Question For You: What to Include?

We get all sorts of books donated to the library. Typically, they come by the paper-grocery-bag-full, and the library lady sorted through them. Well, the same lady is still in charge of adding books to the library collection (because she knows how her system works, and has all the stickers, office supplies, etc) even though I'm the new Library Lady. The catch: Some of the time, we disagree as to what to include in the library.*

I mean, we agree on a lot. We agree we don't need any more Left Behind books. We agree Joel Osteen doesn't belong on the shelves. Most books are easy decisions because they fit squarely in the middle of the spectrum in our collection. It's the ones at the end of the spectrum that we disagree on.

It's not that the spectrum of books we have is narrow. Being (by all practical purposes) a non-denominational church, and a fairly progressive one, the books in the library reflect a range of Christian views. RC Sproul and James Dobson are included along with Donald Miller and Brian McClaren. The popular modern authors are alongside classics- John Elderidge and Max Lucado are included with CS Lewis and John Bunyan. There are bible commentaries on specific books of the bible, as well as books dealing with modern issues of Creationism, pacifism, prayer in schools, and social justice.

So what's the problem? The spectrum of our library collection seems to cover, well, practically everything in the "Christian" umbrella, so why would we exclude anything? This is where are personal preferences come in. I don't prefer Pat Robertson's books, and my co-volunteer doesn't prefer Donald Miller's. She's uncomfortable with books that have an 'emerging church' label, and I'm wary of ones written by outspoken members of the Religious Right. It's probably good we're both on this ministry team, to keep the library well-rounded!

Part of the book-inclusion decision teeters on the philosophy of the church library. A commenter on my last post about the church library pointed out a great article about different church library philosophies. Ours probably tends toward a "library for outreach". In fact, we just got new shelves with lots of display room! Our area has practically no seating, as it is located in a hallway, and I'm trying to make the books as easy to find and displays as pretty as possible. My goal right now is to make the library accessible, so it will get more use and reach more people.

So, my questions:
  • Does every book in the library need to reflect the priorities of the church?
    • With such a diverse church body, whose priorities should be reflected? The senior-citizen members? The soccer-mom members? The twenty-something, emerging types? The church leadership & pastors? Or just us librarians?
  • Does every book need to be explicitly Christian? Or just edifying?
  • By including a book in the library, does it communicate that we're endorsing it?
  • By excluding a book, does it communicate we're calling it heresy?
As Library Lady, these are the kind of questions I like to consider. Figuring out the philosophy behind why we do what we do is the most important step in having an effective ministry- Library or otherwise.

* Backstory to these thoughts: One day this week, I saw that an Anne Lamott book was in the Free pile, where books we're not incorporating into the collection go. I wondered if it was a duplicate or if it was excluded due to ideological reasons. The same day, I got an email asking if The Shack was available at the library- it's not, yet. My co-volunteer expressed concern over reviews she's read about it. And then I got thinking about all of this


Kathie said...

I can't say for sure what you should include and what you shouldn't but I do have this one piece of advice garnered from several years of working with non-profits. Figure out a mission statement for the library and have it be something that the deacons, elders or entire church body votes on. Then hold each and every book up to that mission statement (this will be easier for some than others of course). Sometimes books may be good but they may not fit the mission statement, so it would have to go. The mission statement is then its own standard that would be passed down after you two handed the baton on to someone else. The mission statement is much less sentimental or impressionable than people. The mission statement should be something not easily manipulated to meet different interpretations as well.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the only reason for not putting a book on a library book shelf is not having room on the shelf to put it there.

Joanna said...

Anonymous- yes, I agree. I would prefer no censorship at all, if that's what it is. The last two questions linger though- if a visitor sees a book I'm currently in the middle of in our library, how will it reflect on the church? Besides, shelf space is limited. We absolutely don't have room for all the Left Behind books that are donated. Period.

Kathie- You have wise words. I have tried to discuss the philosophy and purpose- the mission- of the library with my co-volunteer. When that becomes clearer, all these questions will be easier to answer. I doubt we could get the elders involved because its such a large church and this is such a low-priority ministry, but there are staff people who could definitely help in the process and give input.

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

My mom once took over the church library when we were in Peru. She had quite a time weeding out all the inappropriate books. And by inappropriate I mean sleezy, trashy romance novels whose covers shouldn't be seen outside of an adult bookstore, much less in a church library. (Don't you love how all those were donated to a church??)

I agree with Kathie - what is the purpose of your library? Is it a place where people can find Christian resources? A place where people can find all sorts of resources? I don't think every controversial book needs to be read - in the same way, I don't think every controversial piece of art needs to be seen or appreciated.

You could consider also maybe having a shelf marked "The other point of view" or something for the decidedly non-Christian books. Encouraging people know both sides, without giving the impression that the church endorses all the ideas presented.

Another thought is if there is limited shelf space, I'd argue that Christian books be favored. Non-Christian books can often be found at a library, while depending where you live it might be hard to find a good selection of Christian and/or theology books. I would appreciate a church library that would allow me to find those types of resources that might not be available to me otherwise without purchasing the books. (If you want to encourage people to know both sides, perhaps a sign suggesting another book could help.)

Okay last thing, I promise! :-) When I was growing up, church libraries were important to me because I loved to read. My mom felt comfortable sending me into a church library and letting me read anything in there (at least until I discovered the romance books! hehe). While I don't think everything should be "happy" and censored, I do think it was wise of my mom to monitor what I was reading when I was a young teenager and very impressionable. So having a place where I could pick up an unknown book and my mom not having to worry about its content was important. Just some thoughts.


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