Do any of you shelve non-Christian fiction books?  Someone donated a beautiful copy of Marley & Me by John Grogan to our library.  I saw the movie several years ago but have never read the book.  What concerns me about non-Christian fiction is that I feel I need to read the entire book, checking for offensive language, etc.  I can't possibly do this with the number of books donated to our library.

The second question concerns "beliefs" I guess.  I have read "An Accidental Life" by Pamela Binnings Ewen and thought the story great.  However, toward the end of the book, a main character decides to "be baptized when her baby is baptized."  This indicates baptism by a method other than immersion, which our Southern Baptist church believes  is scripturally taught.  I guess I'm asking if this should be shelved when that is contrary to what we believe and teach.  There are many books we do NOT shelve because of the question of doctrine, etc.

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Each church library needs to have a selection policy that identifies how to handle both situations. Many church libraries have a small team of readers to read the books before adding them to the collection. Take a look at Eva Nell's collection policy for an example:

The Selection Policy is in the left column "News and Messages) under the library schedule info.

Others may want to post their policies too. Let's see how other churches would handle your situations here.

Thank you for your reply.  I did read the collection policy and found it very helpful.

For the past three or four years, we have been building up a collection of what we call Classics and Good Reads.  We have arbitrarily determined "classic" to be a (not-necessarily-Christian book published before 1960) and Good Reads, books of similar quality but published 1960 or later.  These are selected for the excellent writing, good story-telling, representing Christian character qualities even if they are not specifically Christian.  Our goal is to acquaint our users with good writing and good stories that have intrinsic value.  We very much want to help our people understand that quality literature that isn't "Christian" may well be more worthwhile than bad literature that is "Christian".  
So far, most of our classics and good reads are in the children's area, but we are considering what classics to add to the adult area as well.  

The language thing is definitely an issue...unfortunately, this is also becoming an issue with some books from Christian publishers, however.  We have written a disclaimer to include in the front of some books.  We haven't used it much yet but I can see a day coming when it might be standard.

As far as doctrinal differences...I believe we would be more cautious in the non-fiction area than in fiction, though come to think of it, we carry non-fiction authors who write from a Reformed perspective and we are a Baptist church...  I guess we would probably draw the line at differences which we believe to be salvation issues. In terms of fiction, if you are going to exclude anything that reflects beliefs not identical with your own church, you will be eliminating a lot of books.  For example, would you not carry Amish books? (not that I am attached to them; they are just a handy example).

I don't think we would be hard-nosed about that because we prefer to think our church is actively teaching what we believe and our people able to use discernment.

However, as Morlee said, each library needs to decide how to select their books.  It's not an easy process!

Thanks for your helpful comments.  As a matter of fact, we do NOT shelve Amish fiction, convinced their doctrinal beliefs are too different from what we believe.  For doctrinal reasons we do not shelve non-fiction from Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and many others. Yes, you are correct saying that selection is not an easy process.

We generally do not add non-fiction books by authors with whom we have strong doctrinal differences (Joel Osteen is a good example) but  don’t usually carry it over into the fiction area.

What a helpful "food for thought" reply!

"Our goal is to acquaint our users with good writing and good stories that have intrinsic value.  We very much want to help our people understand that quality literature that isn't "Christian" may well be more worthwhile than bad literature that is "Christian". "

Debbie, I find the idea of a section of Classic & Good Reads innovative. In our Children's Collection we draw an ichthus (fish symbol) on the spine label to denote a Christian-based book. I wonder if and how you indicate that a book is a "Classic & Good Read"? 

We use purchased labels for Classics (from Demco) and created our own Good Reads labels. We also have a framed explanation in our library of what these labels indicate and why we have added these books to our collection.

I forgot to mention that we use colored dots (those used for garage sales) to ID different subjects  of adult/youth fiction.  green-LT(large type); yellow-Christmas; plain white stamped with M-Medical; stamped with C-Classics.  We are working on others as we complete our card catalog. We really have to pick and choose what we spend our money on so this is a good and less expensive way to ID the subjects. (Someone donated a simple stamp set.) 

I agree that the key is to formulate a book selection policy that fits your library but even with this policy in place you will constantly find possible exceptions and problems. I have a whole shelf full of books that I have received complaints on for content. Sometimes it is justified and we are embarrassed we did not catch it when the book was added. Other times the complaints are a bit extreme and the books stay in the collection sometimes with a disclaimer or warning. For example we had a Christian western fiction book on which we had a complaint because there was a saloon in the story. While we certainly don't condone drunken cowboys and a lot of the stuff that goes on in a western saloon, how can you have a western fiction book in which a saloon is not usually some part of the story. We have some old Shirley Temple and Lone Ranger movies in the collection on which we have received complaints and had a complaint on a book from Focus on the Family for teens that dealt most positively with moral problems teens face but the mother of a teen girl didn't want her daughter to be reading about such stuff. Another complaint came from a patron that said we should only have books by authors from our denomination, but if we followed that logic completely we would lose authors such as Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. Of course, we wouldn't add books by the extreme and controversial authors but we can't eliminate books by well know and respected Christian authors simply because they are of a different denomination. There is no end to the issues librarians must deal with in their collection. A book selection policy is certainly necessary along with some good old fashioned God given wisdom on dealing with the individuals and the issues you must face. 

Yes, we have had similar issues with readers complaining about one thing or another in a book. One of our "solutions" is a small spine label we created that says 16+ on it. This is an indicator that there is adult content in the book, perhaps a story-line that is not appropriate for young teens, or for books which fall more in the "thriller" genre.  When someone tells about something they didn't like in a book, we do some research on-line,and perhaps have someone else read the book as well (or read it ourselves).Sometimes we remove it, and sometimes we chalk it up to different interest-levels and leave it in.   This is because something which doesn't appeal to the 75-year-old woman standing in front of me might well appeal to the 55-year old man who comes in five minutes later.  We are trying to get our readers to see that the library has to cater to many different kinds of people, some of whom are bothered by things that don't upset others in the least.  

We also decided early on that it is not our job to police what teens are reading; that is why they have parents.  I'm kind of amazed  that a mother would complain to you about something that is basically her job, not yours!

We have a staff in our church that does a good job teaching and discipling, but also expects that people will take what they are learning and apply their discernment skills to what they read on their own and not always be spoon-fed. 

Adding, I don't mean to sound like we add anything without discernment.  We are pretty careful about what we add too ... but we also don't limit ourselves to books which reflect a theology identical or similar to what our own church teaches.  

When we first took over the library, our (not huge) space was divided into the library and the office, and inside the office were shelves full of "back room books". The previous librarian would put books that were problematic to some people, or of an adult interest level, in that room, largely because of the teens who would browse the adult shelves, being bored with the YA books.  Our viewpoint was that it is not up to us to parent the teens in the church, and also we wanted the space to be more open, so we had the wall taken down, eliminating the office and the "back room".  That is when we came up with the 16+ label idea.  A lot of our readers understand what we are doing with that label and occasionally someone will return a book and tell us "this should probably have a t 16+ on it".  We appreciate their input, seeing as how we can't read all the books ourselves!

Selection is hard, no matter what kind of library you are overseeing.  So many factors come into play - budget, community standards, individual taste(s), and much more.  As Paul said, a good selection policy is vital, if only so that if you get any real challenges from church members, you have something concrete to show people to explain how you go about the process of adding books to the library.  As I read more Christian fiction, and attend various librarian events in my area, I have a feeling it's going to get much harder, because the standards in Christian publishing are changing along with our culture.



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