I am the sole librarian for my church's small (>1500 volumes) library.  Currently, the library is housed in a large common-area room with no way to control access.  We use the honor system for checkout, with a card in each book for people to drop in a secure box when they check out. There is a high rate of late/no returns.  Today, I went into the library to find that the book cards had been removed from several shelves of books and are nowhere to be found.  Needless to say, I am discouraged that so many people can't be bothered to return the books so others can read them, and also that someone decided to undo several hours of my labor by taking the book check-out cards.

The bright side is that the building that houses the library is going to be replaced, so I find myself in a unique position to establish a new system and possibly break some old, bad habits.  The library will be packed up and stored for 6 months to a year, then housed in a large adult classroom when the new building is complete.  

 Automation is not a possibility, nor is staffing the library for check-outs.  The new space will have a door, and I can request that it be lockable to maintain control over when the library is used.  I'm considering asking that children under a certain age be accompanied by an adult when using the library. Also, perhaps a check-out binder rather than cards. Thanks in advance for any ideas and suggestions. 

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            • True but how do you deal with people that get offended when you ask if they have finished with a book?

              We have people check out whole series because the pervious librarian wanted it that way and then not bring back one of the books and get defensive if you ask just in passing "I see you brought back all the Jane Austin series by Debra Smith except ______ when do you think you will finish it because Jane wants to read that series too. Six months later you are checking used book stores because it never came back and they swear they never read that series



              • They may not be offended.  They are probably convicted.

              • Ah, yes.  We've probably all been in that place before.  That's when I'm glad that we're not totally automated and I can show them the card they signed.  It doesn't mean we'll ever see the book again, but they can't deny that they checked it out.  All of this done very lovingly, of course.

              • The previous librarian doesn't work there any more. Start today limiting. the number of items and the time limit.

  • Our library is often used by our English Second Language staff. We have encouraged them to check out our children's books. They have their students read them and let them take the books home with instructions to "read to your children".  We don't always get the books back. We consider this as a ministry opportunity. We hope the adult will seek to read Juvinile books in the future.  If this happens, our ministry opportunity has been worth the cost. 

  • We have the honor system for convenience of patrons.  Sundays are often too busy so many times, they will stop by the church when the office is open and leisurely browse.  We also have home schoolers who like to come by during the week.  It's true some of our resources are not returned but we pray they are ministering whenever they are.  That thought was impressed upon our minds at a church library conference we attended.  It's a ministry!

  • It's comforting to know, having read the many responses on this issue, that we all seem to face the same challenges/issues with some variations, regardless of the size of the library involved, the hours that we're open, the number of volunteers involved, etc.  We are an all-volunteer library whose staff has dwindled significantly in recent years for very valid reasons.  We have regular hours on Sunday and Wednesday, but our doors remain locked otherwise. 

    My problem with self-check out is primarily with those (staff and teachers) who let themselves in during the week and "borrow" items without leaving the card behind even though there is a notice on the desk asking them to sign the card and leave it in the box provided.  No evil intent on their part, but when someone else comes in looking for the same item, I have no idea where it is.  We are there to support the other ministries and don't want to do anything to discourage anyone from using the library, but I haven't found an effective way to deal with it.  I usually do a letter to the teaching staff at the beginning of the school year and may try doing something similar to the staff at the start of the fiscal year which begins July 1st at our church.

    My second problem is with repeat offenders.  I dread seeing some people come through our door, becaue I know I may never see the items again.  I have not been able to bring myself to tell them that they can't check out more items until they return the ones they have, with the exception of one very egregious case.  Rather than fretting, I do my best to remain gracious and to surrender that since we are a ministry and I don't necessarily know what's going on in their life at that time.  They are always apologetic when the items are returned 2 years or more later (many times after I've replaced them).  If it's a new book that I know several adults/children will want to read, I will say, "please return this as soon as possible because others will be asking for it."  How can I handle this better?

  • Great input, Martha Jo!! Your three points are at the heart of church library ministry for all of us. We are all in unique churches with unique people to know and minister too. Perhap my church is unique in that when our people are in our building on Sundays they have no time to use our church library ministry. Very, very few can get to church before the worship services and Bible study groups start. The same is true for the 15 minutes between services and groups. And the same is true about being able to stay after services and Bible study end. Since we started a self-checkout system through the week, our number of people using our library has tripled. But keep in mind we have tripled the number 5 who used it before we started the self-checkout. And our returns have stayed right in sync with our checkouts. Yesterday, we only had one family come early to checkout books before the first service while I was in the library. And only one family stayed late after Bible study to checkout books with me. We had 4 self-checkouts during the worship service and Bible study when I could not be in the library. You are right, being able to personally checkout items is the best approach. Regretfully, that is a huge challenge for my unique church. Our strategy is to find age group engagement coordinators who will take the age group collections on carts to the separate areas of our building on Sundays. These coordinators will personally checkout books and DVDs to their audiences. Praying that God will provide these coordinators. May we all figure out how to deal with our unique church situations.

    • I'm glad to hear that there is truly some honor left!  If your congregation follows that system well, consider yourself blessed. You have a congregation that truly sees the library as a privilege.

      The original post was about a system that did not work for her patrons.  It goes to point number two: knowing your audience.  The honor system did not work for that audience.  Please, change the system to fit the audience, and don't let the library's tools disappear. Some attritrition is expected.

      I love the idea of age group engagement coordinators and am looking at that type of additional staffing and promotion idea.  We, too, had experience with the Sunday schedule being too busy.  The pandemic has helped that.  We are not bringing all programming back, and are using this time to realign.  If volunteers are not available to manage and staff the endeavor, it doesn't move forward.  

  • Here's my two cents.  It may sound blunt, but please note that it is given in love.

    1. It's not about the books, it's about the people.

    2.  The first rule of any endeavor is to know your audience.

    3.  The library is a ministry.

    Without a staff member present to assist patrons -- not only with checkout and return but with selection -- the library is only a closet full of books. Unfortunately, many church libraries have fallen into that category and are one step away from extinction.  Half of our time is spent in assisting patrons, praying with them, encouraging them, getting to know them, "sharing their burdens".  How does one know what books/resources to stock if you don't know your patrons?  How does one self-select the best resource for their needs?  What about a book that may be in another section, or one that is currently checked out, but upon it's return can be made available to the patron?

    There is no more honor.  An honor system is not a system. If a patron walked into our library asking for book that is listed as being available and could not be found, that patron would wonder about our competency.  We are called to be good stewards of everything our Lord has entrusted to us.  Not having a true system is falling short.

    If patrons are not following your simple system of depositing the card upon leaving, an automated system would not be an improvement.  Who's going to show patrons how to use it?  When the novelty wears off, I'd bet everyone would return to the old "system."

    When I attended library conferences, the lack of return of items was a MAJOR topic.  Most, if not all, of the libraries in that situation had an honor system and no penalty for late return.  I see it alot in new pastors and had blamed lax seminary librarians.  Now I wonder if it may begin in their own church libraries.  In everything we do, we need to teach accountability and build character.

    Many blessings


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