friday five: church libraries

Today's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five would seem to be custom made for me right now. Jan asks about church libraries. My little workspace is in the library and since our longtime volunteer librarian resigned, the nurture committee spent an afternoon taking stock and doing some clean-up of space as well as some contemplation of the purpose of the library in 2013, and how much energy and resources should be expended thereon.

From Jan: 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?

We have one. It's in the office wing behind the reception desk, but has its own sliding glass door that can be opened for meetings. It has shelves of books, one long counter/desk area with an old computer unconnected to the internet but loaded with library software, a few cupboards, and a big conference table. There are also bookshelves that extend around the reception area. 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. One of the fun discoveries was that at some point 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 think the women's book group often donates a copy of what they have read when they finish, and I'm sure there are other donations, but I don't know how books were chosen if the “library” ever purchased them.

2. Has this church library changed in recent years?

Not as far as I know. We did some surface cleaning a few weeks ago. It was pretty cluttered, and I was working in a room full of bookshelves without a shelf for my own things. We shuffled books to get me a couple shelves and did some basic de-cluttering. They got a software program some time ago, so some books are catalogued by hand in the card catalog and some are on the computer.

3. Does your church library serve as space for other activities, such as meetings or as a multi-purpose room?

It's a conference room decorated with bookshelves. It's well-used for smaller committee meetings, some women's circles, the Friday morning book group meets there (and uses the resources sometimes), the RevDoc's spouse comes over and works in it sometimes (he is part-time at his church which is “up the hill”), the RevDoc uses it for meeting with families for memorial services, and, as I said above, it's my office. It's a well-used space.

4. Is a church library necessary? What does a library need?

This is our question. We don't want to throw everything out, but when it's easier to go to google than go to big (old, possibly outdated) reference books, what do we do with what we have? Case in point: the women's book group used to use the reference books to look things up as they read, but since I joined and read the books on my iPad, they turn to me and I look things up electronically. For better or worse (and I think it's both) it's pretty easy to highlight a word or a name and hit “define” or “search google” or “search wikipedia.”

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

I have no idea. I didn't grow up with church libraries, so it's a new concept to me and I haven't spent much time imagining. I am looking forward to reading what other people have to say. When the former librarian resigned, a young women in our congregation sent the nurture committee a proposal for a paid position to shape up the library and try to encourage its use through newsletter articles, book groups, etc., to see if it could still serve a greater purpose than it does. 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. If she'd been willing to do it as a volunteer… So. There it is.

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

I've got nothing, but I'm interested.


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5 Responses to friday five: church libraries

  1. Cindy D (your mom's friend) says:

    As a retired librarian, I’d offer these thoughts –
    A church library is a good idea. I’d think it should be a resource library of books with religious connections, anything from meditations to games and crafts for groups, and for books not available from a public library.

  2. Elizabeth Nordquist says:

    I have had some very good experiences with church libraries, and one not so much. Those experience lends itself to conversation rather then comment on blog…when the time is right.

  3. Cathy Putman says:

    Yes, the church library is a conundrum. I find that if you are under 8 or over 60 the church library is a great find. Working with that idea, our children’s collection (about 400 books) has been revamped as picture book programming associated with the lectionary. One picture book a week is used when young children who cannot sit still for church go with the “storyteller.” The books cycle with the three year lectionary. Got some excellent suggestions from Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Lectionary Links on the storypath site.

    Recently put the church catalog on Library Thing, a virtually free site ($25 membership) that stores catalog info — the MARC record, your tags and other comments — in the cloud, so it is avail at home. I find no one uses it from home but me, but it is useful in finding books that church members are interested in. We use the Dewey system. . But stimulating that interest is a lot like selling books — often called hand selling, you interest the person book by book. They don’t usually come with pinpoint interests. Creating the online catalogt was also a terrific time to weed the collection. Weeding is essential! In the last seven years I have probably removed 1000 books from the collection and added about 500, about a third from donations. We have about 1700 books.Recent publication date is key.

    Young adult users will use the library for popular fiction — which hopefully you can get donated — and self help books. Often I find that self help books from church presses, unless very well written, don’t circulate. If you carefully sift the secular market you can find a few useful ones. Sometimes self help for medical, diet or exercise circulate for older readers, but usually they buy the book first and donate it to us. We have an open and affirming congregation (GLBT friendly) and have collected books about sexual orientation and religious practice that circulate somewhat.

    BIble Study and church history stuff is used sporadically but it is used because it is easy to find.That’s really the thing. Libraries are a lot of work. A good one takes a lot of years of dedication — I’ve been at it, or at least parts of it, for 15 years as a volunteer and it’s only now rounding into shape. I’ve learned a lot, my faith has grown. That’s enough.

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