LAVA Library Manual

A staffing manual for the LAVA library


This is the beginnings of a staffing manual for the lava library. onion at riseup dot net is doing preliminary shaping of this, but feel free to

The LAVA Library was started shortly after LAVA, the Lancaster Avenue Autonomous space opened it’s doors to the public in 2004 (??). Since then we’ve managed to expand our collection considerably and occasionally making exciting small strides with our own infrastructure and organizational capabilities.

Open Hours

Wednesday 3-7pm
Thursday 3-7pm
Friday 3-7pm


Library meetings are every last Wednesday of the month at 7pm.


The LAVA library staff uses a listserv to communicate electronically outside of our meetings. If you want to be involved in the library, please sign up for the library listserv here:


2 overlapping shifts for each day we’re open

generally: ’’’thursday’’’ 4-7 and 6-9

Signing up for a shift

This is usually done at our monthly meetings. But can be done easily if you sleep in and miss the meeting. Just put your name in the appropriate shift on the calendar hanging by the door and/or use the [Calendar] on the wiki. Just login, click the date and put in your name and shift. It’s extra helpful to email the listserve or the current staffing coordinator to let them know you’ve taken a shift.

Basic Duties as a Staffer

  • Open Up: Unlock all shelves and make sure they’re accessible. Put out the sandwich board. Make sure the gate stays open and unlocked.
  • Clean and declutter
  • Maintain the flyer shelf near the door (throw out old flyers, tidy)
  • Call folks with overdue books
  • Create cards for new books (stored over white shelves), sticker and shelve them
  • Help folks use the internet, if needed
  • Answer questions about what LAVA is, how the library works, be able to direct people to resources
  • Check out materials, check in materials, take late fees, make new member cards
  • Close and lock up: Check-out book and scissors are stored. Shut down all computers and lights. Declutter, clean up and throw away trash. Check bathrooms and kitchen for people and lock up.

When someone walks in

  • Think: hurray! this is why we’re here!
  • Don’t ignore them. Instead, welcome them, let them know this is their space.
  • If they seem like it’s their first time in the space, introduce yourself and introduce the space to them.

eg: Casey walks in

Harley: Hey, I’m Harley. Is this your first time at LAVA?

Casey: hi, i’m Joe, what is this place?

Harley: LAVA is a community center, we’ve been around for about a decade and basically here to provide space and resources for the community and social justice organizations. Down here we have a lending library with free internet access. We host a weekly food giveaway on Thursdays and use the space for meetings, events, shows and other gatherings. Upstairs,a number of organizations have offices. There’s a a radio show on wpeb, one about prisons and police brutality, there’s an independent newspaper (give them one) that’s produced upstairs and the Human Rights Coalition, a group of families of prisoners that fights against prisoner abuse, plus some others. (tweak this one as the historical moment demands)

Casey: (TMI look on face): cool, always wondered about this place.

Harley: Well check this stuff out (gives Joe important LAVA info), you’re welcome to hang out, use the computers etc.

if it seems like there’s nothing to do…

  • Categorize books
  • Weather permitting, set up table and sell $1 books outside
  • Load books onto
  • Call staffers to fill in the calendar (also the role of the staffing coordinator)

Addressing Oppression

It is the mission of the library, and LAVA as a whole, to address oppression in our everyday lives. This is why we provide access to resources free of charge, and make our space open to everyone.

Opposing oppression in a broad sense is why we are here. But it is sometimes harder to see how it plays out in our experiences from day to day. We need to understand the context of our situations, cultures, and the privledges and disadvantages therein.

LAVA is situated in an area of the city plagued with extreme poverty. Many of our regular faces are living in precarious housing situations, or are homeless all together. The Belmont neighborhood has the highest rates of HIV in all of Philadelphia. There are regular instances of police brutality, as well as the westward encroaching gentrification from Drexel University. Access to decent food is surprisingly difficult.

Kids! Help!

Kids in the library. So cute, so destructive. It can be easy for this situation to get out of hand, and that’s why boundaries are important.

There are often more kids in the space than there are computers. One of the simplest ways to keep everything running smoothly is to take shifts on the computers of 30 mins. when someone is waiting. We continue to rotate shifts as long as there is a need. If all the computers are filled with kids playing games, going on facebook, etc. and there is an adult waiting to use one, they have to understand that it takes precidence over recreation. The same goes for a kid who needs the computer for homework.

Kids should also not be in the kitchen unattended. They know that there are often leftovers from the food distro, or random snack donations, and may want to get something to eat or drink. Snacks, and preparing larger meals if the quanities allow, are fine. But when they show themselves in, it more often than not leads to chaos and mess. A staffer must accompany them into the kitchen, if they are able, and assist with the stove, knives, etc. Perhaps most importantly, though, the kids must know that they use the kitchen under the conditions that they clean up after themselves.

We frequently find ourselves having groups of siblings at LAVA. Which means that we constantly dance on the fine, sometimes tear-filled line between play fighting and real fighting. For this reason, we ask from the kids that there is no fighting, play OR real, while they are in the library. Remember, it is ok to ask a child to leave the library for the day if they can’t work within the capacity of staffer sanity.

Now that that’s out of the way, the fun stuff! The kids really enjoy projects at LAVA. Arts and crafts are a big hit, as well as performances like dancing and singing. Kids are a vibrant, enjoyable part of the library when they are focused on something, and entertained. Other ideas for projects are things like: movies, kick-ass fort building, board games, book reading, story-telling and sometimes, if you are very clever, even cleaning.

Cataloging New Books

Often new materials are donated to us.

1. Determine if its a LAVA book

Though we haven’t set guidelines for which things to accept, we do have limited space on our shelves, so we’re relatively picky. Some useful guidelines may be to see if the book a.)relates to the LAVA mission statement or b.) is relevant to the commmunity. Books we don’t accept go to our dollar boxes or are traded in for other books or recycled. Paste some guidelines in here folks!

- We tend to discard out of date technical manuals, biographies of entertainment figures, books we already have plenty of (such as vegan cookbooks), books whose political bias is antithetical to our values (including books like “home repairs made easy for women” – a patronizingly sexist little manual from the sixties), books that are in very poor condition.

2. Categorize and label

One of our first moments of brilliant organizationalism was to invent a tremendously bright and confusing system of different colored stars and circles to signify categories.

Create the appropriate sticker for the category, stick it on the spine of the book and cover it with clear tape.

Stickers can normally be found in one of the drawers next to the index cards.

3. Enter the book into the online catalog

1. Click Add a Book in the Librarian Menu (this will take you to

2. Fill out the form.

3. If there are multiple copies of the book, click the “Add an item” on the bottom of the form.

4. Now the book is available to be checked out!

4. Shelve the book

The book should be shelved under its appropriate category (next to other books with similar stickers) and ideally in its subcategory and shelved alphabetically.

two way loans

Occasionally someone will want to give us some of their books to use in the library, but may want to retrieve them sometime in the future. This is done with the knowledge that the book could get stolen or destroyed while at lava. In this case dig in the file cabinet for the sheet of “on loan” labels. put the persons name in the appropriate space and stick the label inside the front cover. voila, a two way loan book!

Checking Out A Book

When someone wants to check out a book;

1. First make sure they have membership (if not make sure they get set up with one)

2. On the Library Menu in the right sidebar click: Checkout A Book

3. Once the title of the book has been located, click “Checkout” and start typing the library members name inside the patron field. A listof potential library members will drop down. Pick the correct member.

4. If necessary add a note under Message (eg: “Jesse left their aunt’s number in case their phone is cut off: 215.222.2234”)

5. Stick a post it note in the front page with the due date stamped or written on it.

The book is due back in 3 weeks from the date. Our setup will send them an email (if they have one) to remind them of the due date.

Note:‘’’ New members (first time checking out a book from the lava library) can only check out 1 book.

There is a list in the checkout book of members who currently have late books and who we can’t contact (bad phone number or none). If anyone on this list tries to check out books, get their correct contact info and collect any fines they may owe.

Signing Up A New Member

1. Click the link “New Library Member” to get to the page:

2. Fill out the form, making sure to check the boxes: library member and Notify user of new account

3. If the user absolutely has no email address, be suire to get a phone number for them

Collect all the relevant info including contact number and email, add them to the member list with their own unique number.

Ask if they want to give us a donation.

Write their name and member number on a blank library card (usually present in one of the pockets of the white binder). Write the library hours on the back of the card. Do some home-made lamination with packing tape.

The Database (CIVICRM)

The LAVA database (called CIVICRM)) is a tool we can use to keep track of volunteers, get in touch with LAVA staffers and generally use to keep updated info on people we work with.

To use it, you need to have an approved account on Create an account if you don’t have one already and if necessary talk to Dave about getting approved for database access.

Once logged in, a new menu will appear on the right hand side of the screen. Click CIVICRM.

From here, you can use the top right search box to look up individuals or organizations that may be in the database.

’’’Add New Indivuals or Organizations’’’

For folks interested in volunteering, go to the page and fill in the information. If the person is interested in staffing at the library, check the box:“Staff the Library” (or whichever box applies to their interest)

’’’To Look Up New Individuals ‘’’

After clicking the CIVICRM link, use the searchbar top left of the screen. Start typing a name and hit return when ready. This will bring you either to the contact you’re looking for or to a list of the contacts in the database that matched your search.

Once you’re on the page of the Contact you want, you can click edit to add or correct the information there. CLick the Notes tab to see or edit notes about that particular person or organization.

’’’To find library staffers’’’

If you’re the staffing coordinator and need a list of library staffers or you need to look someone up to get in touch, you can search for library staffers: Navigate to Search > Advanced Search. Then choose the tag “librarian” and click ’’Search’’. This will bring up a list of the contacts marked librarian in the database (. Please update and correct missing info here.

Coordinator Tasks

The staffing coordinator role, a relatively recent position, is currently held for several months before rotation with a backup coordinator in case of foul play. The duties of the staffing coordinator are:

a. call everyone on staffing list once a month; (its okay to have more than two staff/day)

fill monthly staff calendar and correlate electronic with paper calendar;

c. put new staff with experienced staff for training;

d. get keys to staff who express interest and attend more than two meetings;

e. staff once per month;

f. announce staff meetings and work days;(also done by back up coordinator, Dave Onion);

g. check log book for new members/possible new staff;

h. (optional) help cover cancelled shifts.