19 July 2013

Friday Five: Church Libraries

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?
This is so incredibly topical for us:  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  An entire room of out-of-date texts that hadn't been utilized in years:  gone.  I still have several shelves of reference materials to go through, some of which are good enough to keep but most of which need to go also.  So, currently, our church library is fairly bare-bones and in development.

2. Has this church library changed in recent years?
Prior to this summer project, no.  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.  The inscription from the author gave thanks to the author's wife for all her help in writing the book.  My inner middle-schooler still giggles about this.  

3. Does your church library serve as space for other activities, such as meetings or as a multi-purpose room?
We've recently moved our Director of Youth & Family Ministry out of her cramped corner office into what was the library.  Before this move, the library was occasionally used for meetings of different committees.  We're restructuring this space in our church, which includes a chapel, the Youth Ministry office and a second office that will become our Choir Director's office.

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

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 found a book by Oral Roberts on seed faith and the prosperity gospel in our library:  such a volume might belong in other churches, but not in ours!

5. Imagine the library your church would use and describe it.
Something like this would be ideal, only with couches!
What I hope to see is an area in our chapel that is lined with shelves and has comfortable seating for meetings.  "Classics" should be carefully chosen among church authors and theologians whose works have stood the test of time:

  • Martin Luther (DUH)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Augustine
  • Teresa of Avila

There should be a good rotation of current books for people to read:  nothing more than five years old for the most part, and (for us) mostly by Lutheran authors like:

  • David Lose
  • Rich Melheim
  • Walter Wangerin, Jr.
  • Gerhard Forde
  • Terence Fretheim
  • Mark Alan Powell
  • Mary Hinkle Shore
  • Barbara Rossing
  • Kelly Fryer
  • Marva Dawn
  • Susan Briehl

  Other authors I would add to our collection include:  

  • Rob Bell
  • Philip Yancey
  • N.T. Wright
  • Brian McLaren
  • Leonard Sweet
  • Andrew Root
  • Mike Yaconelli
  • Will Willimon
  • Max Lucado
  • John Ortberg
  • Barbara Brown Taylor
  • Anne Lamott
  • Sara Miles
  • Elizabeth Achtemeier
  • Karen Armstrong

I would be VERY careful about the selection of fiction, if there were any to begin with.  "Christian" fiction is often capitalizing on an evangelical agenda to make money on people who will suffer bad writing because one or more of the main characters are "Christians" and the climax is often centered around a person having a born again experience that brings all things to a neat and tidy end.  Life is rarely so neat and tidy.  If it were up to me, here's a list of fiction authors I'd be happy to see in our library:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Graham Greene
  • Flannery O'Connor
  • Wendell Berry
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Gail Godwin
  • Haven Kimmel

A Keurig or other small coffeemaker and supplies would be wonderful, as would a selection of teas and other drinks.

Bonus: Any suggestions or ideas about church libraries that you'd like to offer!
Don't be afraid to just pitch stuff if you can't give it away, but recycle!  Our local Kiwanis receives money for paper, so we enlisted our youth to rip off covers (they can't recycle hardcovers) and box up the paper for the Kiwanis program.  

[Edit 26 July 2013]
Some of you were right to notice there aren't nearly enough women on my list.  That was an oversight I meant to correct earlier this week but got distracted - my apologies.  I've added quite a few to my list now.  Thanks for the check!


  1. I love this post! Passing it along to a few leaders in my own congregation as a hint =)

  2. Lots of great ideas! And -- ahem -- lots of male writers. :) Something to consider.

  3. It sounds like we are in similar places with our libraries.

    I wonder why there are no women on your lists, even the contemporary lists, until you get to fiction?

    1. You're welcome, Wendy - thanks for being one of the folks who rightly called me out.