Beginning Your Own Theological Library in Six Easy Steps

I love my personal library. It is certainly not Al Mohler’s library, but it suits me well and in it I find most of what I need for sermon preparation, research, writing, and even resources to help me care for others. My library has grown over the years and continues to grow. I worked diligently through my Ph.D. work to have a library that supported my research. It was still necessary at times to utilized the library at SBTS or other places, but by and large I was able to utilize the resources at my fingertips for my research and writing.

If you are beginning a theological library, Danny Akin’s Building A Theological Library is a great place to begin identifying books. Tim Challies has also offered some good insight on ways to kick-start your library on the cheap. As you begin to collect commentaries, is indispensable, as are the excellent New Testament and Old Testament commentary surveys by D. A. Carson and Tremper Longman respectively.

As you build your library, there are plenty of resources to help you identify good books, but having good books alone doesn’t make your library useful. A room full of books may be fun, but a theological library that is not useful and readily accessible is not beneficial to a pastor.

As I have built my library, here are the steps I’ve taken to make it useful.

  1. Buy a Label Maker and a Name Stamp. Yes, the nerd alert goes off at this point, but my label maker with 1/2 inch tape makes the perfect two-row labels that allow for the dewey decimal number on the first line and the first three letters of the author’s name on the second line. Stamp your name in your books. If you have a good library, others will want to borrow from you (you will have to decide if that is allowed or not) so get a stamp to help your books find their way home.
  2. Buy books intentionally. When I became a pastor, I had very few commentaries. I first made it my goal to have at least one commentary for every book of the Bible and then I began adding to that collection as needed for my preaching
    . I waited for sales and coupons to buy commentaries so that I could get the most bang for my buck. When I decided to pursue my Ph. D. I began buying books that I knew would be important for my fields of study. Buy books on purpose, not by accident.
  3. Catalog your books. I use the Dewey Decimal System. The Library of Congress system allows for more specialization in categorizing, but most people creating a personal library have little need for such specialization.
  4. Use Software. I currently use an application called Readerware; it isn’t perfect, but it meets my needs. I’ve heard good things about Librarything. Regardless of what you use, make sure that it automatically downloads the book information for you and allows you to edit the info adding subjects or keywords that can be searched in the future.Extra Credit: Buy a barcode scanner. If you have a large collection of books already, this will make entering all of the data much simpler, but be prepared to be made fun of when you use your scanner to check books out to people.
  5. Don’t forget digital resources. I have a large number of books on Kindle. It is important that they get cataloged in your software as well so that they will show up in a search.
  6. Make your books your own. I know that opinions on whether or not a person should write in their books can get heated, but you do not have an infinite amount of time, so mark your books up and make an index. I use an index card to write down page numbers and attach a theme or keyword to the passages I’ve underlined. When I have time, I like to catalog them in my sermon illustration file. My sermon illustration file helps me a great deal, but even if I don’t get stuff indexed, by having passages underlined in a book, I can quickly find what I need in the future.