Library Software for a Small Church Library

I’m a library technology hack who has been on a search for software to catalog and automate our small (~1500 volumes) library at church.  Here’s the situation, what I’ve learned, and my recommendation as of now.

The Situation

We currently have a MS Access database which is accessible and editable on our website courtesy of some ColdFusion programming.  While it does a good job of communicating what our holdings are, it has two main downfalls: first, every piece of data (title, author, etc.) must be typed in; second, there is no circulation feature — meaning there is no way to track which books are checked out and by whom.

What I’ve Learned

My initial thought was to use LibraryThing or aNobii or GuruLib to catalog our holdings.  However, each had a shortcoming for our purposes:


  • Autopopulates fields like title and author [+]
  • But does not consistently support Chinese titles or other media (like DVDs) [-]
  • Also does not have a circulation feature (though it has been requested) [-]


  • Autopopulates fields like title and author and supports Chinese titles [+]
  • But does not consistently support other media (like DVDs) [-]
  • aNobii allows one to track to whom a book has been lent,  but does not publicly show if a book has been lent out. [-]


  • Autopopulates fields like title and author and other media (like DVDs) and allows you to lend items out  [+]
  • Publicly shows if media has been lent out [+]
  • But does not consistently support Chinese titles [-]
  • Also is unreliable — was down for two weeks in January [-]

Drupal: I thought about creating a library system using Drupal and populating nodes using createfromweb and library module for circulation, but I don’t trust my Drupal skills enough to deploy and maintain that successfully.

OpenBiblio: This is a software which could definitely run a small library, but it looks like it would take a bit of work to make the Z39.50 tool to work, and we would have to maintain the install ourselves.  Again, I’m not sure I want to shoulder the responsibility of all that.

Brief excursus on library science stuff I’ve cobbled together: I initially thought all library software worked like LibraryThing: input the ISBN and you’re done!  However, that is not quite the case.  From what I’ve gleaned, libraries use an integrated library system (ILS) to manage not only all the books and media, but acquisitions and patrons and more.  The interface to these holdings is done through an online public access catalog (OPAC).

Inputting books and media into a library’s catalog is done in two stages: first, the bibliographic information (usually in the form of MARC records) is inserted into the database.  Second, holdings are indicated.  Because the bibliographic information is separate, one may add multiple quantities in the holdings step.  In other words, this division makes it possible to show that a library has, say, 3 copies of the same book.

My Recommendation

Our ideal ILS/OPAC would:

  • Autopopulate bibliographic records
  • Support books and other media (like DVDs)
  • Track circulation
  • Web-based
  • Inexpensive

In other words, it is clear that we need to explore a full-fledged ILS/OPAC such a Koha or Evergreen.  I’m definitely leaning toward Koha as they have a hosted version for $299/year and they are completely web-based (I think the Evergreen client is a Windows download?)

The main challenge, however, will be importing our Chinese-language books.  Because the MARC records are not widely available (even from, we probably need an OCLC subscription to CatExpress which runs $190/year for 250 records and $480/year for 500 records.  Each additional record is $0.99.

An addition challenge will be finding enough volunteers to help with the initial set-up and import process.

Books and resources are important so I’m hopeful that we can get something more robust up and running over the next year or so.

[5/6/2010 update: Koha Express is now $899; evidently, they were losing money. For our context, this makes it much less attractive.]

[10/24/2013 update: ResourceMate and Follett may be two addition resources to check out]

[4/22/2016 update: TinyCat pretty much seems to be the answer.]

[9/6/2016 update: Helpful article and interview on starting a church library.]

4 thoughts on “Library Software for a Small Church Library

  1. Good post. We are transforming our dated library into a resource room, and in doing so are trying to find a good system as well. I’ve asked around the net today, and responses are till coming in.

    I can’t afford to pay much for a solution right now. But I’d love to have an online system, with ISBN import, multiple media formats supported, simple circulation support, and online database access.

    We are eliminating 70% of our books that aren’t in line with the vision we have for this ministry, but plan to add a lot in the future. We also need support for multiple copies, for small group materials.

    Im still hoping to come across a simple web2.0 solution, but the more I look the more doubtful I become.

  2. Hi – I independently just came to roughly these same conclusions. But this is 2 years later!!

    I’m thinking I will use library thing for now and just train a few people to use tags to check out items.
    I figure I can export the collection when / if something better comes along, or maybe a circulation solution for library thing will come into being soon. I just don’t see a better option. Really I just want librarything with users and circulation.

    I’m wondering what you did in the end, or if you would recommend another solution?

    • We currently are using LibraryThing for a smaller library and are still using the MS Access / ColdFusion solution for the main library.

      For our (very light) purposes, I’m pleased with how LibraryThing works for us.

      However, one aspect to consider is how easy it would be to export the data out of LibraryThing and import it into a more full-feature ILS/OPAC system like OpenBiblio. It has been a while so I don’t really remember how import works in a formal library system.

      Hope that helps and best wishes with your library!

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