photo credit: http://www.churchofisrael.info/office.htm
I can still remember the church library of my childhood (well, middle school, actually). It was fairly large, with well-stocked, orderly shelves and two dedicated volunteers every week. Often I would get there before the doors were unlocked, and would wait with several other people for the wooden doors to be opened. Once inside, I was lost in the rows of titles that beckoned me. What should I pick? One or two books this week? Sometimes it would be something already read, but that didn’t matter. It was like greeting an old friend. I loved the smell of the wooden shelves and the book ink, the feel of the soft pages under my fingertips, and the hushed sounds of people checking out or exclaiming over a book they found. The library volunteers often had to hurry people out as the worship service started up.
As an adult, I’ve attended a variety of churches, and few of them have libraries. My current church has a tiny library, which has been going for about 30 years or so. It’s only about ten feet by ten feet, with bookshelves along the walls. There used to be a lot of people who stopped in it to grab some reading material. There were even middle school and high-schoolers who came in and picked out books. Biographies, encouraging non-fiction, Bible study books, and tons of Christian fiction. Yes, business in our little library was booming.
But churches and culture have changed dramatically in the past twenty-five years. Now we have 250+ channels on TV, Amazon Prime movies, Hulu Plus, Netflix, video games, Facebook, cell phones, and Youtube on high-speed internet. These pastimes have introduced us to sensational, fast-paced excitement that is difficult to match with a book. Even among the people that still read, they seem to want more language and smutty content. They’ve gotten used to it in their movies and tv shows, and they now find “clean” reads too boring.
These days, our little church library is barely used, which I don’t think is unusual. Church libraries seem to be on their last mile, just a step behind the Christian bookstores that have gone out of business. We are told that churches have to be willing to change and adapt to reach the newer generations of attendees. That is true. We can’t live in the past. Out with the old, in with the new. But still – I feel great sadness for the demise of church libraries.