Creating a church lending library is the result of focused, slow, and ongoing attention over many years. After considering where to start (check out my previous article, Creating a Children’s Lending Library for Your Church: Where To Start), you may find helpful answers to some Frequently Asked Questions below.
How do you afford a lending library?
Make it a regular part of your budget.
This is the slow part! It would have been impossible to build our library in one year, so we didn’t. We grew one book at a time. Every year, I set aside a portion of our programming budget for books. I plan to purchase a book or two for each special event, especially seasonal offerings. In Christian education, it can be the case that what we purchase for annual programming is wasted or left on the floorboard of someone’s car, but books are one (of many) places where we can commit to building the infrastructure of a program for the long-term.
Use programs like VBS to expand the number of offerings for your library. One year, we had all of our Vacation Bible School groups memorize the Lord’s Prayer. I purchased a copy of The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig for each group to read each evening. It’s now one of our most checked out books!
Set up a wish list.
Since I have loved children’s books for so long, I have a list of books that are go-to titles. New needs, newly published books, and older titles I have never heard of pop up everywhere. Keep a list of books you are considering. I keep wish lists on Pinterest and Amazon (both of which are sharable with parishioners who may want to purchase books for their own households, as gifts, or for the church). When I have a book I’d like and no money available, I put it on the wish list. I revisit the list and edit every once in a while. As I approach the end of the fiscal year, I take a look at my budget. What will be left unspent? Are there titles that I would really like to add to our collection?
Be on the lookout, everywhere.
When I am on vacation, visiting used book stores or thrift stores, or spending time in the gift shop of a cathedral, I am always looking for books to add to our library. Don’t look past the city library sales! Remember that it is about the long game. You do not need to have a full library immediately.
Do you ever purchase more than one copy of a book?
Yes! I buy multiple copies of books that can go to multiple classes or be checked out by multiple families at one time. If I want something to record or use for a discussion group, I may purchase only one at first.
How do you incorporate the library into the life of the community?
Put books in different spaces.
In order to be used, the library needs to be in front of people. We started with our main library, a bookshelf that was later expanded by a parishioner with woodworking skills. This is our mother library and where we keep the majority of our titles, most of the time. Additionally, we have a movable library on wheels with forward-facing slots purchased during the pandemic (to move selections from the library into larger fellowship areas while adults were no longer gathering in children’s formation areas), a set of forward-facing rails in our children’s chapel for selections related to our monthly chapel theme, and baskets in each classroom. Our Godly Play classroom has a small shelf with selections related to the season. Beyond that, you only need pens, a simple check out system, and a basket. We only allow checkouts from our main library and the movable shelf. Everything else is checked out to particular classes or the chapel space.
Make them a part of your program.
Make picture books a part of all of your programming by using them, referencing and talking about them, writing blog posts and reviews about titles, sharing stories and books in Sunday school and chapel, and walking new members and visitors through your space and stopping at the library. Mention titles in online newsletters, print newsletters, and to teachers who are preparing lessons. Have a mental list of favorite books to recommend for the grandparent who stops by to ask what to get for a fifth birthday or a baptism. Read stories at every program you oversee. Write lists recommending titles. Put beautiful books in front of people at every opportunity. Create take-home baskets around a particular theme. Have fun with it!
How do you make sure to get the books back?
Send a return reminder.
Once a year in the summer I send out emails for every book checked out from our library. It is a gentle email that reads something like:
“Dear [household name], I have the following books checked out in your name from our Theological Library. [list of books]. If you have lost the books, let me know so that I may replace them. If you are still using the books, feel free to keep them at home. If you are ready to bring them back, drop them off at our library and I will return them to their spot on our shelf. Thank you for using this resource at Holy Family. Remember to share with us your favorite stories and books and how your young people enjoyed these stories at home. In peace, [name]
Plan for some losses.
You will also incur some losses from folks who do not return titles. In my experience, this is a small number of books. On occasion, I have sent out additional reminders to certain families. One thing we are going to try after the pandemic is library bags. It may help some households to put the bag by the door the night before church, and some households already do this with their worship bags. We have never lost enough books for me to feel that the costs outweigh the benefits in terms of conversations, enjoyment of our households, or the service our library offers.
What do you do about unwanted donations?
I am very clear when I receive donations that not every book is a good fit. I ask, “If this book doesn’t work for us, would you like it to be returned to you or may I pass it on to a household, church, or organization for which it is a good fit?” Then, I make a decision about those items before I create a card for them and put them in our library. If someone has given us the book and it is not a good fit, I write a thank you card and take their permission to return it or pass it along as a gift.
What other questions do you have? Leave us a comment or send us an email.
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