What is your idea of a church library? From my view point, the typical church library consists of a shelving unit, small cupboard, or locked, antique bookcase filled with a few dusty old books which someone once "donated" to the church.
In fact, I suspect these "donated libraries" usually came from someone who was busy disposing of the possessions of a deceased relative and couldn't deal with the guilt of discarding Uncle Joe's books!
Now I believe churches should sponsor libraries and as a pastor I have encouraged laity librarians in two different congregations to establish a church library. So you can imagine my delight when I recently received information from Louise Swartz, who operates a church library ministry. Her organization, Librarians for Christ, provides encouragement, instruction, and guidance, but not financial resources, for churches who are hoping to begin or to improve their library.
From her research, Louise states that only about 50 percent of Christian churches have a library of any kind with only about half of those active or successful. She believes the percentage of Adventist churches with libraries would be even lower which is a tragedy for a denomination that places such strong emphasis on publishing books, magazines, and other resources.
She believes that we would especially encourage new believers to read more and study deeper into biblical teachings and the church's history and doctrines if the outstanding resources we produce were readily available in the congregation. Thus the library can become a crucial educational tool for the local church.
If you would like to encourage your church to establish or improve its library, you may find the following suggestions helpful.
First, recognize that a church library is a ministry. A well-functioning library provides both members and prospective members with opportunity to discover for them selves the great themes of Scripture and the serious impact that a relationship with God can have in their personal lives. The Bible itself visions encounters with "the Word of God" as saving lost humanity.
A good library is valuable. It equips the members and leadership for program and activity planning. It shows that the church is seriously interested in helping members develop their spiritual gifts, and it stimulates people to dream about ministry possibilities.
The variety of materials available in a church library also promotes an eclectic view of ministry that invites every member to participate in church life in some way. The books, videos, periodicals, and other re sources offer material for education, personal growth, and sharing.
A pleasant library, hopefully in a dedicated room with comfortable accommodations, also provides wholesome, needed relaxation and recreation.
A church library can begin small and expand as resources and interests allow. In my own congregation, we recently expanded from a small, closet-sized room, to a much larger classroom which has comfortable seating, good lighting, project tables and planning space.
A good church library needs much more than books. It can include archives of the local congregation's history (photographs, artifacts, mementos), career information, games, maps and charts, periodicals, sermon tapes, videos, transparencies, etc. To encourage an interest among youngsters, stories, videos, craft and mission projects can be featured.
At the very least a library should contain several good commentaries, reference books, Scripture translations, representative denominational books, and current periodicals both from the denomination and from the general Christian press. Of course, no Adventist church library would be thorough without a complete collection of Ellen White's books or a wide collection of heritage, mission, and doctrinal resources.
Your local church library deserves planning and budgeting. Staff should be recruited from those who have an interest in seeing this ministry flourish and adequate funds to provide new purchases and current subscriptions should be included in the church's budgetary process.
Your library staff should not feel dependent upon other people's discards to stock the shelves. While some donations are valuable, often a willingness to discard a book is an appropriate evaluation of its potential worth. It is better to have fewer resources while we maintain those that are current or are a valuable, ongoing resource. Free does not always mean worthwhile.
Finally, bathe your whole project in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to bless your staff and plans and to use your library as a means of reaching people with the good news.