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Church Library Basics

December 12, 2006 jill Blog
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This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue.

By Vernita Kennen

Our church library needs a mission statement? You must be joking. It’s no joke! Much like the old wisdom says, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you have arrived?” Every church library needs a reason for existing and a plan for the future.

Writing a mission or purpose statement is not an easy task, but it is one that makes all operations of the library much easier. With such a statement, everything that is done in the library can be easily evaluated in terms of that statement. Is the library fulfilling the mission? Does the library know its purpose and serve that purpose?

Gather the members of the library committee and the library’s liaison person(s) on the church staff (clergy and laity). Work together to list the reasons why your congregation should have a church library. Consider questions the following questions.

* What is the mission or purpose statement of the congregation itself?

* How does the library serve that mission or purpose?

* Does the library exist to serve the spiritual needs of the congregation? Educational needs? Recreation needs?

* Does the library serve only the members of the congregation?

Draft some wording…the simpler and more direct, the better. And, remember that you want a mission/purpose statement, not several sentences or paragraphs about the library. Ask the rest of the staff to review it. Ask some of the most faithful users of the library to review and critique the statement. Refine as needed, and then have the statement adopted by the library committee. Ask the church council to affirm the adoption of the statement.

Communicate the statement to the congregation in a variety of ways. Post copies in the library. Always include the statement in any newsletter, booklist or publication of the library. Read it at the beginning of each of the library committee meetings. Pray about the mission and how the library might better fulfill that mission or purpose. Don’t forget to evaluate the mission/purpose statement periodically; everything changes over time, and the statement will need to be updated eventually, too.

Designing a Materials-Selection Policy

With mission or purpose statement in hand, the next crucial step is to determine what policies will guide your acquisition of resources and materials.

Begin by considering these basic questions:

* What materials, other than books, will you include in the collection?

* Will you include items reflecting opposing, but equally credible, viewpoints?

* Will you include high-quality items of fiction? For adults? For children?

* Will you include items from secular as well as religious publishers/producers?

Just as the needs of each church library differ, the enormous amount of material available for inclusion in the library differs greatly. Each deserves to be evaluated on its own merits.

Here are some hints that the library action group in our congregation developed. You may want to make them part of your policy that will guide library purchases and decisions.

* Does the item help fulfill the mission statement of the congregation?

* Does the item promote, or at least not detract from, the specific theology of our denomination?

* Does the item help us learn about other faiths or beliefs accurately?

* Does the item fill a need in our congregation?

* Which of the many groups within our congregation will likely use it?

* Is it repetitive? Do we have something else like it?

* Is the author credible and reputable? Is the publisher?

* Has the item been reviewed in print by a credible source? (Even if the reviewer questions the value, the resource may still have value for your library)

* Is the item written/produced well? Of interest to the average library user?

* Is it made well? Will the binding last? Will the paper hold up?

* Is the print easy to read? Do we need a large-print copy instead?

* If an audiovisual, is it sturdy? Colors true? Good sound quality?

* Is any violence appropriate to the material and the audience, and is it balanced by a positive resolution?

* Are the illustrations of excellent quality? (This is especially crucial for children’s books.)

* Is the cost comparable to other items of similar quality? Is it reasonable for item and for our needs?

Write the policy and refine it with the help of staff and library users. Follow through by having it affirmed by the staff and church council. And, most important of all, use it as you evaluate and select items for the library. Your library truly deserves to be a selection, not simply a collection of materials.

Library Donation Policy

Anyone who has ever volunteered to help in a church library has likely arrived one day to find a mysterious bag, box or pile of books. Sometimes there is a note indicating the books are a donation for the library from a specific someone, but more often, they just appear. While these might be wonderful treasures and perfect additions to the collection, often they might better have been passed along somewhere else. Without a written policy, it is difficult, delicate and often arbitrary to deal with donations.

Your best bet is to develop a donation policy with the help of your library committee. Then have it approved by the pastor(s) and church council. Tell the congregation about the policy through a newsletter article or postings in the library. Be sure the office staff knows about the policy, too.

Here are three tips to help protect your library.

  1. Tell people how the donated items will be evaluated.

Our church’s policy says that any items donated will be evaluated using the same criteria as items the library purchases. It also says that gift and donation items will be evaluated by at least three members of the library committee and a decision made about acceptance.

  1. Explain how the item will be processed and added to the collection.

You might simply say that it will be processed and added in the same manner as a new purchase. If you use an accession book, note the donor there. Some libraries place a bookplate in donated books or indicate a gift in some other way, while other congregations have made a decision that gifts and donations of any kind are not publicized. Be sure you know the policy of your congregation in that regard.

  1. Explain what will happen to items that are not appropriate for the library collection.

You may want to specify that the items will be returned to the donor, but remember that this only works if you know who that donor was. Our church policy simply says, “If the item is not accepted, the library action group will see that it is disposed of in an appropriate manner.” That gives our action group the possibilities of sharing with another church or public library, donating the books to some other group, or simply recycling the unusable ones without any hurt feelings.

A small amount of planning can save many headaches. A simple policy with only these three points can make the life of church library volunteers infinitely easier.

Weeding Library Items

When preparing for a garage sale, would you find it easier to part with anything rather than your books? Do you have more books, tapes, CDs, DVDs or vinyl records than anyone you know? Eventually, the day comes for any library when no space allows for new books and materials, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything. It is far better for the health of your library to develop a weeding policy before the need for pruning arrives. It is easier to get rid of old growth if you know in advance that pruning will happen and what will happen to the cuttings.

Our church’s library committee has determined that no more than three years will pass between each weeding, which we do in conjunction with a total inventory. Date records are kept of each inventory/weeding. Our library uses the following criteria to determine if an item will be weeded or retained.

* What is the physical condition of the material? Tattered? Yellowed pages? Is it worth the time/effort/money to repair?

* How often or recently has it circulated?
* Does the material have historical significance to the congregation, community or denomination? Does it have local value due to a person, place or event? Is it a “classic?”

* Is its information out of date? Are its photos or illustrations dated?

* Should it be replaced with an updated edition? Is there a newer title available that better addresses the same issue?

* Are there multiple copies where one would be enough?

* Was it an earlier mistake to purchase or accept as a donation?

* Should someone else evaluate the contents? (We always like to have two or three members of our library group work together to recommend deletion or retention. If they can’t agree or have questions, we check further.)

When deciding to withdraw an item, here are some rules we follow.

Remove all ownership information from the material itself—card/pocket or electronic barcode information—and black out all ownership stamps. Write “discard” or “withdrawn” in heavy black ink very visibly on the material.

Delete all information from computer records and/or pull all catalog cards.

If your library uses an accession book, note there the date the item was withdrawn.

Be sure to delete all information about this material from any library bibliographies, such as special lists of holiday and festival books, special collections, or special subject area lists.

Get all weeded material out of the library and out of the building. If the item was donated, be sure to refer to your library’s donation policy for further guidance.

Dealing with Challenged Materials

Sooner or later, every library will have a patron who is unhappy with the materials that are available. They may object to the author, the content, the language, the photographs or any of a number of things about the material. It is vital that every library be proactive and has a written policy that tells how challenged materials will be handled. Knowing that a challenge form must be filled out (including a statement that the material has been read, viewed or listened to in its entirety) may be enough to nip a challenge in the bud.

Our church library has chosen to have a very specific form on which the challenge must be specified in detail. The request must be submitted to the pastor on staff who works with the library. He/she will then seek input from others on the staff and discuss the challenge and his/her recommendation with the members of the library action group before a final decision is made. The decision shall be based on the selection policy of the library and the specific of the challenge. The final decision is that of the pastor.

The pastor is the person who discusses the decision with the person(s) making the challenge or request for consideration. If the challenge is upheld, the item shall be removed from the library collection, not just from circulation.

Don’t be caught in the unfortunately situation of having something challenged without both a policy on challenged materials and a selection policy that spells out in detail the criteria on which the library chooses to add both print and non-print materials. We all hope that we never have to use these policies, but it is far better to be proactive and prepared.

This article is courtesy of the National Church Library Association. Vernita Kennen has been a chapter president in California and has served on the National Board of Directors of the association. She is a retired school librarian and has served several church libraries.