The Library and The Church

fb_booksI’ve been cataloging my daughter’s books in Libib. By the time I’m finished I estimate she will have about 500 books. At her age, I read just as much, but had nowhere near that number of books. I may have owned 25 books in elementary school, but we went to the public library. I wondered: have I become too elitist for the public library? Has the public library failed? and  . . . Are there any lessons for The Church?

The Libraries I Grew Up With

I happened to grow up in places with great public libraries. They had many books on the shelves, and networked with other libraries to provide access to even more books.  I didn’t have to own a whole set of Dr. Seuss, just a few to peak my interest. I owned a few, a friend or cousin had a few, and the library had them all. I could obtain them pretty much anytime I wanted because, if not the one in my town, a library somewhere nearby was usually open.

8495349404_2ec8b18b7b_oMy perception now is that public libraries have less books and less open hours, but more community events (such as children’s reading times) and more computers. (I remember the days of the card catalog.) With these changes, whether real or just perceived, I asked myself if the public system is failing or just changing. To answer that we need to know what is the purpose of the public library.

The Library’s Purpose

My thought on the purpose of the public library is: to enable literacy and access to information and the arts to the public, but I’m not a librarian, so what do the libraries say for themselves?

  • The Saint Paul Public Library mission statement: We connect people in Saint Paul with the imperative and the joy of learning through a lifetime.
  • The Oak Park Public Library enhances the quality of life in our diverse community by providing opportunities for lifelong learning, by creating spaces and opportunities to connect and engage, and by fostering a love of reading and commitment to literacy.
  • The American Library Association wants to enable libraries  to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

Methods Change, Mission Does Not

I don’t think my thoughts on the purpose of libraries was too far off, and I think libraries are doing a pretty good job at fulfilling their mission even though they have changed. If part of their purpose is to provide access to 8233217300_4fa801cd35_oinformation, internet connected computers are a necessity. The Saint Paul library system provides reading times in multiple languages, not to enable people to avoid learning English, but to enable people of all ages to learn.

I haven’t independently confirmed this, but I’ve been told that the U.S. Postal Service was initially against the use of fax machines. That would make sense because using the phone lines for print communication cut into their financial bottom line. But what if the USPS decided that it was not merely in the letter and package business, but that its mission was public communication? Places like Kinkos made part of their business charging people for fax services. If the USPS had embraced email, we might have internet as a public utility. We could certainly debate as to whether or not that would be better than what we have now, but government run internet could certainly provide stiff competition to the monopolies we have now.

16430798391_435610ddfa_bWe must ensure we have the correct mission, and methods have to adapt over time in order to continually fulfill the mission, even though that may mean for me a father that I have to buy my daughter her own books.  Thus, the old ways are not necessarily thrown out, but they may be moved. The mission of The Church is to: love God, love others, make disciples, and heal (Matthew 22:36-40; 28:16-2, Luke 10:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:18). I think we can all agree on that, so the question we have to face is not: What is my favorite way of accomplishing this mission?, but What is the best way?

photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. Library of Congress Classification – Reading Room via photopin (license)
photo credit: Antimidia Nov30 {295/366} Reflexão a cerca de conhecimento… via photopin (license)
photo credit: cheriejoyful The Library 9 via photopin (license)

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