Dewey Decimal System is generally recommended for church libraries). If you use Dewey, then you need the three reference books listed below:

      a. Sears List of Subject Headings, 18th Edition, by Minnie Earl Sears, Joseph Miller (ed), 2004 edition H. W. Wilson Co., NY. Available from publisher at www.hwwilson.com, or can usually be obtained from Lifeway Christian Stores (www.lifeway.com) or Amazon (www.amazon.com).

      b. Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index, Edition 14 (January, 2004 edition), OCLC Forest Press, Dublin, Ohio, 1,050 pages. Order from www.oclc.org/dewey/products ; or may be available from Lifeway or Amazon.

      c. Dewey Decimal Classification, 200 Religion Class: OCLC Forest Press, Dublin, Ohio, 2004 edition. Order from www.oclc.org/dewey/products; or may be available from Lifeway or Amazon.

The three preceding books are expensive, but items a and c above (at least) are essential. If you determine that you will classify all of your church library books in the Dewey 200 classification, then you can get by without item b, but if you want to use the wider range of Dewey classifications (for example, the 900 classification for history), then you will need item b as well. Most of the church libraries I consulted before using Dewey used the whole range of Dewey classifications.

The next book is not essential, but is very helpful and not expensive.

      d. A Classification System for Church Libraries (Based on Dewey Decimal Classification System), Revised, Convention Press, 2004 edition. Available from Lifeway. Contains the Dewey classifications used most by church libraries to classify their entire stock.

5. Supplies to process books can be obtained at local bookstores or by mail-order (book pockets, date due slips, checkout cards, labels, label protectors, book jackets for hard-cover books, tape for book jackets, date stampers and ink pads, boxes for checkout cards of books in circulation). Lifeway Christian Stores (www.lifeway.com) stock all of the items just listed, which can also be mail-ordered from your local Lifeway store or from Nashville (1-800-233-1123). Or they can be obained directly from the supplier, Brodart Co.-Library Supplies Division (1-888-820-4377). Brodart also has a web site at www.brodart.com. Other supplies that can be purchased at more general locations include:

      a. Clear contact paper to cover paperbacks, if desired (available at grocery stores with shelf papers).

      b. Rubber stamp with church name, if desired (available from office supply stores).

6. Sources for books and videos:

      a. Local seminary bookstore. I am in Dallas, and use Dallas Theological Seminary’s bookroom—see web page with on-line ordering at www.dts.edu/bookcenter.html. DTS also has a consignment section for sale of used books by students.

      b. Lifeway Christian Stores (www.lifeway.com) or other local Christian bookstores (some give discounts for church libraries).

      c. Catalogs/Mail Order

        1) Christian Book Distributors—has a web site at www.christianbook.com.

        2) Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service (specializes in Puritan and Reformed, with many general books as well)—has web site at www.cvbbs.com. Phone number is 1-800-656-0231.

        3) Soli Deo Gloria (publisher; reprints of Puritan books). Now affiliated with Ligonier (see #5 below, and Ligonier web page). Their titles can also be purchased from Cumberland or Amazon as well as Ligonier.

        4) Gateway Films (Christian videos) at www.visionvideo.com.

        5) Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul; teaching videos, books, etc.) at www.ligonier.org .

        6) Desiring God Ministries (ministry of John Piper; DVDs, CDs, books) at www.desiringgod.org.

        7) Vision Form (videos, audios, videos, books specializing in the Christian family) at www.visionforum.com.

7. Categories of books which you may wish to emphasize:

      a. Commentaries (individual, one-volume, or sets)

      b. Books on systematic theology

      c. Books on various theological topics

      d. Reference books (concordances, Bible dictionaries)

      e. Books on church history

      f. Bible handbooks, guides to Bible study and interpretation

      g. Christian living—popular authors

      h. Books on leadership

      i. Books on specific areas of ministry

      j. Counseling

      k. Apologetics, Bible and science, creationism

      l. Christian biographies

      m. Puritan and other Christian classics

      n. Adult Christian fiction

      o. Books on families, marriage, child rearing

      p. Christian psychology

      q. Christian living, also focusing on men, women, teens

      r. Christianity and culture/current issues

      s. Cults

      t. Missions, including missionary biographies

      u. Books for various age groups of children and youth (Bible stories for various age levels, fiction for various age levels, issues books for teens)

8. Regarding commentaries:

Determine which levels of commentaries are appropriate for your church library:

      a. Good overall series—accessible for beginning students, but challenging enough for advanced students:

        1) Tyndale OT series (published by InterVarsity Press (IVP); now complete))

        2) Tyndale NT series ( published by IVP/Eerdmans)

        3) IVP NT Commentary series (published by IVP; individual volumes—in progress)

        4) Expositors Bible Commentary (published by Zondervan; complete; a 12-volume set)

        5) New American Commentary ( NAC) (Broadman; individual volumes—in progress)

        6) Bible Speaks Today series (published by IVP; individual volumes—in progress)

        7) Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Whole Bible (multi-volume)—Classic

        8) NIV Application Commentary series (published by Zondervan; individual volumes in progress)

      b. Generally for more advanced, or at least well informed laymen, but highly recommended for library:

        1) New International Commentary on the OT (NICOT) (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        2) New International Commentary on the NT (NICNT) (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        3) Pillar Commentaries (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        4) Geneva Series (Banner of Truth; classic Puritan and Reformed; individual volumes)

      c. Advanced, Technical—but still recommended for library.

        1) Baker Exegetical Commentaries (individual volumes—in progress)—excellent; technical, but still usable by most.

        2) Word Biblical Commentaries (individual volumes; in progress)—generally evangelical; but some volumes are less conservative than others.

      d. Good one-volume commentaries:

        1) New Bible Commentary—21st Century Edition, edited by D.A. Carson, Gordon Wenham, et al, InterVarsity Press, 4th edition, 1994.

        2) International Bible Commentary, based on NIV, edited by F.F. Bruce, Zondervan, revised 1999.

        3) Baker Commentary on the Bible, based on NIV (previously Evangelical Commentary on the Bible), edited by Walter Elwell, Baker Academic, 2001.

        4) Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 volumes, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, published by Victor, 1985. Contributors are related to Dallas Seminary; Dispensational.

There are a number of books available which review and rate commentaries, describe doctrinal stance as well as level of study, and give lists of “best buys” and “recommended.” Of particular value is the book titled Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources, by John Glynn (Kregel, 2003). Glynn gives the commentator’s theological stance, classifies commentaries according to how technical they are, mentions worthy commentaries which are in process and not yet published, has a section on building a “must-have” personal reference library, and mentions the several commentaries on each book of the Bible for an “ultimate” commentary collection. He also covers books on church history, reference books, and books on a large number of theological topics.

9. Informing church members of new book titles in library:

      a. Bulletin inserts (our church has them monthly)

      b. Church web site with library section (see our church’s website and library section at www.communitybible.org ).

10. Define any desired parameters or limitations for doctrinal stance of commentaries and theology books for library.

      a. Reformed? Covenant? Dispensational? Charismatic?

      b. Or is conservative evangelical sufficient?

11. Determine whether you will use a manual card catalog with typed cards for author, title, and subject, OR, a computer based catalog and circulation system. Several years ago our church converted from a DOS-based library program, to Concourse, the windows version of Master Library System (MLS), produced by Book Systems, Inc. (www.booksys.com). Concourse gives a fully integrated system with On-line Public Access Catalog (Webrary), Cataloging, Circulation, Inventory, and MARC.

12. Functions to be performed (will relate to staff requirements):

      a. Identify types of books you want to acquire.

      b. Visit bookstores; purchase books (or order from catalogs).

      c. Classify books (use Dewey Decimal and Sears guides).

      d. Process books (prepare and install pockets, date due slip, checkout card, spine label; cover paperbacks with contact paper or add clear book jacket covers to dust jackets of hard-backs).

      e. Prepare catalog cards, or enter data in computer.

      f. Type description of book for “New Book List”.

      g. Someone to handle circulation; monitor past dues; file cards; OR input into computer.

      h. Send notices on past due books.

      i. Process returned books and replace on shelves.

      j. File checkout cards of newly checked out books.

13. If you will have videocassettes, you will need to get a supply of empty plastic boxes to put the videos in, like the ones at Blockbuster in pre-DVD days. The video boxes have clear plastic sleeves, so you can cut up the cardboard box the video came in, and insert into the sleeves for easy identification. The video boxes are available from Brodart (www.brodart.com). Most DVDs that you purchase will come in a plastic case in which you can leave the DVD for circulation.

14. It is very important to have full support from pastor and church leaders. They can encourage the members to establish regular reading habits, and can recommend specific books.

      a. Prepare a booklet giving a basic list of recommended reading. There are already several booklets available that you could refer to for ideas, or even use.

15. Visit different church libraries and see how they function.

16. Join a church library association or discussion group.

      a. Evangelical Church Library Association (www.eclalibraries.org ).

      b. The Libraries in Churches Discussion List for Congregational Libraries (the LINC List), found at http://members.shaw.ca/scbrouwer/home.htm . This includes an email-based forum for discussions by church librarians. The web site also includes a number of other resources, such as links to church library associations and to other church libraries that are on the web, book review resources, etc.

17. To encourage usage:

      a. Put displays of new or recommended books somewhere outside the library.

      b. Encourage Sunday School teachers to bring in their classes for visits to the library.

      c. Encourage men’s and women’s groups, ministry groups, Bible study groups, etc. to recommend books to their members.

      d. Pastor to occasionally recommend books from the pulpit.

      e. Encourage formation of reading groups, to read and meet to discuss one book each month.

      f. Do book reviews and make them available for library patrons.

      g. When a patron reads a book, and tells you how good it was, type up a card saying “Recommended by John Smith” along with a sentence or two about why. Card can be affixed to book or below it in a plastic sleeve on display shelf.

      h. On our library web page, we maintain a list of accumulated quotes by well known Christian leaders throughout church history on the importance of reading and Christian literature, and the influence particular books have had on their lives.

RDM (original 8/6/99, revised 8/5/05)


Related Topics: Library and Resources