How to Start a Small Library

by Christina Hamlett; Updated September 26, 2017
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If you're passionate about books and reading, there would seem to be no better job than to either own a library or open a bookstore. The disadvantage of a bookstore, of course, is that it may be too hard to part with your "children" and fret over whether they're going to good homes that will cherish them as much as you do. A library, on the other hand, allows you to send them off on two-week adventures and (most of the time) welcome them back to the shelves. Here's what you need to know to get started.

Items you will need

  • Start-up capital
  • Lots of books
Step 1

Identify what's going to be unique about the library you want to open and the clientele it will serve. If, for instance, you live in a major city where there's already a large public library, you may want to specialize in particular subjects that have limited representation on your competitor's shelves. Likewise, you may want to start a lending library associated with your church, school or retirement community and carry titles that will cater to the interests of your constituency.

Step 2

Locate a space for your library that's easily accessible by public transportation, has free parking and is located on the ground floor to encourage walk-ins. The square footage of your library depends on how many titles you plan to carry, but 1,500 square feet should accommodate the basic needs of shelving, wide aisles, a front reception area and a small bathroom. The more space you have, the more flexibility to add tables and chairs for study groups, computer stations for Internet research, photocopy machines and a meeting room for lectures. Good lighting is a must, but make sure that bright sunlight through your library windows isn't going to greenhouse your visitors or subject your inventory to fading and cracking. In the event of emergencies, make sure your library has a second exit.

Step 3

Solicit donations of books from members of the community, trolling flea markets, operating a community newsletter and networking with book publishers on their latest releases. You can find out what publishers are releasing via their websites or newsletters; contact their marketing departments, introduce yourself as a new library owner and ask what their terms are insofar as discounted library copies. Get in touch with independent book distributors who work with smaller publishing houses; websites such as Bookmarket.com have the contact information you need as well as overviews of the kinds of books they put into circulation. Another option would be book wholesalers (see Resources). Advertise with local newspapers, put up notices in grocery stores, coffee houses and athletic clubs, and create wish lists on your library website.

Step 4

Establish a system to catalog your books. The Dewey Decimal System is the most common and it even has its own website at http://www.oclc.org/dewey. Since this is your own library, however, you're free to embrace whatever system works best for you, enables users to easily find the books they're looking for and allows you to keep track of where everything is. The software applications referenced in Resources provide you with options pertinent to the amount of titles you're carrying. Establish an efficient record system for keeping track of who has what and when it's due. Make it clear to those who acquire a library card what the penalties are for overdue books.

Step 5

Research whether there are government and philanthropic grants available to sustain your library. A few good places to start looking are the Internet Library for Librarians (http://www.itcompany.com/inforetriever/grant.htm), Fundraising for Librarians (http://www.librarysupportstaff.com/find$.html), and Scholastic (http://www.scholastic.com/librarians/programs/grants.htm). These identify both time-sensitive and ongoing funding resources, the amounts awarded and the types of projects encouraged.

Tips

  • Consider writing a blog for your library website that offers reviews of new arrivals. Encourage frequent readers to contribute reviews of their own.

    If you're setting up shop in an empty classroom or the back room of a church, keep in mind that your hours of operation will be dictated by the owner of the facility and consistent with the facility's normal business hours.

    Check with your city and county to determine what kind of licensing you need to have to open up shop. As with any business, you'll also need to carry liability insurance as well as workers' comp if you have other people working for you.

    Identify funding sources to keep your library viable. This can take the form of monthly/annual charges to maintain a membership, fundraising events and "adopt a book" programs wherein authors sponsor a favorite book and either have their name displayed on a roster or printed on a bookplate in the actual book.

About the Author

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.

Photo Credits

  • Photo by Christina Hamlett