September 6, 2011

Spiritual Literature on Display: A Visit to Three Historic Church Libraries in London

By Rick Sheridan

During my visit to London this summer, I had the opportunity to visit three ancient church libraries, including Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Lambeth Palace. Before the trip, I contacted the librarians at all three and was able to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s. Lambeth Palace had an exhibition of rare Bibles that I was also able to attend. Below are some notes that I took from meetings with the librarians and from additional background research. As you can probably tell by looking at the photos, these three libraries are very historic and look like they are right out of the Middle Ages.

Westminster Abbey Library
Westminster Abbey has over 800 years of history and is considered to be Britain's most important church. Benedictine monks first came to this site in the middle of the 10th century, establishing a tradition of daily worship which continues to this day. The Abbey has been the coronation church (where kings and queens are crowned) since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is a treasure house of paintings, stained glass, textiles and other artifacts. Westminster Abbey is also the place where some of the most significant people in the nation's history are buried or commemorated, including artists, authors, politicians and royalty.

The Westminster Abbey Library begun in 1560, and has been housed in part of the former monastic dormitory since 1591. There are 70,000 books in the archive, with 30,000 from the medieval era. The collections grew by gift, bequest and purchase throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Library also has a collection of printed and manuscript music. One of the librarians told me that they mainly serve as kind of an “ask an expert” service for history of Westminster Abbey, along with regular visits from religious scholars. The library is available to researchers and theologians by special appointment.

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Since the first service was held here in 1697, St. Paul’s Cathedral has been an important church in England. Some of the events here have included the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill; the Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer and, most recently, the 80th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.

I had to climb an ancient set of spiral stairs to get the library which is in the southwest tower in a chamber designed for it by Christopher Wren. The library suffered damage in the great fire of 1666, and the chamber was restocked with valuable Bibles and liturgical texts from several collections soon after. In the 19th century large collections of ecclesiastical tracts and pamphlets were brought in and improvements were made to the library's holdings of sermons preached. The subject strength of the historical collections lies in theology, church history and patristics. Current acquisitions are restricted to major works on the history of the Church in England, and on the building of the Cathedral. The library is normally open to researchers by prior appointment.

Lambeth Palace Library
Lambeth Palace is the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of 80 million Anglicans and Episcopalians world wide. Lambeth Palace is one of the few medieval buildings left in London, and the Archbishops of Canterbury have owned it since about 1200.

Lambeth Palace Library is one of the earliest public libraries in England, founded in 1610 under the will of Archbishop Richard Bancroft. It is the principal library and record office for the history of the Church of England, and is freely available to members of the public with a formal letter of introduction from an academic supervisor, pastor or similar reference.

The original library from 1610, along with a modern extension, have approximately 200,000 printed books, including some 30,000 items printed before 1700. They also have 600 mediaeval manuscripts from the 9th century onward, records of various Anglican societies and religious communities, along with many other important documents.

I attended an exhibition at the Lambeth Palace Library celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. On display were several important religious documents, including a 1611 KJV Bible, medieval translations of the Bible into English; a beautifully illustrated first edition of Luther's German Bible and the Gudbrandar Bible (1584) in Icelandic; translations intended for missions, such as Gospel editions in Maori and Mohawk; and documents showing the drive towards twentieth century English translations such as the New English Bible along with original radio and television scripts for religious programming on the BBC Network.

Dr. Sheridan is an assistant professor of communication at Wilberforce University in Ohio and a member of National Church Library Association.

March 13, 2011

An Easter Letter from a Church Librarian

A religious leader recently commented, “The number one reason people give me for not meditating upon Scripture is that they don’t have enough time.” He wondered if we really have enough time for important things. So, he made a copy of the book of Philippians, cut it into sections and taped it over the columns of the local newspaper. It took up just three columns of the front page. Ironically, if you would have read your favorite parts of the newspaper or just scanned the headlines on the Internet, you actually could have read the book of Philippians. As the church librarian, I also hear these words; “I am too busy right now to check out a book.” However, what if we took the time to read the scriptures or a book “taped over” our alternative media source?

We should take seriously the theme for this year’s Lenten theme “We Walk by Faith” to focus on our Lord’s death and resurrection. The library offers many choices of daily meditations and reflections this Lenten season. Do not forget to share the message with your children and grandchildren. Lent and Easter can be a difficult time for young children to understand. Good Friday (as Pastor Chris and Donna emphasize that it is “good” Friday) and the miracle of Easter bring valid questions to ponder. Self-examination and reflection is a way for us to share a closer bond with our Lord.

In the book, Easter in My Heart (Wheeler, Joe. Waterbrook, 2000), which is the heart of the Christian faith, offers the potential not only to delight readers' families, but also to transform them. Beyond the eggs, the candy and the colorful baskets is history's most earth-shattering and revolutionary event. This year, through the spiritually enriching, family affirming stories in Easter in My Heart, readers can honor the true meaning of this day.

An Easter Gift to Me is a colorful board book for children, which tells about Jesus' life. It explains his birth and how God sent him from heaven to earth. When He grew up, He told people He was God's Son and, if they believed in Him and by following His instructions, they could live forever with Him in Heaven. Children will learn of the many miracles Jesus performed. An Easter Gift to Me shows the young reader how some of the people did not understand the way Jesus fit into God's special plan. The book reveals to children that Jesus hung on a cross and died for our sins but he rose again on Easter morning. In the final pages, a mother explains to her daughter that this story of Jesus is true! She then shows her young daughter if we believe and obey, we can see Jesus in Heaven someday.

I’m in the church library each week and hope to see you this Lenten season also! The Library hours are 9:30-11:00 a.m. each Sunday.

~Bev E., St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Germantown, Wisconsin

Is Dewey Still King? A Closer Look at Bookstore Classification

The Chicago Tribune recently spotlighted a handful of pioneering libraries in the Chicago area that are transitioning from the Dewey Decimal Classification to BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications), the organization system used by booksellers. The new layout groups books by subject rather than number, uses signs to highlight popular categories, and displays books by their covers. Several Chicago libraries have switched entirely to the new format or are using it for parts of their collections. Read Chicago Tribune article>>

While the Chicago Tribune article leans toward libraries abandoning Dewey, the reader comments posted that follow it offer heavy criticism. So what exactly is the BISAC system, and is it a simpler alternative for church libraries?

BISAC divides books into 52 general categories, and then further divides each category into subheadings. Categories and subheadings are organized alphabetically. There are 52 general subject categories; within the Religion category there are 250 subheadings.

While the simplicity of BISAC has proven to be attractive to patrons in Chicago and has encouraged random browsing, a major contention is that it makes finding books on a specific topic nearly impossible. When shelved alphabetically, there is no logical progression of titles from one subject to the next.

Is BISAC a user friendly solution for small church libraries? We took a closer look to find out. Its 52 general categories spread non-fiction titles out more broadly than Dewey. Within its religion category, we noted a lack of flow from one (unrelated) topic to the next. This left us wondering how someone even just browsing could find their way through. For example, the alphabetical arrangement intermixes the subjects “Atheism,” “Baha'I” and “Buddhism” with the subjects “Biblical Biography,” “Biblical Reference” and “Christian Church.” Those of us familiar with church library collections can immediately see the problems with this arrangement and
how confusing this would be to browsers.

Here at National Church Library Association, we have received advice over the years from thousands of member librarians using Dewey and from those who have experimented with subject category arrangements. Based on their experiences, we remain convinced that Dewey reigns supreme. With its special ability to be adapted for use by even the smallest library, it is still the best system available for church libraries today.

Several ideas mentioned in the Chicago libraries article, however, are worth incorporating into our everyday practice. Increased signage identifying subject areas, displaying new titles face out and library maps (interactive or static) will make every library more attractive and user friendly.