Friday, May 24, 2013

Christian Librarianship

Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, edited by Gregory A. Smith. McFarland, 2002.

Gregory Smith has gathered together sixteen essays previously published that addresses the integration of Christian faith and librarianship. All the essays are written by Christian librarians working in academic and public libraries. Smith lists three purposes for this collection: "First, it should help Christians in the library profession to integrate their faith with their vocation. . . . Second, it is expected to provide a foundation for further discussion of library issues from a Christian perspective. . . Third, the book may serve as a window through which students and scholars of library science may observe Christian librarians, a little understood segment of the profession" (6). The book is divided into two parts. The first part covers the theory of Christian librarianship. The second part discusses the application of Christian librarianship.

The six essays in the first part of the book applies biblical principles and Christian theology to Christian librarianship. Smith in chapter one argues that the "Christian faith and librarianship can be integrated with mutual benefit" (11). He lists three reasons for this belief. First, "the propagation of the Christian faith benefits from effective librarianship" (11). The beginning of the Christian faith were both "propositional" and "missional." Smith states, "These two features of the Christian religion combine to produce in its adherents a high regard for education, literacy, and the preservation of information-bearing documents. Not surprisingly, Christians have contributed significantly to the development of libraries of all types" (12). Christians were known as "people of the book." One thinks of the monks who preserved both Christian and pagan literature.

Smith states, "The Christian interest in libraries began in the apostolic period" (12). Even the Apostle Paul at the end of his life requested Timothy to "Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come--and the books, especially the parchments" (2Tim. 4:13). Smith notes, "Archaeological and literary evidence shows that Christians began to form various libraries in the first few centuries of the Christian era" (12). These libraries included more than religious resources. Smith states, "There is good reason to believe that secular works, both classical and contemporary, were preserved in both individual and corporate libraries"(13). Lawrence McCrank asserts, "Saint Augustine's . . . famous decision in De doctrina christiana that Christians should take from pagan learning those works compatible with Christianity, as though these non-Christian scholars unjustly possessed the truth, provided a justification for Christian libraries to retain their classics" (13). Augustine's argument was one of the reasons that Christian libraries would collection both Christian and non-Christian resources.

The libraries of Greece and Rome would decline "as the Roman empire became more Christianize." The spread of the Christian faith and monasteries would lead to the development of a network of libraries. There was a strong connection between libraries and monasteries because of the "influence of Benedict of Nursia and Cassidorus," both monastic leaders. These monastic libraries would expand with the development of Cathedral schools and higher learning. Smith states, "In the later centuries of the Middle Ages, many cathedrals sponsored schools, creating a symbiotic relationship between scholars, students, books, and libraries. Cathedral libraries were the nuclei around which the studia generalia, precursors of modern universities, developed in France and England in the twelfth century" (13). One can see in this development how the two features of the church, propagation and mission was connected to the development of libraries. Smith states, "Throughout church history, Christians have developed libraries in order to maintain their distinctive religious identity, facilitate doctrinal discussion, cultivate receptivity to the gospel, and share their faith with others" (15).

The second point presented by Smith is that the Christian worldview "provides a viable philosophical framework for librarianship" (15). Richard Waller identified six traits of a "suitable philosophy. These included the existence of truth, possibility of knowledge, "purpose in the world," provide reasons for the possibility of communication, a concern for others, and tolerance for the view of others. Smith thinks Christian theism meets this criteria. he lists seven traits of Christian theism that supports Christian librarianship. First, Christian theism provides motivation for service. The bible teaches the dignity of the human person and commands us to love our neighbor. Second, the biblical view "provides a solid foundation for intellectual freedom" (16). The Bible teaches that there are both natural revelation and supernatural revelation. Smith notes, "Exploring the created order and developing culture is part of God's design for human life" (16).  Third, the Christian view "validates librarians' role as stewards of history and culture" (16). We preserve culture's memory. We preserve resources that will help people to understand God's world. We "perpetuate the memory of God's dealings with the human race and his people in particular" (16). Librarians have preserved over two thousand years of "rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judeo-Christian tradition" (Walker Percy). Roger Nicole observed that we "act as custodians of the records of the Holy Spirit" (16). Fourth, the biblical view provides a reason for organizing information. Our God is a God of order, not confusion. Smith states, "The universe is rational and purposeful, reflecting the nature of its creator. Organizing information makes it possible for us to transmit knowledge to future generations" (16). Librarians keep us from reinventing the wheel. Fifth, the Christian view provides a rationale for promoting literacy. The bible "itself is a literary collection, a sort of library prototype" (17). God has revealed Himself in written form. If we are to know if we need to learn how to read. Reading and writing are important elements of the Christian life. Gordon Smith states, "The discipline of study is an essential component of spiritual formation" (17). The sixth point is Christian theism provides an ethical framework for our lives and profession. Smith states, "Librarians who work in Christian Colleges consciously contribute to their patrons' moral development" (17). He also thinks "Librarians' personal convictions take precedence over professional code of ethics" (17). The last point is that all truth is God's truth because it either comes from divine or natural revelation. In conclusion, Smith states, "Truth is knowable, objective, coherent, practical, and sacred. The pursuit of truth should be approached as a spiritual enterprise" (17).

Smith, in his final point of this chapter asserts, "The holistic nature of Christian discipleship demands integration with all fields of study, including library science" (11). God is sovereign over all of our life, not jost part of it. Christianity is a gospel of wholeness, not fragmentation. Integrating faith and learning is part of Christian discipleship. Integrating Christian faith with our work is also part of the Christian calling. Smith concludes, "True Christian discipleship discourages the segregation of religious commitment from one's intellectual or professional pursuits" (18).

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