Is There Still a Place for Church Libraries?

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I love the library. As a budget minded reader, the library is a magical place where I can get my hands on so many (free!) books. Sure, there might be wait times and late fees, but it's still pretty great. 

Growing up, I believe my CRC church also had a library. I think it was combined with the supply room but I'm not totally sure. I remember the library as being a little dark and not overly welcoming. But there were books and videos (VHS movies all the way). And I think they were good ones. And I think people used (and appreciated) the church library. 

I'm wondering, is there still a place for church libraries? Does YOUR church have a library? What kind of use does it get? What do you think should be the future of church libraries?

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Participant

Goshen CRC had a library up until last year. No one used it :-(, and we wanted to use the space for our exploding kids ministry, so we gave away all the books and made a new nursery. 

my 2c. I think books/information has gotten a lot more accessible. The real value churches provide is curation.  So instead of a library, we encourage folks to read and pass along books. Ths pastor will buy books and give away. But either way, for better or worse, our unused library is no more. 

Admin

Really great point, Samuel. What channels do you use when you want to recommend books to your congregation? 

Participant

Word of mouth is the best. Two step plan. 1) You read a good book, if you like it then 2) Tell someone else to read it. that simple.  Getting access to book is easier than ever. (I mean, even we the CRC have our faith alive resources readable online for free). Some folks use their local libraries and request books (which an added bonus is that good resources make their way into public libraries.) Some folks use Audible and listen to books constantly, others borrow from the initial reader.  Or for some resources I'd love to do more book club small groups. Over all people and culture seem to trump rooms of books. 

I'm very curious to hear responses. Ours is not used extensively, but it's hard to know why. Is it because we have a great public library? online books and Kindle? our book selection? Some have asked for us to move the media center to a more central location to increase visibility, but will that change things? It's difficult to know.

Do other churches have policies in place or mission statements for their Media Centers? 

Community Builder

I like what you wrote about curating being a value, Samuel. It's true that we all have lots of access to media -- books, Kindles, and so on. It's good your pastor encourages people and gives away books, but I wonder if somehow we could more organizedly and effectively share good books/content with each other? 

Community Builder

PS - Our church library was cleared out and disbanded years ago. It was full of old, dusty books and I suspect it became a catch-all for books no one wanted. No one really "owned" it, either, so it was just as well it went away. A while back we redid the narthex/entryway to our sanctuary and put in a nice tall shelf. Our previous pastor picked out several good books and placed them in clear plastic holders on that shelf, and people were invited to take a book if it interested them. He gave away books, too, when people met with him or expressed interest in something. He's a big reader. After that pastor left, I put "blurbs" on all the book holders with a little summary about the book, to make it more inviting (I hope) for people to consider them and take one if they were interested. I also tried to make the choices a little less theologically ponderous, but still good (like Lewis Smedes rather than a tome by N.T. Wright -- both great, but ...). And I added a couple children's books. The Jesus Storybook was quite popular.

I myself, besides reading, also listen to some great podcasts that add to my spiritual life, and I read a lot of articles, too, that do the same. I sometimes share links to articles on our church Facebook page, but I know Facebook is not a hang-out anymore for younger people. And Instagram doesn't allow links. Well, in the bio they do, I guess. Snapchat I haven't really explored, and I don't know if any of those are so effective. There's YouTube I guess. Share book reviews on YouTube? It's a thought.

Admin

I really like the idea of sharing blurbs about the books. Also, interesting questions on HOW we share podcasts, articles, and books with others. I think a church with an active Facebook (or even Instagram) could spark some interesting discussion by tossing out a simple question, i.e. What are your favorite faith formation books for young children?

A friend and I just took over our  church library and are doing our best to increase interest in our books. All of the comments so far have been from churches who have disbanded  their libraries. We are not ready to do that.  

we held a book sale and sold off all our duplicates and books that were not being taken kut anymore.  From thie money we generated from this sale, we purchased some new books from another church that had a Christian boom store.  Our church also held a collection for the library and with that money, and some money that was in our bank account we were able to purchase quite a number of new books.  

We are looking for any other ideas to get ore people to use our library.  We have a great location, just off the fellowship hall on the main level.

some things we have discovered is that 

1.  People won't take out non/fiction Delphi help/God help books" 

3.  People want fiction.

3.  People say "no more Amish books but that is mainly what.is being taken out.

4.  We are thinking of holding reading contests and giving prizes (for the children) 

5.  We are planning on "featuring" new books with a little review.

 6 . Doe anyone out there have any other ideas to generate some new life into our libraries?

This post was. Written by Yvonne Morgan

Admin

Thanks, Yvonne, for sharing your fresh commitment to the library! Did you have a hard time deciding on new books to purchase?

Participant

We sponsor summer reading programs for kids (and sometimes, adults) and winter reading challenges for adults, and these have increased our circulation considerably.  We make the kids' programs as interesting as we can, and challenging without being overwhelming.  We typically have a good number of people participating in our programs and challenges and, most importantly, they seem to enjoy it and adults, in particular, have commented that they have been spurred on to read genres they might not otherwise have considered (this is always one of our goals, to get people out of their reading rut).

 

We publish a monthly newsletter, in which we always print a main article  and list of new books in the library, along with reviews, or an author focus, or patron interviews, or a genre focus, or more.  We make sure to display all the books mentioned in each newsletter on a highly visible, red bookcase.

 

 

We have a church library at First CRC in Brandon, Manitoba and it is used on a regular basis. There is always books being borrowed from the library.

Admin

That's awesome Shaunna! 

Community Builder

I have a cousin who has been running a church library for years. Her church is in Wisconsin. Here is what she said when I asked her about it.

We have a church library! We have around 5000 items, including Christian fiction, non-fiction, and DVDs. We have a self-serve checkout system and the library gets used throughout the week. We check out hundreds of items each month. We are very fortunate to have a church board that sees the value in this resource and gives us a budget for new books. We also work with other ministries to provide resources related to their studies. For example, if the pastor is mentioning a book in his sermon, we will make sure to have a copy of that book to check out. Or one of our library volunteers will go to women's Bible study or youth group events to present the newest releases for those readers. We have a nook in the children's area with books at kids' height and pillows and tables and chairs to sit at and read. We have a very active "new books" cart and use social media and a newsletter to promote the new releases. We do not have e-books since there is a considerable expense connected with that. As long as our patronage remains strong, we will continue to provide this service. 

Admin

Good perspective and helpful insight on informing the church. Thanks for sharing! 

Although with our recent remodeling project the size of our church library was reduced by half, our church library is still a vibrant enterprise at Orland Park CRC.  Volunteers staff the library for both morning services.  Since we just reopened in January after having been closed for 8 months due to remodeling, our circulation is still a little slow, but each month it has been increasing as people familiarize themselves with the location of their favorite items. We have a collection of at least 5,000 items including picture books, Easy Readers, Junior Fiction, Adult Fiction, Adult Non-fiction, and DVDs. 

We are blessed with a space easily accessible to the main areas where people congregate on Sunday mornings so displays are easily visible and draw people in to find something to read.  Children love to come in to find a picture book after Sunday School. Though we no longer have space for reading inside the library, there are chairs and reading areas just outside the library doors! Children always love to have someone read to them. 

For all the predictions of the paperless society and the demise of libraries, many young people are returning to print media because it is a novelty for them in the same way we have seen a resurgence of vinyl records. Obviously, novelties may be short-lived, but there is increasing evidence that young people often prefer print media. 

As someone else mentioned, I try to coordinate displays with various ministries in church as well as with the pastors' sermons.  We also tailor our collection to the reading habits of our congregation.  Our library policy allows us to use donations (or not) as we determine the appropriateness for our collection.  The library is not  the repository of anything nobody knows what to do with! Donations are always appreciated, as it allows us to expand our collection without using money from the budget, but sometimes the items donated are just not useful or we might already have the item.

So many of the adults who use our church library have mentioned they so appreciate knowing the items they pick out will be something they will be comfortable reading.  While many public libraries do have Christian Fiction or Inspirational Fiction collections, those collections may be limited.  The items found in the church library will not have offensive language, racy sex scenes, or gratuitous violence. Church libraries make the book selection easier. 

These are some of my thoughts!  Strong congregational support as well as council support make keeping the library viable much easier.  A good group of volunteers to staff the library is also very useful.  It makes the job of keeping things organized all the more fun!

Peggy 

 

Admin

So much useful information, Peggy! It sounds like your library is kept up very intentionally and well used/loved. Thanks for sharing! 

Recently the library in our church was relocated. In the process of relocating the librarians cleaned house. They removed all of the books that apparently had rarely been checked out. These books were given away to anyone in the church that wanted them. Among the giveaways were reference works, such as various Bible commentaries, Calvin Institutes, Barns Notes, and many Christian biographies. There were some newer scholarly works as well. All of these are gone, and now all that is left are the Christian novels. I call these fluff. There are few books left that truly challenge the reader to grapple with Biblical truth. Nothing concerning justice, race relations, or other social issues. I am afraid the content of our new library reflects sadly that what the Christians at my church want, at least the ones that frequent the library, is to be entertained, and they are not interested in engaging in deeper thinking. If this is what we are going call a church library, then I would say we need neither the library or the librarian! 

Admin

I think you've hit on a big challenge of keeping up the church library, Paul. Would a diverse group of people "curating" the books be helpful? Or what other systems (if any) might be helpful?

I agree with some of the comments here that sometimes church libraries turn into an area full of books no one else knew what to do with. Ours even has a "Dutch" section, with books that most of us can't read because we don't know Dutch. Last year our church sent out a congregational survey asking members how they felt about certain areas of church and there was a section about the library. Turns out around one fifth of survey takers didn't even know we had one!

We are in the midst of a building project and that area will be redone. Maybe we could use some of the input seen here going forward. Thank you for bringing this up in the Network.

Admin

Tons of good feedback! I'm so thankful for the sharing of ideas and personal experience. I think your church is not alone in having a library that people in the church don't even know about. BUT, definitely something to consider in a remodel. 

Participant

Our church library has devolved into a heavily used fiction storehouse. It make me sad. Shelves full of "Christian" fiction. 

Unfortunately I think that's what's happening to all libraries and churches. People need to go to more conferences and hear speakers (and get motivated to change). It's hard to get women to even come for a community breakfast on Saturday morning to hear the speakers. 

We have a church library committee that has just been reborn in recent years! They have been diligently meeting to categorize the books we have, thin them out, and make the tough calls about what books we should have and what type of books are not quite fitting for a church library. Books are put on display and rotated, a church budget item allows us to buy new ones, and newsletter reviews are regularly included. As a new Christian I remember the church library being indispensable! It was a place I could go and trust that I was getting good information about the faith and the Bible. I also used it as a place to prepare for Bible studies and teaching Sunday School.  In my experience biblical commentaries other than Matthew Henry's would be helpful in the church library. It's a good place for small group videos and study guides for those groups looking for study ideas. I say we keep the church library but let's keep it up to date and organized. There are people in the world who do care about these things and would love to serve. And as a pastor it is great to see members do the difficult work of discerning what is best when it comes to content and thinking hard about how those decisions are made. 

 

We have a church library and we have recently culled it to get rid of books that we thought had little value for our congregation. Many of these were donated from previous members. There was little discernment as to whether or not they were important to place in our library.  A big problem today is that many people do not read anything except a short newsfeed on their phone.  We are reassessing the purpose for a church library. We do have great reference material and commentaries, but many in out church would rather purchase a book than hunt it at a library. We have tried a book cart at coffee hour to promote circulation, but that was not effective.  We are open to forming a better purpose for what requires time to keep organized and promoted. I am interested in suggestions.  (Denver CO)

 

Community Builder

Who'd have thunk that a post on libraries would generate so much activity?! Love it.

I am in one book club, started and ended another a few years back, and often think of starting another. These ideas and thoughts are inspiring! Maybe somehow I can link the book club idea with a library revitalization...

We recently did a construction project in our church and our head librarian successfully "lobbied" our council to move our library out of the basement into a large hallway upstairs with easier access. It was made more inviting in the process. I wish I could attach a picture to let you see it. A gifted carpenter of our church made book shelves to match existing woodwork. A padded window seat (with storage cubes underneath) was added under the original stained glass window.  A matching antique dresser became the storage for librarian supplies.  The collection was reduced due to space constrictions, but still contains a variety of options for a variety of interests. It is no longer behind a locked door and self-serve check out is allowed during the week. It has been a worthwhile change and we've found that even with all the other options available for reading there are a number of people who still like to hold an actual book in their hands.

When I became church librarian, we had an excellent collection of inspirational fiction and shelves crammed with old unread books, many donated, Hardly any books circulated.  I first weeded mercilessly, then got the budget increased to buy new books that people would read.  I promote the library with new book displays, newsletters in members' mailboxes,  and a changing bulletin board.  I have a book cart that I wheel into the narthex each Sunday featuring new books, books that go with the sermon or Sunday School topics, and seasonal books.  Right now it has books from Christianity Today's best book list of last year, and Easter and Palm Sunday books for kids, as well as A Wrinkle in Time for folks who plan to see the movie.  I still buy a few inspirational fiction works, but have gotten many other members to read what's current. I appreciate book reviews in the Banner and Christianity Today, and take requests from readers. Too often libraries are staffed by dear souls who just like to read novels, and not by those trained as librarians.  Our library gets quite a bit of use, with self check out using book cards so it doesn't need to be staffed constantly, and I have a couple volunteers who help me check in books.  It also helps that our pastor reads and recommends books from our library.   (Bellevue CRC, WA)

Participant

I go to a Baptist church of about 500-600 people.  We have a library that contains upwards of 10,000 books and it is a busy place every single Sunday.  It is also open on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, and while traffic is much less then, it still gets used some.  Any given week, around 150 people have something out from the library.  I think our church is unusual in this (based purely on my own observations in churches i visit) and I don't really know for sure why it's this way, but there are a lot of people in our church who think the library is one of our great strengths.

Our active users range in age from pre-schoolers who can only just write their names on the cards,  to a home-bound man in his 90's for whom we put together a stack of books every couple of weeks.  There are lots of people who come in every single week to get new books.

We have worked hard to make the library a pleasant and attractive space.  It is not very big, so we've tried to make everything as accessible as possible.  We have a number of different display areas where we place featured items - for example, books which are featured in our monthly newsletter, or seasonal books...and we even have an endcap display on which we place "bottom shelf books" - because they are hard for our older patrons to reach!

We try to make it as easy as possible to find what someone is looking for by using helpful spine labels - historical fiction, mystery, etc, but also series labels which I type and affix to the tops of the spines.

We conduct summer reading programs for all ages and also Adult Reading Challenges during the winter months.

We have done reading aloud programs for the pre-schoolers and although we don't have a formal program now, we are still available to do it if a teacher asks.

We put out a monthly newsletter with interesting articles and information about upcoming programs, book reviews, lists of new items in the library (and we keep a mailing list for this newsletter, if you're interested in seeing it!)

So...in our church, the answer is a resounding YES! There is still a place for a library in our church, and for some people, it's one of  the reasons they chose to come there.

I'm wondering how many church libraries are actually headed by a trained librarian, rather than by people who just like to read.

 

Participant

My friend and I run our library together, along with a committee of about eight or ten other people.  My friend is not a trained librarian but did, for many years, sell books through some direct-from-publishers order business which she established, so she is pretty knowledgeable about the publishing aspect of things.  I got exactly half-way through library school before our oldest child was born.  Admittedly this was a long time ago, but I also volunteered at my local library for some years before we started running our church library.

 

On our committee there are a few ladies who have worked in libraries before or still do so now.

 

I know of a few churches which have librarians who have actual librarian training/experience...but I suspect this is a small minority.  

Admin

Curious. . . Debbie, et all, do you have any best practices you might be willing to share with others? Or any resources you might recommend for libraries being run by those without much experience?

Two years ago we pulled some stats out of our library usage records and found that nearly 2/3 of the books in our "library" had never been checked out. Of the remaining 1/3 we checked authors in our collection against their availability in the public library and found that most were freely and readily accessible 6 days a week at a neighbourhood, local library. It seemed less than a good use of space to hold these volumes in our church for congregants to access for an hour after worship on Sunday.

So, we offered them to our congregation and whatever they didn't take we packed into boxes and gave to a local charitable book store. They are gone and that space is being repurposed and, for us, that is a good thing!