East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter 1996, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe


Theological Library Planning and Practice From Scratch

Mary Lu Johnson

A Romanian Case History
The Emmanuel Bible Institute (EBI) in Oradea, Romania, began in October 1990 with 60 students from Romania and 12 from Moldova.  Early on, Dr. Joseph Tson and Dr. Phil Roberts contacted individuals and publishing houses all over the United States, England, and Canada, sharing their vision for a library.  When boxes of books began arriving in Oradea, they were placed in a room near the Romanian Missionary Society offices.  After hearing of the need, I arrived in April 1991 with many supplies, including book pockets, book cards, date due slips, pens, pencils, staplers, glue, plastic for covering paper jackets, etc.  The first catalog cards were typed on a very small portable typewriter I had brought in my luggage, along with ribbons.  We soon found an electric typewriter not being used and then an old computer.  Later I acquired a computer printer and The Librarian's Helper cataloging software program.

EBI now has over 26,500 volumes cataloged.  In spring 1995 we began computerizing our entire library, which permitted the conversion of discs from Librarian's Helper to the new program, the editing of the records, and the barcoding of books.  Patrons have a picture identity card with their own barcode.  EBI expects soon to have Compuserve and Internet, which will permit access to information in libraries worldwide.  From humble beginnings, many donations, and with the help of the Lord, we have been able to make the Emmanuel Bible Institute Library a gateway to learning, not a warehouse for books.  It is not a passive center, but has been made relevant to our school's curriculum.  During the school year EBI averages over 190 patrons a day who check out over 150 items per day.

Practical Suggestions
Developing a viable library requires hard work and careful planning.  Find a space, no matter how small, and get started.  Be aware of security for the collection.  Have one point of entry/exit next to a check-out desk.  As much as possible, have control over heat, humidity, and lighting.

It is essential that the mission of the library be consistent with the mission of the institution and that its mission statement can change as the mission of the school changes.  A balanced collection for students and faculty must be acquired.  Trained personnel who make intelligent decisions are essential.  Steady funding, no matter how little, is important.

Planning is most important and must begin even before a library opens.  Technology is changing so rapidly that even though handwritten or typed catalog cards may be the starting point, the possibility of future electronic networking should be kept in mind.  Before a library opens, its director needs to evaluate other libraries' acquisition policies.  Each library cannot buy or find a copy of every useful book.  Therefore, cooperative library partnerships are absolutely essential.  The concept of a library as a gateway assumes cooperation.  To that end, a library system must be compatible with potential partner libraries:  the national library, embassy libraries, other denominational school libraries, local public libraries, etc.

Develop "wish list" bibliographies for potential donors, or in case of unexpected financial windfalls.  These lists might also include needed supplies and computer hardware and software.  Be selective when it comes to donations.  English language literature should be acquired; and some older books are essential.  But be sure they are compatible with institutional needs.  Are unexamined books from abroad essential for the library, especially if the library must cover expensive overseas shipping costs?

Libraries should stress indigenous theological literature.  Sermons, lectures, class presentations, and theses should be taped, filmed, or written down.  Develop a collection of indigenous thinking and writing which can be processed as bibliographic items.

A critical question will be:  who may use the library?  Students, faculty, staff, and their families to be sure.  But who else?  Will community memberships be accepted?  If so, decisions should be made on an individual basis by the head librarian or the rector.  In any case, patrons should fill out and sign forms verifying their responsibility for all borrowed materials.  Assign patrons numbers, which are more easily read and take less space than patrons' signatures on book cards.

Key Reference Works for the Theological Librarian
The Librarian's Manual, developed by the Association of Christian Librarians (c/o Commission for International Library Assistance, Box 4, Cedarville, OH 45314), is a 341-page manual giving step-by-step instructions on the development of a library using the Dewey Decimal classification system.  The volume includes addresses for many library aids and a list of "100 Basic [English] Titles for a New Bible College Library."  The charge is $5 to U.S. addresses for institutions of higher learning in developing countries.  Individuals and North American and Western European institutions are charged $25.

Dewey Decimal Classification 200 Class.  Available for $15 from OCLC Forest Press, 6565 Frantz Rd., Dublin, OH 43017; tel:  614-764-6000 or 800-848-5878; fax:  614-793-0914; e-mail:  via http://www.oclc.org/fp/.  The 200 classification covers Bible commentaries, theology, Christian life, church history, religions, etc.

Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index.  Available for $88 from OCLC Forest Press.

Sears List of Subject Headings.  14th ed.  Available for $47 from H.W. Wilson Co., 950 University Ave., Bronx, NY 10452; tel:  718-588-8400 or 800-367-6770; fax:  800-590-1617; e-mail:  ordernow@info.hwwilson.com.  An essential reference tool for card catalog work.

The Concise AACR2.  2nd ed.  Available for $22 from American Library Association, 155 North Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60606; tel:  312-836-4400 or 800-545-2433; fax:  312-836-9958.  Contains universal rules for cataloging and card-filing.

The above books do not necessarily need to be the latest editions.  Libraries often discard their old editions.

Library Computer Programs
Librarian's Helper is available to developing countries for $83, including shipping, by contacting Patti Fisher, Taccoa Falls College, Box 749, Taccoa Falls, GA 30598; telephone:  706-886-6831.  This excellent cataloging tool prints cards according to accepted cataloging rules.  The information is stored on computer discs, which then become the inventory.  It requires a computer, pin printer, and continuous catalog cards.  A program upgrade ($232) puts discs on-line for computer search of entire library holdings.

Alice Automation Software from Softlink Europe Limited, 26 Hanborough House, Hanborough Business Park, Long Hanborough, Oxon OX8 8LH England; tel:  01993-883401; fax:  01993-883799.  Emmanuel Bible Institute uses this automation program with six computers connected to a server:  two for cataloging, one for circulation, and three for OPAC (on-line public access catalog).  The program is used for reports, bibliographies, and overdue lists.

Library Supplies
One of many useful library suppliers is The Highsmith Company, Box 800, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538; tel:  414-563-9571; 800-558-2110; fax:  414-563-7395.

Editor's Note: Librarians, administrators, and donors assisting the development of new libraries need to weigh carefully the benefit of a circulating collection (accessibility) against the possibility of substantial losses by theft and delinquent borrowers.  If the integrity of the collection is deemed to be more vital than accessibility, the following precautions should be given serious consideration:

  1. a work station desk at a single access door with a person on duty whenever the library is open;
  2. a photocopy machine and adequate reading space; and
  3. a coat closet and lockers with locks for bags and briefcases outside the stacks and reading area.  Coats, bags, briefcases, food, and drink should not be permitted in the library proper. 
Mary Lu Johnson, M.L.S., is head librarian at Emmanuel Bible Institute, Str. Cuza Voda 87, 3700 Oradea, Romania; tel:  40-59-136738; -130834; fax:  40-59-436152.


Mary Lu Johnson , "Theological Library Planning and Practice From Scratch," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 4 (Winter 1996), 10-11.

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1996 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664


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