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What Church Libraries Have to Offer Other Church Ministries
By: Luanne Radecki Blackburn

Church library ministries for too long have kept themselves under wraps. We church librarians quietly go about serving our congregations-shelving our books, CDs, and DVDs-never realizing the full potential of our ministry. Church libraries and church librarians have systems and skills that are needed by other ministries in our churches, and as we become more purposeful about finding areas of collaboration, we can increase the profile and perceived relevancy of the library ministry.

My eyes were opened to the potential that the church library has to serve other ministries three years ago. The pastor over the adult education area and his support staff had a problem…what to do with the small group curricula they had collected and stored over the years. A list of titles was available on the church website, but the material itself was housed in locked closets in the church basement. In order to access any of it, a small group leader had to come to the church during office hours, ask a staff member to let him see the studies he was interested in, and then be escorted by a staff member to the basement to unlock one or more combination locks on the closet doors. It was not the most accessible system.

Adult education had shelf space available in a room with high visibility adjacent to the church library, but no system for cataloging or checking out materials. Two staff members asked to meet with me and my library ministry co-leader. Though they weren't sure what we could do, they saw us as highly organized people with our finger on the pulse of how church members use Bible study materials.

By the end of that meeting, we librarians had come up with a simple, inexpensive solution. Why not catalog the small group materials as a subgroup of the library's computerized system? Together with the staff we agreed on guidelines for how many copies of each study, workbook, or DVD set we would keep. My co-leader and I volunteered to process all the material into the system-about 500 items originally-and did so over the course of two months. The adult education budget covered the expenses we incurred for the bar codes, book pockets, checkout cards, and other materials used; the total cost was less than $200.

Now small group leaders are able to browse the shelves in the Small Group Ministry Resource Center any time the church building is open. We set up the same kind of self-checkout system we have in the main library. The church staff doesn't have to spend time managing this material any longer; their only responsibility is the acquisition of new material. The librarians handle the everyday tasks in the course of doing the same in the main library.

This project benefited the main library as much as the small group ministry. We were able to move some of our material to the small group library, clearing precious shelf space for our own growing collection. But the biggest benefit of this project was that we demonstrated the relevancy of the library to key staff people. After being given extremely lean budgets for two years, the library budget was given the full amount we requested shortly after completing this project, even while the overall church budget was not increased much.

What ministries in your own church could you serve with your library skills and resources? For example, you might set up a teacher's resource library for the children's ministry. If you have a lot of homeschoolers in your church, you could set up a special section for their used books so that others might borrow them. There's no end to the possibilities. Take some time while you are shelving books to imagine how the library might serve the other ministries in your church.

Luanne Radecki Blackburn is a co-leader of the library ministry at Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis. This article is courtesy of Lifeway Christian Resources, www.lifeway.com.

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