Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Great Library Experiment

While salivating over books in the Parkside bookstore (eventually emerging with six books for my already bulging library), I met a fellow who told me “don’t buy the books, get them from the library.” I replied that the titles that I purchase at the conference are not available at the public library: Puritan reprints, history of revivals, etc. Thus began the most memorable Conversations from this year’s Parkside Pastor’s conference.

This gentleman introduced himself as an employee of Cleveland Public Library; he challenged me to think of asking the library to stock Christian classics as a ministry. Libraries have finite budgets, and they make a genuine effort to meet customer demand. If more customers ask for Christian classics, they will stock them (and thus leave less funds for less desirable books). While a book in my personal collection is mine to mark up as I see fit and is at my discretion to share it with another person, a book in the public library stacks is there for 20-30 years and is usually checked out by at least 5 people – but likely more than that. Some of those people may naturally be interested in the subject, but others may simply stumble across the title. In any case, you’re creating a cascading effect that will have benefit you may never see. Rather than thinking of a library as merely a resource, think of it as an opportunity to shape and mold the culture – don’t war against your library by asking for books to be banned – rather, ask for the right books to be in there, and you’ll make much more of a difference.

This challenged me. I have a natural affinity for libraries – I think quite highly of our Cincinnati Public Library, and I’m quite interested in finding ways to help it through its current budget crunch. I also love to recommend books – lots of good books. What would it be like if we could agree on a few books each year to ask the Local Public Library to stock – a few good books that we’re going to read, and then want to have lying around for some future reader to discover and benefit from. What might be the result.

This also seems to be a positive and simple way to engage the culture without taking on the stance of being “against” everything (which so many Christians seem to adopt). Much like Paul on Mars Hill saying “men of Athens, I see that you are religious people…” we can say “people of Cincinnati (or insert your city here), I see that you are literate people….”

So I propose The Great Library Experiment for all my readers. No matter what library system you’re in, I encourage you to invite your public library to carry some of the classic works of Christian literature. So we can all work on the same page here in Cincinnati, here are my recommendations for 2005 (some may be in rare books already, but we’re trying to get them to stock the reprints that can be checked out):

All things for Good by Thomas Watson (published by Banner of Truth)
The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson (published by Soli Deo Gloria). Biography of Martin Lloyd-Jones by Iain Murray (published by Banner of Truth) (volume 1 is available at the library, but volume 2 is not)

Other great titles to consider are my summer reading recommendations for Covenant-First Pres!

If we can get our libraries to stock these titles, it will benefit Christian publishers and devout Christians everywhere – a useful mechanism might be to actually have a study group on one of these books, and use that as a reason to petition to library to carry the title.

Let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria.