Resources for Church Libraries

Church library organizations

The Evangelical Church Library Association and the Church and Synagogue Library Association may be able to help you.

Books on Library Operations

For a good overall introduction to church librarianship, see Betty McMichael, The Church Librarian's Handbook: A Complete Guide for the Library and Resource Center in Christian Education (Moody Press, 1998). This book discusses all phases of library work such as administration, promotion, classifying, cataloging, and processing of both books and AV materials. La Vose Newton, Church Library Handbook (Harvest House, 1987) is also helpful. The Librarian's Manual, edited by Ferne Weimer and Kenneth Gill (Association of Christian Librarians, rev ed. 2008) is a text for beginning librarians in developing countries and is widely used on the mission field. You can order it at ACL website. ACL volunteers sometimes provide free consulting service for libraries in less developed countries. ACL is an evangelical organization.

The Church Media Department of the Southern Baptist Convention has published a series of about 10 pamphlets covering library administration, facilities, collection development, cataloging and processing, circulation of materials, etc. The titles seem to change every few years so I hesitate to cite specific titles. Just go to the Lifeway website and search for church library or browse the section on church staff resources.

I am told the series of books from the Church and Synagogue Library Association is helpful. I have not examined them. See their website.

Cataloging Resources

One of the biggest problems for church libraries is cataloging materials. In the past, most church libraries manually typed catalog records and used Dewey for call numbers and Sears for subject headings. There is now inexpensive software which allows church staff to search other libraries (for example the Library of Congress or Dallas Theological Seminary) and download complete catalog records with no manual keying. You really need to think carefully about whether you wish to take this approach to cataloging. If you download from a university library or a very big public library, then the records are likely to use Library of Congress call numbers and subject headings. The Library of Congress system is complex and it is hard for church staff to learn and use. If you download records from a public library then the records are likely to include Dewey call numbers and either Sears subject headings or Library of Congress subject headings. OCLC has a good list of libraries that use Dewey. If you do decide to download records from another library, then determine the standards that library follows. In any event, your local staff will have to do some original cataloging, for example to catalog recordings of local church services. So your local staff must understand basic cataloging rules and must have access to classification schedules (call number tables) and subject heading lists.

Classification Schedules (Call Number Tables)

Most church libraries use the Dewey Decimal Classification. You may buy either a complete or an abridged Dewey schedule from OCLC. It is also available at some religious bookstores, including many Lifeway and Cokesbury stores. A free but incomplete and dated outline is available here. Many SBC churches use A Classification System for Church Libraries: Based on the Dewey Decimal Classification System (Convention Press, 1996). I suggest you stick with real Dewey because it is more complete, it is easier to find staff who have experience with it, and it is more likely to be revised to reflect new needs.

Abridged versions of the Library of Congress classification schedules are available free here in pdf format. However, you will need to purchase or print a paper copy of the unabridged religion section. The entire printed schedule for all topics is very big -- more than a full shelf of books.

Subject Headings

Many church libraries use Sears List of Subject Headings (which was designed primarily for public libraries). It is available at and many larger Christian book stores. McMichael provides a brief list of subjects especially useful for a church library. It is best used as a supplement to Sears.

The entire Library of Congress Subject Headings list is many volumes in print form. You can search the subject list and even download free authority records. Since the subject lists do not include all possible subdivisions (free floating subdivisions), inexperienced volunteer staff may have some difficulty constructing specific headings based on the LC list. It is often a good idea to browse the subjects that have actually been used in the LC catalog to get ideas.

Bibliographic (MARC, ISBD, AACR) Standards

You will probably need to read one of the books on library cataloging before these materials make sense to you. Also, the detail here is far more than you need for a church library. So don't be intimidated.


Supplies are available from: Brodart, Demco, Gaylord, and Vernon.

Software for Church Libraries

We do not recommend any particular product. Here are a few you might consider. These are not the only viable options.

The following are FREE with certain restrictions.

  • TinyCat (based on LibraryThing)
  • OPALS (Open-source automated library system)

The following are commercial.

  • Alexandria from COMPanion Corp. (
  • Atrium from Book Systems, Inc. (
  • Library World (
  • ResourceMate (
  • Surpass (

Look for a product that adheres to library standards (like the MARC record standard), is designed for small libraries, and is affordable. It is common for cost to include initial purchase price plus annual fees for support and upgrades. Be sure to calculate a total three year cost, not just the first year cost. Ask about a hosted option, meaning the software runs on a computer at the vendor site, not on a server in your library, and you use the software over the internet. This limits customization but means the company does the upgrades, backups and technical stuff for you; you do not need a hardware tech expert in house. Ask about the ability to import records from outside sources. That might be done by searching other libraries via z39.50 or by some other means. Be absolutely certain you can migrate your data to another system in the future. This means you must be able to export MARC format records with volume and copy specific data.

MarcEdit is a very powerful free program which supports Z39.50 searches, creation and editing of MARC records, and complex batch processes to clean-up many records at one time.

Appendix on the Pastor's Personal Library

The average pastor does not need to catalog personal books or assign call numbers to them. Just arrange books on the shelves in a logical order. If the collection is significantly over 1000 volumes, or if the collection is shared by many people (who borrow items) then it may be helpful to catalog the collection. Very low cost shareware products for personal libraries are available. I have not evaluated any of them, and I can recommend none of them. Consider Library Thing. It is very, very low cost and easy to use. Exporting data so you can print spine labels challenges some.

The average pastor does need a source of sermon illustrations and a way to supplement that source. Many online subscription services are available (e.g., Large illustration collections are available for download (e.g. Most speakers focus on number and quality of illustrations first, then on search and browse features. However, really good illustration software also allows the speaker to tag which illustrations have been used, where, and when. A single source is not sufficient. It is also necessary to collect illustrations in a personal database; think about how to record and preserve illustrations for future use.