Get Thee To A Library

Diplomacy 101 Pop Quiz For Followers of Jesus. In the past month, have you:
  • Taken your kids to the public library?
  • Volunteered there, or made a donation to the Friends of the Library organization?
  • Asked your library to acquire a book you're interested in reading?
  • Prayed for your librarian by name and/or expressed gratitude for her work?
If you describe yourself as an ambassador for Jesus, and are trying to equip kids who can represent Christ, I hope you answered at least one of these questions with a resounding "YES!" If not, here are five reasons to re-establish diplomatic relations with your public library:
  • Insight into the community you're called to serve. Browse the "new-books" aisle of your library to discover what librarians are purchasing in response to requests made by people in your town. Evaluate the teen area and children's room to measure how the community values young people. Ask which books, music, and magazines are especially popular when it comes to circulation. Peruse the community bulletin boards and book displays to discern your community's needs.

  • Conversation with professionals who share your goal to serve a post-modern world. I've been involved with our library's strategic planning process, and have been amazed by how churches and libraries are dealing with similar issues as our culture shifts. How do you keep young people coming once they become teenagers? How can you balance their needs with an older generation's expectations to retreat to a place of peace and stability? Do you morph your facilities and programming with pop culture to stay relevant or do you champion tradition by maintaining a classical "high culture" feel?

  • A place to bless and relate to people outside the church. Pray for that middle-aged guy job-searching intently at the computer terminal, or for that woman hunched over a book called What To Do When Your Loved One Has Cancer. Make friends with another mother of toddlers during those morning library read-alouds and eventually invite her to your MOPS meeting. The opportunities for connection are endless if you're a regular at the library.

  • Dozens of opportunities to teach discernment. Libraries are chock-full of stories you can use to underline beauty, grace, and truth, as well as to guide your kids as they discover the unfathomable evil of the human heart. (I'll be posting some strong opinions about why Christians should be leading the fight against censorship, so stay tuned ...)

  • The taken-for-granted basics: books, movies, music, computer access. If you're not an immigrant, you've probably never experienced the breathtaking feeling of walking into an American public library and realizing for the first time that ... all this is for you ... FOR FREE! You're welcome here. You're safe here. You can learn about anything on the planet under this roof. Poor, homeless, powerless? We don't care. Here's your card. You're in.
Yesterday, I presented a session at the Public Library Association's National Convention in Boston. (Where, by the way, I was thrilled to see CBA publishers scattered throughout the exhibit halls). As dozens of librarians eagerly listened to me drone on about how to make foreigners feel at home, I wondered if I'd have this kind of response and turnout at a Christian conference if I presented a session on the same topic. I hope so, but as our Lord pointed out when the Samaritan leper returned to give thanks, sometimes it takes a so-called "outsider" (card-carrying member of the ALA, perhaps?) to illuminate our own spiritual deficiencies.

2 comments:

Leslie said...

Mitali,

You hit on all my passions today! (Library, MOPS, cross-culture) The library is a haven for me and my children. We just came back with 20 books yesterday and as my husband perused the book-littered living room floor, he said, "Boy, those kids sure love new library books!" I am going to turn my passion into a profession as I head back to school this fall for my MLS.

I am also a MOPS Council Coordinator (local field leadership). Thanks for your plug. I am at my happiest when I am giving a talk to a MOPS group about how to identify quality childrens' literature for their little ones.

Mitali, thank you SO MUCH for straddling the Christian world and the literary world. I hope to be able to do the same as a Christian librarian in the public schools. I would love any tips from you on how best to do this.

Mitali Perkins said...

Leslie,

I'm SO thrilled that you are going to pursue this dream. What a joy to hear about your plans. Keep reading to those little ones, remembering that poem which talks about how a reading mother is worth more than gold or silver. You might be interested in this review of a presentation at the PLA

Blessings,

Mitali