This post is the second of a five-part series. The initial segment of the series described how I and seven of my colleagues at Liberty University met regularly in the early months of 2023 to examine the realm of libraries from a distinctively biblical worldview. Specifically, we considered the implications of four “frames” of the biblical narrative—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation—for five library-related themes: users, resources, programs and services, roles, and personnel. Library users and information-bearing resources are arguably the most foundational aspects of a library.1 This post develops a biblical perspective of library users, drawing on insights from the group’s discussion.2 Scriptural support for the various claims appears in footnotes.3
The Creation frame conveys numerous insights about human nature that are relevant to the existence and use of libraries. According to the first two chapters of Genesis, the first humans—both male and female—were created in the image of God.4 Designed to do both physical and intellectual work,5 they were endowed as moral agents capable of relating to their Creator and to one another.6 Furthermore, they were commissioned as stewards over the created order and were directed to reproduce and fill the earth.7 By implication, Adam and Eve’s descendants were to build a society whose members managed the earth’s resources to God’s glory.
Throughout history, human capabilities and responsibilities have supplied the means and motivation for us to make sense of a God-ordered world. We seek to learn what is already known to him and we share our discoveries, experiences, and memories with others. Human existence is a process of inquiry that necessarily involves consuming and producing information. Libraries are well-positioned to support these activities. Not only do they furnish organized collections of human knowledge, but they facilitate connections between diverse users in a variety of ways: attracting us to shared spaces, hosting events that allow us to pursue common interests, informing us about community concerns, and providing access to resources that can help us to understand ourselves and others.
Sadly, the Fall frame makes clear that realizing our intellectual and relational potential is difficult because all humans—and thus all library users—are marred by sin.8 In our quest for knowledge, we often fail to reckon with the reality of our finiteness and our moral failings, preferring to accept self-deceptions rather than defer to the authority of a transcendent God.9 We tend to gravitate toward sources that confirm our own biases and preconceptions.10 Furthermore, although library services and programs draw us into proximity with others, we are prone to act out of selfish interests, thereby diminishing community rather than cultivating it.11 Finally, we may be tempted to use the library’s resources or services for purposes that are inconsistent with our calling to love God supremely and our neighbors as ourselves.12
Combining the Creation and Fall frames, we can characterize library users as those in whom nobility and brokenness are mysteriously combined. Users are unquestionably libraries’ raison d’être, and library workers regularly derive deep satisfaction from serving those who exhibit curiosity, kindness, and gratitude. However, users inevitably approach the library as broken people, and workers must anticipate and respond to patrons who are difficult, disruptive, destructive, or harassing.
The biblical narrative’s emphasis on Redemption offers hope that libraries can somehow mediate common grace—and, in some cases, even the blessings of salvation—to those of us who use them. At a minimum, libraries seek to embody the reality that temporal benefits—even life-transforming ones—are accessible to every user.13 This is not to suggest that libraries exist on some exalted moral plane; as one Christian observer recently wrote, “Libraries aren’t safe, but they are good.”14 Nevertheless, followers of Jesus who work in libraries recognize that no user is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive power,15 and indeed seek to act and speak as agents of God’s reconciliation.16
The Consummation frame assures us that human existence extends beyond the grave,17 and thus that activities undertaken by and directed toward library users bear eternal significance.18 Christians who have been called to library work carry out their professional responsibilities with a mixture of lightheartedness and gravity, mindful of the impact that their words and deeds may have on the paths and destinies of library users.19
Paraphrasing C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory,” one might say that there are no ordinary library users—no mere mortals approaching a desk with a question. The nations, cultures, arts, and civilizations represented in library collections—these are mortal. But it is immortals whom library workers greet, assist, confront, and disdain—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. Such persons are not merely to be tolerated or indulged but are to be met with a real and costly love that is offered in spite of their faults.20
As the preceding paragraphs have shown, the Bible speaks unequivocally to the nature of the human beings who are a library’s prospective and actual users. Readers who wish to explore this subject further may benefit from the following sources:
Ream, Todd C. “For or unto Me? Explorations of the Formative Potential of Libraries.” The Christian Librarian 62, no. 2 (December 2019): 81–97. https://doi.org/10.55221/2572-7478.2113.
Strong, Cynthia. “Holy Listening in Reference Work: A Sacred Aspect of the Christian Librarian’s Calling.” In The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession, edited by Garrett B. Trott, 223–33. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019.
Undoubtedly, this post has raised questions without providing corresponding answers. I hope to provide more clarity on some of those issues in the remainder of this series. My next post will draw inferences from the Scriptures concerning the information-bearing resources that users access through libraries.
- Users and resources certainly figure prominently in S. R. Ranganathan’s famed conceptualization of libraries, The Five Laws of Library Science, published in various editions: (1) Books are for use. (2) Every person his or her book. (3) Every book its reader. (4) Save the time of the reader. (5) A library is a growing organism.
- Although I gratefully acknowledge my colleagues’ contributions to the discussion process, I take responsibility for the contents of all pieces in the series.
- Given that the Bible scarcely acknowledges the existence of libraries (see Part 1) and provides no direct guidance concerning their operation, biblical references presented here and in the following posts should be taken with caution. In many cases, they indicate a mere contextual foundation from which a library-oriented implication may be derived.
- Gen 1:26–27.
- Gen 2:15, 19–20a.
- Gen 2:16–18.
- Gen 1:26, 28–30.
- Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23.
- Jas 1:23–24.
- 2 Tim 4:3–4.
- Eph 4:17–19; Titus 3:3.
- Ps 10:2–4.
- Matt 5:45.
- Emily Belz, “Libraries Aren’t Safe, but They Are Good,” Christianity Today, January/February 2023, 58–63.
- 1 Tim 1:15.
- 2 Cor 5:18–20.
- John 5:28–29.
- Rev 20:12.
- Matt 5:16; Phil 2:14–16.
- C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 53.