Expanding the “Church” Library

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.  Neil Postman~

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is not 50 Shades. This book is a different kind of dystopia. In it, the author depicts a library with hardly any books. The librarian gives the main character Eddie a tour explaining where books used to sit on the shelves and why they’re no longer there. The powers that Fforde imagined deemed almost all books as too offensive.

The shelves of my local library are becoming emptier as every year passes–but for a different reason. State funding comes in based on the percentage of items checked out.

If a book remains in place for six months, it falls victim to the Used Book Sale held not once, but twice a year.

This library is in Central Pennsylvania but doesn’t have any books by Pearl S. Buck on the shelves. Buck wrote prolifically but is best known for The Good Earth. her Pulitzer Prize winner. She also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. So a writer from our home state who garnered the world’s most notable literary awards isn’t on our home town library shelf.

All because, at some point, dust collected on the copies for six months.

In the meantime, the National Institute of Literacy says that two-thirds of students who “are unable to read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or welfare. These individuals will also suffer a 78% chance of not catching up.” And that’s not all.

–32 million adults can not read in the United States equal to 14% of the population.
–21% of US adults read below the fifth-grade level.
–19% of high school graduates can not read.
–85% of juveniles who interact with the juvenile court system are considered functionally illiterate.
–70% of inmates in America’s prisons can not read above the fourth-grade level.

Rod Dreher is floating the idea of a community coalition of churches pooling resources to build public libraries for kids that can be safe places for kids to find worthwhile books like Buck’s novels.

” Why couldn’t churches within a specific community pool their resources and open a children’s library where parents didn’t have to worry about their children being propagandized by Wokeness (the liberal agenda)— especially on gender and sexuality?

He and I approach the endeavor from different angles but with the same goals.

Great literature teaches people to think, discern, and act rightly.

Great literature offers us the self-sacrifice of Sydney Carton who gave his life to fulfill the joy of someone else’s life. And he went to a far, far better place.

Great literature gives us the grace a bishop showed to Jean Valjean when the cleric forgave Valjean’s theft and helped turn his path toward improving the lives of others.

Great literature gives us Homer Smith–a Ulysses for America–a Baptist African-American man who helps German Catholic nuns build a chapel.

And great literature gives us Wang Lung, Buck’s protagonist who shows us the remnants of an ancient culture playing out in a twentieth-century setting.

Buck thought Christianity was irrelevant to the illiterate Chinese peasant when she wrote. It’s too bad she didn’t live to see the seeds of China’s conversion now bearing fruit. Still, her books provide insight into human nature.

Great literature has many lessons to teach. But books collecting dust that are then discarded teach us nothing.

If churches establish community libraries to offer literacy and cultural enrichment, will people come? If we build it, will they come?

They may already be coming to church–and we are assuming they can read the words of songs in books or on screens–that they can read the Word of God.

And if they’re not coming to church–we can offer to open the world and eternity to them because that’s what books do. And that is what the Church should do.

Bringing people to reading would be a secondary task to the work of establishing a place for great books. Such a secondary task would include literacy volunteers teaching basic skills and how to read traditional books as well as access e-books.

But we can’t plant seeds without first preparing a garden.

Having a proper garden of books can change the world for anyone willing to come but unable to find a place to grow.

The ability to read and finding enrichment in daily reading–including God’s Word–improves lives, families, and societies.

And that is a task for the Church.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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16 Replies to “Expanding the “Church” Library”

  1. A church library is important. Some children only see a library on Sunday. Having good books is a blessing. Our church carries my children’s book, “Licky the Lizard”. 🙂

    1. I have a plan in my head and heart for starting something in my town. When we gear it up, I’d like to put Licky on the Shelf, Melissa! Thanks and God bless!

  2. Love this idea, Nancy. All the points you make about “Great literature” are so important to literacy in general. But especially considering community libraries where the church is involved so literature promotes us “to think, discern, and act rightly.” And where we won’t have to worry about the messages contained in the books provided.

    1. The books and the programs too! It’s time to see the Church as more than a place to worship on Sunday. Many churches are already on their way in that direction. Thanks, Karen, and God bless!

  3. This is one of the most terrifying posts I’ve read in a while. We’re headed toward a very dark place. These statistics and realities make it obvious why there’s so little civil and informed discourse, why people can’t reason with one another, and why the lessons of history are not learned. They were obviously never read nor absorbed. My father was a librarian. Libraries are important in my family. The 6-months rule you described is appalling. I found some of the best literature I ever read, Pulitzer prize literature, by prowling around in the dusty shelves that weren’t visited often. Thank God the librarians didn’t get rid of the works I found at that time. They opened new worlds to me. The idea to have churches take the lead in literacy is an old one. Literacy was important to our founding fathers and mothers, because one must be able to read in order to know God through the pages of Scripture. It may be time for churches to lead out in literacy again.

    1. The Church taking the lead in literacy goes back to the Dark Ages. The Church continued to read. As we enter a new Dark Age–perhaps we’re already in it–an age of ignorance, we need to be that Church of the Dark Days and Middle Ages. Thanks, Melinda! God bless!

  4. Excellent and convicting article. It’s scary how little our society is reading these days.

  5. I love to read, always have. I taught my children to read so that they could enjoy learning, for which they do. Huxley’s fear is mine as well, “the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” The information overload in our society seems to cripple the need to read. Especially the word of God.

    Secondly, you write, “If churches establish community libraries to offer literacy and cultural enrichment, will people come? If we build it, will they come?” Oh, how wonderful that would be to have a library of good wholesome works for children, teens, and adults to read. But I fear that the answer to your question, “Will they come?” is a grave, “no.”

    A few years back our church had a book store similar to a library, and very few of our congregants lingered there. Eventually, the staff (not me) decided to close the store, because they felt it was not necessary. Such a mistake! But here we are, people who go to church, who rarely read anything, and in most cases, they don’t even read their Bible. Sunday’s message is their only insight into God’s word. So sad!

    1. If we just set up a library, they won’t come. We’d need to market it to the community–and with the marketing to the community, market the idea of reading for enjoyment and enrichment–the joy of sitting still to read–a truly lost art today. Perhaps people need to be invited into the quiet. Thanks for your wise insight and experience, Marcie! God bless!

  6. Wow, Nancy. This is another wake up call. Big time. I was not aware of the scope of this matter – literacy and rich library literature diminishing like this. Your idea for churches hosting community libraries is absolutely brilliant! I am praying even now, for this idea to take root in as many churches as possible. What a gift and an outreach tool. A church library. May it be, oh Lord!

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