Gregory Smith’s recent blogs concerning the need for graduate programs in library science based on a Christian worldview are well written and thoughtfully presented both in his rationale and his outlining the advantages and the challenges. Smith has championed this philosophy for many years. As the library profession becomes increasingly more secular, liberal, and woke, Christian higher education institutions would do well to consider the challenge Smith presents.
In the opening paragraph of his first post, Smith relates a comment from one of his library science professors a number of years ago. “Monks bake bread the same way anyone else does.”
Think about the way that paradigm is stated. It insinuates that all bakers bake bread the same way. Perhaps in essence that is so, but in actuality, a baker will bake the type of bread that his customers want and that he has learned how to bake. If you are Italian, and/or you serve an Italian clientele, then you will likely learn the particulars of baking Italian bread, for example.
Many bread bakers have specific concerns about the quality and type of the ingredients they use. If you are mass-producing bread, then perhaps any kind of flour will do, preferably the least expensive. But if you are interested in using only the best ingredients or a particular type of flour (see King Arthur’s amazing list of various types of flours), your orientation to baking bread will differ.
I have a familiarity with the bread baked by the monks of the Abbey of the Genesee, having visited them often. The bread they bake is unique in many ways – size, texture, varieties, etc. For example, I don’t know many bakeries that offer Easter bread the way they make it (coconut and chocolate chip). One customer states that it is better than the Polish Easter babka to which she is accustomed.
As well, these monks work according to a particular rhythm of life unlike other bread bakers, stopping to recite scriptures and sing praise to God at specified times throughout the day. This requires careful planning so that bread is not left unattended at crucial moments. In addition, their dedication to God informs a focus on working with each other in community in ways that are Christ-like. Their work environment is unlike most bakeries. In short, I believe that monks do NOT bake bread the same way anyone else does. Nor does everyone else bake bread the same way.
Likewise, Christians do not necessarily approach librarianship in the same way as everyone else. Smith makes a valid point that Christian librarians, especially those who serve Christian academic institutions, find themselves in an increasingly social justice-oriented profession. Now more than ever, Christian librarians may need guidance in navigating such a value-laden landscape. It is essential that Christian universities offer graduate programs to equip librarians for service appropriate to Christian universities and colleges.
Smith rightly points out unique features of Christian academic institutions. Twenty percent of libraries whose colleges or universities are members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities are under 1,000 FTE. Forty-two percent are between 1,000 and 2,999. Twenty-one percent are between 3,000 and 9,999. Only 0.7% are larger than 10,000. Only 1 is aspiring to join the ranks of the Association of Research Libraries. Many of these institutions are located in rural or suburban settings.
Unlike many disciplines, resources in the subject area of religion still tend to be heavily book-oriented, often relying on works that have existed for millennia, such as the writings of Augustine, Luther, or Calvin. In addition, some Christian universities or colleges are an integral part of a particular denomination. Therefore, the resources that support the institution’s curriculum must necessarily reflect the particular perspectives being taught. For example, Laura Walton, former director of Cornerstone University Library, conducted a diversity assessment of the library’s books. She was not surprised to find that a majority of the materials were written from the institution’s denominational viewpoint.
I appreciate Smith’s point about developing an appropriate philosophy of librarianship and working out how to function from a Christian worldview. On one of our recent student surveys here at Regent University, we asked our students what, in their opinion, made them aware that the library was a Christian academic library. The number one answer was that the people were so loving and caring. Often, our librarians will take time to pray with a student or will reach out after a research assistance session just to check and see how the student is doing, especially if they mentioned something going on in their life that was challenging. That is not something addressed or taught in a typical ALA accredited library school program.
Smith points out the paucity of Christian-oriented library science programs. Of the six he identified, four hold a Catholic affiliation. Others are affiliated with education programs. Evidence of overt Christian worldview is difficult to ascertain, and nothing on the sites explored evidenced a goal of teaching reflective Christian praxis. None of them are interdenominational. CCCU member institutions represent over 40 different denominations with 16% Baptist affiliated, the largest representation. Nearly 10% are non-denominational. Based on denominational memberships in CCCU, one would expect a wider diversity of denominationally affiliated colleges and universities offering library science programs. The question must be asked: Why have Christian higher education institutions not considered offering a Christian alternative in this profession?
Smith outlines benefits and concerns with ALA accreditation, food for serious consideration.
Because so many Christian organizations rely on ALA accreditation for library credentialing, as Smith points out, this creates a dual hire process for many Christian institutions. One component is confirming that the ALA accreditation has been met, regardless of what that degree program may have instilled as values. The other component is finding an independent way of confirming the candidate’s Christian values and institutional fit, a challenging task.
Smith’s final point concerns financial sustainability, certainly challenging in these times. I appreciate the idea of cross-disciplinary collaboration. In addition, because of the challenge of hiring well-trained, Christian librarians willing to work at Christian colleges and universities, offering such a program may help fill vacancies in the institution’s own library. The multiple ideas for viability that Smith proposes are worth exploring.
I agree with Smith that we must seek a remedy for the absence of library science programs that are based on and intentional about a Christian perspective in the field of information science.