Our Church Library Ministry Roots

A common issue for church librarians these days seems to be the challenges some of us face with the leaders of our churches. While I am not seeing any increase in the numbers of churches closing their libraries, I am seeing an increase in the number of churches revitalizing or starting libraries. With that in mind, I started to put together a list of ways church libraries today contribute to the current making disciples strategies developing in our churches. While we are revitalizing and starting libraries, let's learn from our history.

The Church Librarians Network started in 1999 when a new church library team was launched at Lifeway. The Church Librarians Ministry magazine was discontinued so we thought we would launch a website where church librarians could get information but more importantly communicate with each other their ideas and their challenges. These have been amazing years of learning and growing together. But for Southern Baptists, church libraries started their journey back in 1927.

Arthur Flake is famous today for Flake's Formula which is being used by church leaders to grow churches through groups. In his day, those groups were called Sunday School classes. Due to his huge success in the church that he developed his formula, he became the first Secretary of the Department of Sunday School Administration at The Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway). He had experience with the Sunday Schools of that day that taught children on Sundays how to read by reading the Bible. The only day these children could go to school was Sunday, their only day off from work. These Sunday Schools that were in many eastern states had libraries. But they were disorganized and mishandled. Flake took a library vision with him to The Baptist Sunday School Board of what “active, functioning church libraries could mean in the development of all phases of church work and believing that the successful operation of church libraries depended upon a practical and adequate plan of administration and promotion.” (page 12) In 1927 he added the promotion of Sunday School Libraries to his department's duties by hiring a full-time employee, Leona Lavendar. 

Leona Lavendar Althoff along with Flake wrote the first how-to book for Southern Baptist church librarians, The Church Library Manual. They had the full support of all the departments at The Sunday School Board. The first chapter of this book is titled "Why Have a Church Library?" The chapter outline features these reasons:

The 7 Reasons for Church Libraries

  1. A Day of Special Libraries
  2. A Means of Introducing People to Books
  3. A Need of Reading Guidance
  4. The Power of the Printed Page
  5. A General Lack of Available Books
  6. Church Worker's Need for Special Books
  7. Conversation of our Baptist Heritage 

Here's where we will plug in to their story. In the coming weeks, let's reflect on the seven reasons published in 1934. Those of you in other denominations, you are encouraged to share what you know about your denomination's church library roots. Each week I will post one of the reasons in a new post so that we can discussion each post separately with connections to our day. What does each reason look like in our churches today? What could it look like in our day? Is this reason one that we need to communicate with our pastors and church staff and leaders?








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  • Becky, It (A Handbook for Church Libraries) is out of print. One of my friends found it on amazon, but very expensive. You might try used book sites. I have loaned a couple of mine out. I use three of them as I take care of two small church libraries and want one at home as well. When I get the other two back I would be willing to loan one to you. 

  • How would I find "A Handbook for Church Libraries"?

  • I have several copies of "A Handbook for Church Libraries" second revised edition published by the National Church Library Association in 2006 and 1 copy of the revised and updated edition published in 2002 by Augsburg Fortress. It has been very helpfule to me and my chapter of Pacific Northwest Associaiton of Church Libraries over the years. Of course, some of the information is now a bit outdated, but it still serves as inspiration for how to get organized and how to stay entusiastic. Thanks so much for you website, it gives me a lift every Monday.

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