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Ellen Bosman

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Church Libraries
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This site is intended to heighten awareness of a particular type of library, namely congregational libraries. Here, visitors will find links to library associations, software for running a library, and reviews of print and electronic sources designed to aid in library purchasing. The site will be most useful to church and synagogue librarians, although anyone interested in learning about church libraries, or finding worthy religion books and videos, may find helpful information.

For the purposes of this site, a congregational library is defined as a library located in a Protestant, Catholic or Jewish house of worship. Characteristically, the library serves the local congregation, and collects primarily religious materials.

Developing a collection from donations and a limited budget can be a challenge for any librarian, but congregational libraries present special constraints upon material selection. While these libraries are specialized in terms of collecting exclusively religious materials, religious materials are available in a variety of formats for various audiences. Uniquely, a congregational library attempts to gather materials which reflect a denomination's viewpoint while maintaining a balance of other religious views.

Children's books, fiction, non-fiction, biography, Bible study helps, educational curriculum, sound recordings, and videocassettes are collected for the entertainment, education and inspiration of the general congregation. Collecting and preserving local congregational history may also be the responsibility of the library. That most libraries can not provide this vast array of materials and formats due to financial constraints, is an unfortunate reality. Thus, this site aims to identify and evaluate sources which the congregational librarian may consult to make informed collection and purchasing decisions.

Church libraries serve a unique and limited community and, in some instances, may be obliged to select material of limited viewpoint. However, the selection process in a congregational library is influenced by the same factors encountered in any library: user's needs, existing collections, constricted budgets, limited storage space, and increases in the cost and number of publications and formats available

Compilation Procedures

Religion is an extremely broad field, consisting of over 100 Dewey Decimal Classification entries and 420 Library of Congress subject headings. Specific headings, such as: religious literature, religious fiction, religious poetry, and religious newspapers and periodicals, further describe the field. In order to compile a bibliography of selection sources, the subject area demands narrowing. In this instance, the type of library in question directly affects the narrowing of the subject. Identification of search terms was accomplished with the type of library in mind, and searches were conducted in a variety of indexes and online catalogs. Sources consulted include, but are not limited to: Indiana University online catalog, WorldCat/OCLC, ERIC, Library Literature and Library and Information Science Abstracts. Internet searches were also conducted and are explained in further detail in the Electronic Reviews section of this site.

The primary difficulty was the lack of readily available specialized selection and review sources. The broad range of subject headings made searching cumbersome and time consuming, but not impossible. Suggested subject headings, to name only a few, include: religious literature, religious literature--bibliography, Christian literature, religions--bibliography, religious fiction, etc. Subject familiarity, knowledge of church libraries, religious publishers, and religious library associations were beneficial. The lack of readily available specialized sources, the often unfriendly subject headings or the lack of subject knowledge, are typical selection problems encountered in a variety of libraries. These problems are exacerbated in special libraries, particularly church libraries because of volunteer selectors, limited financial resources and inadequate review sources.

Selection Sources for Church Libraries is intended to heighten the awareness of church librarians regarding material selection. Selection sources have been divided into categories by type and an evaluation of each category precedes each section. While the categories are designed to acquaint the selector with a wide range of available materials, the evaluative introductions define parameters and demonstrate representative strengths and weaknesses of each section. Categories include: Library Associations, Print Reviews, Electronic Reviews, Software, and Related Readings.

All resources are English language publications. Only the Judeo-Christian religions are represented. Bibliographic information has been provided where available.

A Brief History of Church Libraries and their Collections

Religious libraries are one of the oldest types of libraries. In the United States, early libraries were owned primarily by the clergy and consisted of both religious and utilitarian works. During the 1800's the Sunday School Movement introduced the principle of alternative, religious education and church libraries were an outgrowth of the movement.

Books were originally granted to Sunday school attendees as rewards for attendance, scholarship, or good behavior. Church officials recognized the recurring expense of this plan and conceived of the library as a solution; rather then award books, pupils would be rewarded the privilege of using the library. (1)

Historically, the church or synagogue library was maintained by volunteers with no materials selection experience or guidelines. As a result, the collections were often uneven, purchasing books sight unseen from publishers (2) or utilizing donations. While the former situation has been improved upon with communications technologies and published review sources, donations remain a staple of congregational libraries.

1. F. Allen Briggs, "The Sunday-School Library in the Nineteenth Century," Library Quarterly, 31:2 (April, 1961), 166.

2. Briggs, 176


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