For many churches, a library seems like something from a bygone day, and for some churches the days of yore is exactly when the books in their library are from, shelves upon shelves of old books no one checks out. Other churches don't have a library at all, and are afraid of how much it can cost to create one. But books are some of the best ways of getting good Christian thoughts into the hands of our people. Libraries can be a wonderful thing in the church, and this essay is a brief overview of some ideas on how to create or revitalize a church library.
Building the Library
Some people are scared that building a library will cost a lot of money or require hours of maintenance. Neither is the case. Especially for smaller churches, only a few books will be checked out at any one time. The key is to get good turnover, with books multiple people will check out. This means that a small amount of money, enough to buy 2-3 books a month, is a perfectly fine amount. The key is to get quality books at regular intervals.
A library does not need to be large, it needs to be growing. A growing library encourages people to look at what is available because they always have the possibility to find something new. Once new things stop coming in, people will stop looking at the library, and that ends the library. Of course, a dozen or so books at least are needed to begin the library. That can be accomplished by asking the people to donate some good books they aren't using. You don't need many.
When building the library, choose books from a variety of genres, but make sure that the books are ones you have read or that are bestsellers. Smaller authors that are important to you are good, but need to be balanced by books and authors that the people would recognize. It is important that people begin to have confidence that the books in the library are good, both that they recognize the books and that people they know recommend the same books.
One easy way of accomplishing this is to have a different family choose the books each month. This gives the family a connection with the library, guaranteeing that someone will want those books, and keeps variety by changing the buyer regularly. In a small church, every family should be able to choose books for the library in a year.
Getting the Library Used
Most church libraries are unused because the people forget about them, and because the books they contain are not interesting to them. This means that the first task for any church library is an image makeover. People need to know that the books in the library matter, and that they are there.
The easiest way of keeping the library in people's minds is that during announcements someone comes up and simply mentions one or two of the books that are available that Sunday and why those books are important. This person of course needs to have read the books and believe in their worth. The pastor is an excellent choice here as we probably have read more good books than most other people.
Placing some of the most recent books in a visible place is also important to getting people to use them. If people see a book that you have already promoted, they are more likely to try it out.
Another important element to getting the library used is making sure that the books are ones that people want. This can be accomplished through letting others choose the books each month, having a request sheet for people to request ideas, and to regularly pick up the top one or two Christian bestsellers.
Finally, do not make it difficult for people to check books out. Especially in smaller churches, trust your people. This isn't a professional library, this is a ministry to keep your people growing throughout the week. Let people take books for longer than public libraries so they will be encouraged to read them, and don't have people standing there checking on what anyone takes out. That can be intimidating. A simple sheet with the person's name and hoe many books is usually enough. People can check themselves in and out without problems. It is better to lose a book or two and have them used, than to have people too intimidated to check them out at all.
Keeping your Library Relevant
Keeping it relevant is one of the most important elements of a church library. For some reason we have a fear of letting go of any books. I think it's part of the pastoral obsession. But a smaller, used library is infinitely better than a large unused one. Do not allow the library to take over and become intimidating. If you need an elaborate system for organizing your library, it's too large. People won't be able to find what they want and therefore won't use it.
High-grading your library is key to keeping it relevant. Every two years or so, depending on the speed of your acquisitions, go through the library and pull any books that have not been checked out in two years. Be ruthless, and then allow those books to be picked up for free and for good by your congregation. Some people will want a book to own they would never check out, and either way it goes to a good home.
Another way of keeping your library relevant is to make sure that you have whatever book is currently popular. It doesn't matter if you have many of them, but having it provides a lead-in for people to check out the library in general. Also, one way of increasing your library's visibility is to have DVD's. These are more expensive, but will get parents in to pick them up for their children. Generally, the turn-around for DVD's is also shorter. As movies get more publicity than books, they are also a good way of raising interest in the library by adding titles that immediately attract attention.