Just for Fun: 22 Steps to Build Your Own Public Library

Although a significant amount of an archivist’s work is spent communicating with donors and researchers, in addition to arranging and conserving or preserving a continuous influx of documents, there is always time for a little fun too.

Archives are not exclusively repositories for records of historic value; but, they are also home to a great variety of documented human wisdom! Don’t believe us? Then read on about starting your own library in the A.L.A. Archives!

Circa 1926, an early publication titled “How to Start a Public Library” describes, in just 22 easy steps, how to start a library anywhere. Even more succinctly, the unknown authors organize the steps into seven topical steps. For your convenience, we have scanned each topical step for you to print or view electronically without scrolling. (Maybe hang in the office for inspiration?) Are you ready? Let’s build some libraries!

A. Get all the information you can

For the first six steps, library leaders should contact their state library commission or state capital for information, including state laws at the onset. Next, naturally, talk with a librarian! [1] In fact, the A.L.A. published a handy “Why do we Need a Public Library” pamphlet and “A County Library”, for readers and other library leaders. Then, determine the structure of your library. Are you planning a single institution, or do you want to be part of a system?

B. Organize a Library Campaign Committee

For the next two steps, first find local clubs to appoint representative members then elect a chair and appoint officers as necessary.

C. Decide on a Scheme to Be Followed

For the ninth step, the funding step, determine who in your community would be the right source of funding and build that bond.

D. Publicity Campaign

For the following two steps, identify and build connections with all possible community stakeholders–and do not neglect publishers, writers, and other civic leaders too.

D. Publicity Campaign (Continued)

Oh! Wait! Three more steps: organize events to promote the library movement, get the interest of media, and be sure to organize public events too.

E. Secure Formal Establishment

In another two steps, formally submit your request to the funding organization and appoint your (five or seven) library board members too.

F. Begin Service

Congratulations! You have a library on paper. Now, in three more steps, identify a location, hire a library school trained professional (before you include volunteers), and invite book donations.

F. Begin Service (Continued)

Finally, the last three steps encourage you to offer a reading room, empower the librarian to determine the operations procedures and practices, and whenever possible, consider the benefits of being a free and tax-supported library.

Copies Available at Your ALA Archives

Physical copies of “How to Start a Public Library” are available for viewing at the ALA Archives and additional unlisted publications are available too. Please view the Record Series 29/5/11 database record entry, for more information.

Got Something to Donate to the Story So Far?

Many people have started libraries big and small. Do you have any experience or expertise with library building? Are you a library builder? Please let us know through social media. We and our readers would like to read about it.


[1] Careful researchers will be rewarded for visiting the archives and examining all extant copies of this document. In this case, the 1926 edition is one step shorter. Take a close look to see if you can identify what is missing.