Saturday, July 20, 2013

Friday Five: Divine Libraries

Jan asked a bunch of questions about libraries. How could I resist? My responses are in italics. 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? As the de-facto chairperson of the library, I need ideas and suggestions about church libraries in this day and age. Please help!

1. Does your church have a library? What is it like?

My church used to have a church-wide accessible library - a couple of shelves filled with books - in the fireside alcove of the Fellowship Hall. I was very new to the church and found out that a volunteer had painstakingly stamped each book and created circulation cards. I loved to teach in that room with the books and Bibles. I would not call it a real library; it was really a hodge-podge of books donated by past members and perhaps discards from previous pastors' personal libraries but it was nice because if someone forgot to bring a Bible, we could get one from the shelves without too much trouble. I also found the books very useful as I began to study God's Word more and more. Then, the powers to be decided a library wasn't needed and gave away all the books to the local Friends of the Library bookstore! Btw, I was invited to take whatever books I wanted for my own collection and I took a few ( Paul K. Jewett's Man as Male and Female, Richard Foster's Freedom of Simplicity and Dallas Willard's In Search of Guidance). Recently, I heard they're starting to build a library again but I don't have details. I was told its for books to loan or sell to parents (Christian parenting type materials, I suspect).

2. Has this church library changed in recent years?
Oops, I answered this already!

3. Does your church library serve as space for other activities, such as meetings or as a multi-purpose room?
Yes. The library shelves were in the Fireside Alcove of our Fellowship Hall. It was very popular for small receptions as well as church group Bible studies and the women's knitting group, etc.. This was one of the reasons why the shelves were cleared to make space for other storage and why the library "disappeared."

4. Is a church library necessary? What does a library need?
I am a fan of libraries and think its necessary for our mental and social health (not just spiritual) but in this digital age most people I know are too busy to use libraries. They also prefer to read on Kindle, Nook, Ipad etd.. Its up to each church.

Personally, I believe a judicious combination of print and digital is essential for even small local churches, especially if the church is in a secular area and not near any theological colleges/libraries.

The well-developed church library (off the top of my head and based on what I needed when I came back to Christ) should try to support the needs of adults as well as families (young children and aging) but should not duplicate the local public, school, college or university library. It should focus on helping to build a strong Christian worldview. It would be a combination of print and digital (see  next answer) blending solitude and hospitality seamlessly (see bonus answer).

Some materials to include are 1) a copy of the Bible in the languages of the congregation and communities that surround it besides English, (Greek and Hebrew optional if the congregation is highly educated and would study these languages or these can be digital access), including age-appropriate (Children's Bibles etc.); 2) a set of standard commentaries, series as well as individual multi-author works that support ongoing lay discipleship as well as preaching/teaching, 3) a Biblical dictionary, concordance, atlas 4) curriculum materials for Bible study, spiritual formation and Sunday school some of the classics for Christian living that are not easily accessible or available through the digital libraries, as well as 5) contemporary magazines, Christian inspirational books, fiction and non-fiction, in all the areas of the church ministries such as music, worship, teaching, missions, and care. Be very careful with fiction and include dealing with aging in a Christian way.

Some of the authors in my libraries are: John Calvin (digital) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A.J. Cronin, Madeline L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther (digital), Andrew Murray, Lesslie Newbigin, Kathleen Norris, Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, and Phillip Yancey. Browse the Library of Grace for more.   

5. Imagine the library your church would use and describe it.

This is my dream. It is not necessarily a library my church would use. First, my church library would have an online and preferable interactive presence via a webpage/blog besides being a physical location as well. Second, this webpage would provide access to free digital divine libraries and selective Christian book/inspirational bloggers, members in my church; this would facilitate some community building around books, reading and writing besides supporting lay study and scholarship. Third, the webpage would also provide an easy online catalog to the materials held by the library through a tool like LibraryThing.

Bonus: Any suggestions or ideas about church libraries that you'd like to offer!

Ideally, the church library would include a garden or have easy access to a garden setting with a patio. A cafĂ©-like atmosphere (even if its only serve-yourself coffee/tea) would add to the ambience and encourage people to hang out together perhaps pore over a book or talk about it or life! A kid's play area would lend charm and increase usability by moms with toddlers who always seem to need safe places to chat. I can dream, can't I? A library in a garden within a church is a vision that tantalizes me! It marries some of the best in human culture with the awesome divine. 

Thanks, Jan, another great question! I loved playing it.

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