start an academic library

To help a new college start an academic library, use an academic library development plan, academic library committee and library networks.

How do I start an academic library? you might be wondering.

If you are helping to raise up a new, small Christian college, you know that you need to establish a library that meets your students’ academic needs as well as the mission and vision of your institution. But you and your team might not know where to begin.

This article will introduce you to foundational start-up issues related to the effective development and management of an academic library, which include a library plan, library committee, resource sharing, and accreditation considerations as guided by the standards of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).

Where Do I Begin?

To develop plans to start an academic library, begin with the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. (The ACRL is a division of the American Library Association (ALA), which provides international standards for the development and management of academic libraries.)

These standards are designed to guide academic libraries in advancing and sustaining their role as partners in educating students, achieving their institutions’ missions, and positioning libraries as leaders in assessment and continuous improvement on their campuses … Institutions are encouraged to use these standards as they best apply to their local mission and vision.”[1]

Therefore, the academic library development plan of your small Christian higher education institution should also be guided by the Christian mission, vision, and focus of the institution to ensure that the library is effective in its role as leader and partner in support of the achievement of the institution’s short-term and long-term goals.

The Academic Library Development Plan

As noted above, the academic library development plan is to be guided by established academic library standards, which may be developed through the collaborative efforts of the university administration, faculty, and university librarian.

Instead of developing an original plan to start an academic library, a small Christian university might find it more feasible and practical to adapt the academic library standards of larger and more prominent universities, such as Biola University, Liberty University, or Dallas Theological Seminary.

The plan should include the following:

  1. architectural plan of the library building or space,
  2. floor plan of the physical layout of the library,
  3. network plan for online library services,
  4. Human Resource management plan,
  5. collection development plan,
  6. library circulation policy,
  7. library annual budget, and
  8. staff and student library orientation plan.

The Academic Library Committee

To start an academic library, a committee may be helpful. To help develop, implement, and manage the academic library development plan, an Academic Library Committee can be established by the university administration under the advice of the university’s librarian. The following description of the roles and responsibilities of an Academic Library Committee is solely for example purposes and is taken from the Faculty Handbook of Elon University and the bylaws of its Library Committee.


To provide guidance and oversight by serving in an advisory capacity to the [university] regarding library policies and planning and to report to appropriate bodies on library matters.


  • Dean and University Librarian
  • Six at-large teaching faculty members, three elected each year for a two-year term. Annually in May, the committee will elect a Chair from among these six teaching faculty members
  • Two student members elected for a one-year term
  • Associate Dean for Library and Information Services for the Law School or his/her designee, without vote

Functions and Responsibility

  • To serve as a liaison committee between the faculty, the students, and the librarian and to discuss administrative matters pertaining to the library and make recommendations for the best possible library services
  • To develop and recommend policy with regard to the library and library services
  • To allocate funds for each department from the budget provided for the purchase of library materials to evaluate requests for expenditures not provided for in the budget; to make recommendations regarding such requests
  • To make recommendations regarding improvement, extension, and development of the services and facilities of the library

Areas of Committee Concern

The Committee is concerned with the University library, student use of the facilities and materials, and the development of the collection of materials contained in the facilities.[2]

Academic Library Network and Resource Sharing

Library networks have become a significant feature of academic libraries in this information age. In Jamaica, for instance, we have the College Library and Information Network (COLINET), which is a network of all the university and college libraries of public and private institution in the country, with its focal point being the University of Technology (UTECH).  For Christian universities in the United States, options include the Association of Christian Librarians (ACL) and the American Theological Library Association (ATLA).

These networks facilitate the sharing of library resources among the member institutions. Being part of such a network will allow a small academic library to do the following:

  1. increase student access to resource materials through online collaboration of network libraries;
  2. address the issue of library, space since students would be able visit and access materials in participating libraries;
  3. facilitate interlibrary loan arrangements to address student and faculty resource needs; and
  4. reduce cost of subscriptions to online databases such as EBSCO and ProQuest for each participating member institution.

The Academic Library and University Accreditation

The academic library plays an important role in the university’s ability to meet the quality assurance standards of higher education accreditation bodies. In my experience as the Information Specialist of a private higher education institution in Jamaica, the building of the library collection had to be guided by the required text of each course offering. The accreditation body—the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ)—stipulated the number of required texts of each course that must be available in the library as reference, overnight loan, and one week loan. This stipulation is determined by the number of students enrolled in a particular course.

The accreditation visits, therefore, include an evaluation of how well the library serves the students, faculty, and course offerings. What library collection and related requirements does your accrediting body want your school to meet?


The academic library is an important department of any higher education institution irrespective of student population size and number of course offerings. Therefore, the role of the University Librarian and the Library Committee is of equal importance. The University Administration must, therefore, ensure that a trained Librarian with academic qualifications at a similar level as that of the faculty members is recruited. It is also advisable that the University Librarian has subject knowledge and/or certification of at least one of the major program offerings of the university. For example: in the case of my first job as a college librarian of a teachers’ college, I had a bachelor’s degree in Library and Information Science and a diploma in Teaching. In the case of a theological seminary or Christian university, such as Bakke Graduate University, the librarian should be a committed Christian.

The university librarian however, needs to work closely with the faculty through the Academic Library Committee to ensure that the library is effective in meeting the needs of the institution.

For librarians, the challenge remains of delivering services in a rapidly changing, high technology world where information is no longer in short supply. As a result, services must compete for the attention of their potential users. Collaboration is now the way forward.[3]



ACRL. Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. IL: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2011, accessed April 17, 2020.

Brophy, Peter. The Academic Library. 2nd.ed. London: Facet Publishing, 2005, accessed April 17, 2020.

Gardner, Susan and Susanna Eng. “What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library.” Libraries and the Academy 5, no.3 (2005): 405-420. (accessed April 17, 2020)

Harloe, Bart. “Achieving Client-Centered Collection Development in Small and Medium-sized Academic Libraries.” College and Research Libraries, May 1989. Accessed April 16, 2020.

Leighton, Philip D. and David C. Weber. Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings. 3rd.ed. IL: American Library Association, 1999. Accessed April 16, 2020.

Mabry, Celia Hales ed. Doing the Work of Reference: Practical Tips for Excelling as a Reference Librarian. New York: The Haworth Press, c2001. Accessed April 17, 2020.

McCabe, Gerard B. ed. The Smaller Academic Library: A Management Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1988. Accessed April 16, 2020.

Oakleaf, Megan. The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Review and Report. IL: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2010. Accessed April 16, 2020.

Shelbourne. Wendy Allen. “E-book Usage in an Academic Library: User Attitudes and Behaviours.” Library Collections, Acquisitions and Technical Services 33 (2009): 59-72.


[1] ACRL. Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. IL: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2011. 5, accessed April 17, 2020.

[2] Elon University, “Faculty Handbook: Library Committee,” accessed April 17, 2020.

[3] Brophy, Peter. The Academic Library. 2nd ed. London: Facet Publishing, 2005, 44, accessed April 17, 2020.



  • Marlene Hines

    Marlene D. Hines, has a Doctor of Transformational Leadership (DTL) degree from Bakke Graduate University (BGU). Dr. Hines is presently employed as an adjunct faculty of the University of the West Indies, Open Campus. She is a retired senior Civil Servant of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI), Jamaica and has also worked as College Librarian of two teachers colleges and also College Lecturer in Jamaica. She presently serves on the Alumni Council of BGU and as a member of the BGU faculty.

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