Creating a Parish Library

By Irene Bilas

St Michael’s Library was “born” in the fall of 1978, when our parish voted to purchase once a month a book written by Orthodox authors for Orthodox people. Intensely interested in the operations of small libraries, having formerly been employed in our local junior high school library, I volunteered my services to establish St Michael’s Library. Although this project had failed in our church many years earlier, I believed it could be built into a beneficial and educational resource. My motives, however, were not entirely selfless, because I knew that in reviewing the incoming material, I would learn in depth about the Orthodox faith and the history and customs of the Carpatho-Russian people and the founders of our church. I would also learn more about the Orthodox stand on the sociological problems that trouble us in our modern day.

How We Started

Initially our tiny library was nested on an old table in the church basement. Odds and ends of forgotten books were gathered from dusty cabinets, placed on the table along with our one new book and we opened for business. It was not much of a library, but it was a beginning.

Before long the congregation realized that, in order for us to operate a library, a place must be set up to serve as such. An unused Sunday School room was the ideal place. Church officers volunteered to clean and paint the room. One church member offered to build the much-needed book stacks, another rescued an old desk from a storage room, and someone else donated a typewriter. One member worked for and donated a tape-recorder, complete with a headphone set. We were beginning to look like a real library.

With a plea to church members to donate their unused or unwanted books, along with the Orthodox books we purchase, St Michael’s Library has grown from its original 20 books to more than 600 titles, over 100 of these on the subject of Orthodoxy. We also have a collection of tapes containing Orthodox lectures, services, and music, some of which have been recorded from our own services and music programs. Our library covers many subjects including an impressive collection of ethnic cookbooks, a shelf of the classics, and a special section for children’s books and Bible stories.

Sources for purchasing Orthodox materials are available through the literature received by the priest and Sunday School teachers. Most of this literature contains book lists and price lists. Other good sources we found are local bookstores, religious stores, and university bookstores.

Operating the Library

The operation of the library is not difficult, but sometimes it is time-consuming. I read or scan incoming books. This is helpful in cataloging, and also useful in helping someone who needs assistance or specific information on a given subject. Our books are assigned a serial number, stamped with our church library stamp, and cataloged under the Dewey Decimal System. We maintain one card file on shelf placement, plus a general card file by author, cross referenced by title, and by subject when necessary.

The library is “open” every Sunday for an hour before and an hour after church services. For church members we follow no hard and fast rules for borrowing and returning our books and tapes. They are signed out on a form that includes such information as title, author, borrower’s name and phone number, and date. We only ask that our members return the material when they are finished with it. (We specify a date for returning items when outsiders use our material.) This system has worked well for us and it eliminates the expense and work of book pockets and date cards. It also relieves the librarian of the added duty of “tracking down” books every week or two. We do take a complete inventory once a year and retrieve any missing books at that time.

Who Uses the Library

Many people have benefited from the resources found in our library. The Sunday school teachers use it for resource material and teaching aids, and our students use it for religious study and high school book reports. Many church members read to understand the Orthodox faith better or to get an Orthodox view on a given subject, or just to learn more about their ancestors. Our priest uses the library material in his research work. St Michael’s Library has also been used by community members of other faiths in order to make their own comparative studies.

In 1981 the church budget committee voted to give the library an annual allocation for books, tapes, and supplies. This year St Michael’s Library is initiating a new project entitled “St Michael’s Family Album.” This will be a pictorial history of the people and events at St Michael’s Church from its founding in 1939 up to the present, and into the future. We are again relying on church members, this time to donate photographs and snapshots of special events. The photos will be identified, dated, stored in albums, and kept in the library.

St Michael’s Library has proven to be a successful undertaking for our church. For me, the developing of the library has been an exciting, educational experience, well worth the time and effort invested in it.

Check List—To Develop a Parish Library

  1. Librarian A professional librarian is not necessary, but find someone who is familiar with libraries or someone who is willing to learn.
  2. Equipment
    1. Decide on a suitable location
    2. Buy or build book stacks (remember that books are very heavy—specify “storing books” when making your purchases)
    3. Access to desk and typewriter
    4. Card file storage unites (portable ones from your local business supply store work fine)
    5. Tape recorder and headphone set
  3. Inventory

    1. Basic office supplies
    2. Basic library supplies
      • Catalog cards or 3 x 5 cards
      • Book tape for repairs
      • Permanent felt tip pens for marking book spines
    3. Notebook for listing books by serial number
    4. Blank tapes if necessary
  4. Books / Tapes / Magazines / Etc

    1. Locate sources for buying material
    2. Assign serial number (e.g.. five digit number: 83001-83999; 83 = year purchased or donated, 001-000 sequential numbers of books or other materials.)
    3. Identify ownership with library stamp or other means
    4. Catalog according to subject
    5. Shelves—alphabetically by author within subject
    6. Decide on a workable policy for borrowing and returning materials
    7. Publicize through church bulletin—and open the doors!