My interest in relating Christian faith to the practice of librarianship emerged about 25 years ago when I was pursuing my master’s degree in library science. I first explored such integration in a class paper that I entitled “The Role of Christian Academic Libraries: Promoting the Theistic Worldview.”1 My professor returned my paper with various comments, one of which has stuck with me ever since: “Monks bake bread the same way anyone else does.” The context clearly implied that librarianship was a technical profession, a domain in which Christian beliefs and values were largely irrelevant. The library community was, of course, not devoid of ethical principles,2 but some of its members preferred to emphasize the profession’s supposed neutrality.3
Over the course of my career, the library community has taken an increasingly active role in advocating for social change.4 In this context, language about neutrality in library practice has become more difficult to sustain.5 At present, conference schedules, professional and scholarly literature, official statements of professional organizations, and vendor ads regularly reveal an agenda that includes countering disinformation, combating social inequities, promoting diversity and inclusion, and removing barriers to individual self-expression.
The practice of librarianship being value-laden, Christians who have an interest in the profession ought to assess how well its aims and means align with a biblical worldview. As I consider the Bible’s teachings, I must confess that I hunger for a version of librarianship that reflects the truth of the gospel. Disappointed by discourse that frames problems and solutions in secular, humanistic terms, I find myself probing what library practice looks like when one is seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness.
I have argued elsewhere that “the holistic nature of Christian discipleship demands integration with all fields of study, including library science.”6 Beginning with this post and continuing with three others, I will explore the prospects for pursuing the integration of faith and librarianship in the context of a graduate program at a Christian institution. Readers who are unfamiliar with library science may be surprised to learn that opportunities to earn a master’s degree—the standard credential for professional practice in the field—informed by a Christian worldview are quite limited. In my next post, I will make observations about the few programs that I know to be offered. In later posts, I will examine issues that institutions interested in improving access to Christian education for librarianship must confront. These will include programmatic accreditation by the American Library Association, financial viability, and other practical matters.
There are, of course, many different kinds of libraries. Public libraries typically receive tax revenues and are accountable to some form of local government. Many educational institutions maintain libraries. Those that serve institutions at primary and/or secondary levels are known as school libraries or media centers, whereas those that serve colleges and universities are referred to as academic libraries. Corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations sometimes have special libraries that support their distinctive missions.
Most libraries are secular in character; that is, they exist to support a community or organization that defines itself in non-religious terms. Nevertheless, some libraries operate in support of a religious organization. There is certainly a place for discussing how the practice of Christian faith intersects with work in a secular library setting,7 but opportunities for overt integration of faith and librarianship are most natural in a Christian institution. Academic programs in library science generally do little, if anything, to prepare graduates to serve in such a venue.
As I develop this series of posts, for the sake of simplicity, I will focus specifically on the logic of a Christian university offering a graduate program that equips library professionals for effective service in Christian academic institutions. In my judgment, such a program would distinguish itself from its secular counterparts by developing students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions in three key areas:
- Institutional context
A library’s context defines to a significant extent the objectives, resources, practices, and tools that it may reasonably adopt. Library science curricula may seek to prepare graduates to work in any of the kinds of libraries previously mentioned, or in other information-intensive settings. Where library schools do focus on academic library operations and services, course content often emphasizes knowledge relevant to large, secular, urban, research-intensive institutions. By contrast, Christian colleges and universities tend to exhibit different attributes: small or moderate size; orientation to teaching more than research; tuition dependence; attention to community life, including spiritual development; and location in a setting other than a densely populated city. A library science program that prepares graduates to serve well in a Christian institution will reckon with the ways that its context may shape its library services.
- Information sources
Throughout church history, Christian communities have concerned themselves with disseminating information. The Christian faith has a strong intellectual tradition, doubtless drawing on precedents established in ancient Judaism. Librarians working in Christian institutions do well to understand the Christian information landscape. By implication, a Christian library science program might seek to familiarize students with major works in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, and church history; journals focused on the integration of faith and learning; scholarly societies and publishers concerned with the advancement of Christian thought; and databases that index, abstract, and/or supply the full text of Christian articles and books.
- Philosophy of librarianship
As indicated in the introduction to this post, librarianship is not value-neutral. Aspiring Christian college librarians should have the opportunity to begin reflecting on important questions that arise from the application of a Christian philosophy of education to the realm of librarianship. Those questions might include the following, among others:
- Can libraries at Christian institutions promote the pursuit of a Christian worldview without practicing indoctrination? If so, how?
- How can librarians at Christian institutions contribute to students’ development, intellectual and otherwise?
- How should a Christian college library resolve apparent tensions between intellectual freedom principles and Christian worldview commitments?
- How can Christian librarians engage in critical evaluation of information technologies and promote intentional decisions about their use?
As I continue to elaborate my thinking on this subject, I welcome comments and contact from librarians, professors, and administrators who have an interest in it.
- A revised version of my paper was published as “A Philosophy of Christian Librarianship,” The Christian Librarian 43, no. 2 (April 2000): 46–51, 58–59. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/tcl/vol43/iss2/3/. This was subsequently reprinted in Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, ed. Gregory A. Smith (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002), 69–84.
- For evidence of ethical discourse in the library community that emerged around the time that I finished library school, see Gordon Flagg, “ALA Council: Core Values, Outsourcing Dominate Agenda,” American Libraries, September 2000, 81, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25637762; LilIian N. Gerhardt, “Core Meltdown,” School Library Journal, August 2000, 17; and Michael Gorman, Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century (Chicago: American Library Association, 2000).
- The tension between the ideal of neutrality—libraries affirming individuals’ intellectual freedom—and the inclination to advocacy—librarians taking public, collective stances on social and public issues—has a long history (Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, comp., A History of ALA Policy on Intellectual Freedom: A Supplement to the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Tenth Edition [Chicago: ALA Editions, 2021], 8–16).
- For example, a recent article describes the trend of academic libraries pursuing initiatives in “social justice, critical librarianship, and critical digital pedagogy” (ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee, “2020 Top Trends in Academic Libraries,” College & Research Libraries News, June 2020, 273, https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/24478/32315).
- See, for example, “Resolution to Condemn White Supremacy and Fascism as Antithetical to Library Work,” Virtual Council Meetings, American Library Association, adopted January 25, 2021, https://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/Resolution%20to%20Condemn%20White%20Supremacy%20and%20Fascism%20as%20Antithetical%20to%20Library%20Work%20FINAL.pdf; and Jennifer A. Ferretti, “Neutrality Is Hostility: The Impact of (False) Neutrality in Academic Librarianship,” City That Reads (blog), Medium, February 13, 2018, https://citythatreads.medium.com/neutrality-is-hostility-the-impact-of-false-neutrality-in-academic-librarianship-c0755879fb09. For discussion of public library workers’ views on the subject of neutrality, see Dani Scott and Laura Saunders, “Neutrality in Public Libraries: How Are We Defining One of Our Core Values?,” Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 53, no. 1 (March 2021): 153–166, https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000620935501. https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000620935501.
- Gregory A. Smith, “A Rationale for Integrating Faith and Librarianship,” in Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, ed. Gregory A. Smith (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002), 11.
- There are many generic resources regarding the relationship between faith and work, including those collected by The Gospel Coalition. However, little has been written about practicing one’s Christian calling in the particular setting of a secular library. For a significant exception to this generalization, see Donald G. Davis, Jr., and John Mark Tucker, “The Master We Serve: The Call of the Christian Librarian to the Secular Workplace,” in Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, ed. Gregory A. Smith (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002), 40–47. A recent essay that reflects the author’s experience in a secular library setting is Dana M. Caudle’s “Christian Faith and Its Impact on Library Interpersonal Relationships and Professionalism,” in The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession, ed. Garrett B. Trott (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019), 179–188.