Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Spiritual Dimension of the Librarian's Task

Roger R. Nicole, "The Spiritual Dimension of the Librarian's Task." The Christian Librarian (May/August 1982): 106-114.

"The Spiritual Dimension of the Librarian's Task was delivered as a series of addresses at the twenty-fifth annual conference of the Association of Christian Librarians at Nyack College, June 9-11, 1981."

These addresses by Roger R. Nicole looks at the tasks of the Christian librarian and how it relates to the Christian faith. He looks at three different roles of the Christian librarian: "service," "orderliness," and "curator." The author believes there is a spiritual dimension to each of these roles.

The first address discussed "The Librarian as a Model for Service" (106). The author's native country is Switzerland. In that country the emphasis was more on protecting the books. He found in the United States the emphasis was more on serving the patron. Nicole states, "librarians in this country are interested in serving patrons" (106). The author asserts that Christian Librarians "have the opportunity to model the kind of attitude and of service which behooves those who belong to Jesus Christ, for our Lord has called upon us to be taking the form of servants, and has Himself given us an example in a very moving manner. We have the example of Jesus washing the disciples' feet reported in the gospel of John. Jesus told the disciples that he gave them an example to follow. They were to wash each other's feet. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus reported on His mission: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

Nicole notes that the word service is closely related to the word minister. The author notes, "The librarian has the opportunity to be a servant. The library is intended to primarily serve people. It is intended to provide for people the facilities that are necessary to explore truth, to mine the past, to accomplish tasks which are required in classes, to find information that may be needed in a variety of ways . . . " (107). Librarians through their service can exhibit the character of Christ. Service shows a spiritual dimension to librarianship.

The second address discussed "The Librarian as a Model of Orderliness" (108). The author declares that God is a God of order. The library also is "a place of order" (109). Nicole states, "If there is no orderliness the Library cannot be serviceable, it cannot provide the materials that are needed for the patrons. It cannot serve as it should serve" (109). The author spoke of different positions in the library that contribute to this orderliness. The first position mentioned is the cataloger. Nicole writes, "If a library is not properly cataloged the value and amount of usefulness of the books will be sharply reduced" (109). If the books are not put in some kind of order it would not be accessible. The author mentions how one library was organized based on its accession number and how difficult it was to find what he needed. Catalogers organized materials according to subject matter. This makes it helpful for the patron to find what they need.

Another person who contribute to this order is those who shelve books. Everyone knows that a book shelved in the wrong place is a lost book. Nicole states, "It is very important that the books should be arranged on the shelves in a way that follows the pattern that the cataloger has set up. so there are people who are involved in safeguarding the proper location of the books" (109). The shelving of books might not be a glamorous job but it is an important job. Doing it right provides a service to the patron.

Another important person is the circulation librarian. Nicole writes, "The circulation librarian models order at the level of loaning and borrowing books" (110). Usually this person is the face of the librarian. It is the first person the patron encounters in the library. It is important that there are accurate records that people are not charged for materials they have already returned. It is important that materials are returned in an orderly manner that they can be used by patrons who need them.

In addition, Nicole thinks that the "securing of the books you need" is part of this orderly process. Librarians perform an important role in making sure the collection stays up to date. The librarian needs to know what the library has and what it needs to serve its patrons. It needs to have a consistent, systematic plan for building the collection to meet the current and future needs of its patrons. A part of collection development is deaccessioning materials. Some librarians and many faculty have a problem in getting rid of materials. It is, however important to get rid of unnecessary items. Nicole states, "One quality that is necessary for order is the ability to discard what is useless or obsolete. If there is a lack of ability to discard, then inevitably a clutter develops" (111). In addition, the author notes, "To have order you need to perceive what is important, and to distinguish it from what is secondary or unessential" (111). Weeding the collection on a regular basis is essential if we are going to have a useful collection and having a useful collection provides a service to the patron. Nicole states, "God wants a library to be an ordered collection in which materials are available and can be used for the people who desire to explore the truth, to steep themselves in knowledge, and capture some of the rich insights which the Providence of God has permitted in the past" (111-112). Providing an orderly collection performs a spiritual service.

The third address described "The Librarian as a Curator of the Records of the Holy Spirit's Work Among God's People" (112). Nicole states, "A library is a collection of records which constitute a kind of collective memory" (112). A Theological library provides a record of God's work in the past. Individuals without a personal memory do not know who they are. The people of God without a collective memory of the work of  God do not know who they are. The individual's memory is selective. It does not remember everything that ever happened to her. The collective memory of God's work is also selective. Nicole notes, "We need selection in order to have something that is manageable, that can be organized and in which things can be retrieved" 112). As mentioned earlier, we do not need clutter but an orderly collection that is useful. Nicole states, "But the library constitutes a carefully sorted out corporate memory in which things that are significant and can be helpful to the present and the future are being gathered together and made available to people who need the information" (112). Since God is the author of all truth, the library will want to collect all materials that pertain to the search of truth. Even the early Christian libraries collected both Christian and non-Christian writings. Nicole notes how the librarian's task "is a stewardship of the work of the Holy Spirit" (112). Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. Nicole states, "we would be very foolhardy to disregard whatever the Holy Spirit has done in the midst of His people of 1900 years" (112). As stewards, we must be faithful to preserving the record of God's work among his people. We also need to preserve any materials that will help us understand this work. The library can provide "roots" for the modern believer: "It gives us an insight to what God has done and how the precious Word that He has given to us can be understood, and how it has been made operative in the past, and can be so in the present and the future" (113). The author thinks "this is a truly noble task which has true spiritual dimensions" (113).

Roger R. Nicole has argued persuasively that the tasks of Christian librarians have "spiritual dimensions." He has shown how service, orderliness, and preserving the records of the past are directly related to the Christian faith. All these tasks lead to serving the patron of the library. One can even see that the tasks performed by the Christian librarian can be seen as a ministry.

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