Thursday, August 29, 2013

What clergy say about their church libraries

Following close on the heels of the report of the "Death of the church library" came this posting from the RevGalBlogPals blog (A a supportive community for clergywomen and their friends.) It starts with the assumption that the church library is not thriving and hints at the "dumbing down" of congregations:
Church libraries seem to be diminishing and even disappearing in some churches. Our church is full of scholarly books that no one looks at, and how should it change, be developed, or continue?
The blog invites responses to a a  five part survey that every church and church librarian should conduct regularly. While the first  3 questions are easy to answer, the last two are probing:
1. Does your church have a library? What is it like?
2. Has this church library changed in recent years?
3. Does your church library serve as space for other activities, such as meetings or as a multi-purpose room?
4. Is a church library necessary? What does a library need?
5. Imagine the library your church would use and describe it.

To date, just six people, clergy and lay, have posted replies; their perspectives are very interesting but not always uplifting. These ministers are questioning the value of the church library- especially if it is merely an under-used room with books. They are looking for help to select, maintain and present resources that align with their vision for the congregation. They may also need help in understanding the value of library resources. A disdain for Christian fiction comes through pretty strongly as does an esteem for more substantial non-fiction works.  (Here are some of their comments; different coloured fonts for individual voices.)
  • The library has changed very little over the 30+years I've been a member.  I think the last additions to the  library was a confirmation curriculum purchased in 2004...it serves very little purpose other than a a place to shelve books... few, if any, people are using. 
  • Despite the fact that he'd been a member of the church for over 10 years, he wasn't aware that we had a library!  Our library is so underused and so out of date, that the bookshelves had become furniture that wasn't noticed.
  • We also need a librarian - someone to weed out outdated material, choose new material, keep track of what we have or would like to have.  Somebody to  periodically pose these questions and review our needs/desires.
  • I've been in churches that had very large libraries, but they were so full of "weeds" it was hard to find the "wheat." 
  • The shelves are filled with the novels my folks like ~ think Mitford and stories of Amish heroines ~ and a number of cheery self-help "Christian" books. There's very little in the way of scholarly material. 
  • my home church re-designed our library into a Spirituality Center. The library used to be an emphatically boring room in which session meetings were held and into which a few brave souls slipped to borrow an occasional book. Now it's such a delightful space that groups enjoy meeting there and people are excited to find materials relevant to what they've been hearing about elsewhere in the building. 
  • There is some good scholarly material, including a set of commentaries. And each year books are purchased to complement the educational, spiritual formation, and pilgrimage opportunities the church offers.
  • We have a library full of a mish-mash of books, but it's my pastor's office where I go to borrow anything relevant.
  • We are seriously wondering if there is a way to use our library, or if it is a relic of days past (I can't believe I just wrote that) 
  • It has a mish-mash of scholarly books, bound copies of the former pastor's sermons, dictionaries, some fiction/narrative non-fiction, picture books, a chapter book shelf, and DVDs. ...there seems to have been a project of collecting all the Newbery Award winning books. What it does not have are any Anne Lamott books ... I don't know how books were chosen if the “library” ever purchased them. 
  • It's a conference room decorated with bookshelves.
  • We don't want to throw everything out, but when it's easier to go to Google than go to ...reference books, what do we do with what we have?
  • I didn't grow up with church libraries, so it's a new concept to me ...When the former librarian resigned, a young women in our congregation sent a proposal for a paid position... The committee could not see its way clear to making what has been a volunteer position into a paid one, or expending our resources and energy toward something that just has not been used much in the last decade. 
  • we recently did a MAJOR culling of our church library.  An entire room of out-of-date texts that hadn't been utilized in years:  gone. So, currently, our church library is fairly bare-bones and in development.
  • There were many books that hadn't moved in quite a long time.  Many texts were hilariously dated, including several on the ordination of women (the ELCA began ordaining women in the 1970s) and one that was a guide to sex and spirituality from the 1950s. 
  • Necessary?  I don't think so, particularly as electronic resources become more and more common.  Should a church have a library, it should include mainly resources that help the congregation work toward its mission in its context.  For a denominationally-based church like ours, I believe it's important to vet books carefully and ensure they either align with the general theological tradition of the denomination or challenge it in helpful ways. 
  • I would be VERY careful about the selection of fiction, if there were any to begin with.  "Christian" fiction make[s] money on people who will suffer bad writing because one or more of the main characters are "Christians"
  • A small coffeemaker and supplies would be wonderful, as would a selection of teas and other drinks.  
Follow the link in the RevGalBlogPals blog comments section to see the full responses
Perhaps it's time to review of the questions above over coffee with your minister or congregational leader?

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