Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 6, 1999
Church library a forgotten ministry
Librarians see printed word, videos as valuable resource for parishes
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
In 1990, Louise Swartz was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Since then, the disease has led her through bad days and worse days.
On several occasions it left her incapacitated and unable to perform her daily chores. There were times she didn't eat for days because she was too paralyzed to make her way to the kitchen.
"I saw it as a blessing," Swartz said of her illness. "It turned out to be a blessing because it separated me from everything, my family, friends, everything. I truly came to understand my need for God.
"The only way for me to be safe was to let him be in control."
When she allowed God to control her life, she soon discovered what he was asking her to do. Her mission it seemed was to start a church library.
"I had this passion in me to do it," she said. "I just had to do it. I don't know why, but there was this passion inside me."
The passion grew and in between her battles with her illness, which also caused blackouts and memory fogs, she tried setting up a library in her church.
After that was done, she set up a church librarian support group, then organized a conference. She is putting the finishing touches on the second annual Alberta Church Library Conference Oct. 1-2 in Calgary.
Three years ago, Swartz had a vision from God, "and I don't mean one of those lightning bolt visions, but there were these flows of ideas that I knew would not have come from me."
The visions called for the formation of some kind of group. She later translated this into the Librarian For Christ ministry.
"The purpose is to pray, encourage and share resources," said Swartz, a Seventh-Day Adventist. "It was to be multi-denominational, but Christian."
Church libraries have flourished and thrived amongst churches, particularly evangelical ones, but it's an alien life form in Catholic churches.
Susan Duckett hopes to change all that. Duckett, one of the library coordinators at Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary, is working on setting up a workshop for local Catholic parishes interested in starting or maintaining a library.
"It's one of those things we see more in the evangelical churches and not our own," Duckett said. "I don't know why that is.
"But I think it's a very important part of a church. I find the more we do here the more excited we get. And the more excited we get, the more we'll do."
The library at Holy Spirit is 2,200 books and 300 videos strong. Duckett estimates that more than 300 items are borrowed monthly.
"We feel like it's a ministry," Duckett said. "One time a lady came in. Her daughter had just given birth to a stillborn baby and asked if there was a book she could get for her daughter.
"Our parish priest came in and asked for a book for a grandfather whose son was thinking of coming back to Church. I encourage people to come in if they need to help their child with questions like 'Where do their guinea pigs go when they die?' That's not always an easy thing to explain to a child. There's something here for everyone.
"Books are a marvellous thing because it gives you a way to talk about something without having to use the words yourself. Myself, I go to books for solace, information, all kinds of reasons."
A library should be as common as any other parish ministry, said Duckett. The usage of words and stories encompasses the interests of generations from one to 100. And contrary to the beliefs of those who flock to mega-book stores and uber-libraries, a church library need not be built on massive numbers of books.
"That's why people don't start libraries," Swartz said. "They think it has to have a lot of books about everything. You have to start somewhere, even if it's just 10 books."
Swartz estimates that of the more than 200 churches in Calgary, only 50 per cent have libraries and only half of those libraries are active.
Swartz cites a multitude of other reasons why libraries are not yet the norm in church life: lack of support from church leaders, underestimating its value, limited funding, lack of trained librarians and an overall misunderstanding of the purpose of a church library.
"Most people's image of a church library is a closet of ancient religious books or a shelf of dusty books no one wants to read," Swartz said.
"It's not like that at all. There doesn't have to be just books. There can be videos, music, costumes, games. You can have anything in your church library, it depends on what your ministry is.
The library at St. Albert Church in St. Albert is a haven of family and spiritually-oriented books consistent with the Catholic faith.
"Many of our books are spiritual ones that appeal to people of all denominations. They're very universal," said Terry Gervais, the library's coordinator "
The St. Albert library began in the winter of 1979 and has grown to more than 2,000 books and videos, with 25 volunteers.
"We see it very much as a ministry," Gervais said. "We train our librarians to be really perceptive or aware of people who come in here. They look for something to read, but also for someone to talk to."
Like Duckett, Gervais says parish libraries are an anomaly for Catholics.
"I think it's because it has not been a part of the Catholic tradition," Gervais said. "I find myself impressed with other churches' libraries and I think we should have more of these. A parish is not complete without a library."
For information on the conference contact Louise Swartz at (403)248-6458.