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This post is the third of a five-part series. In the first post I described how I met with a group of colleagues earlier this year to explore implications of the biblical worldview for the realm of libraries. Our discussion drew on four “frames” of the biblical narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. In the second post, I drew on the group’s findings to outline a biblical view of library users. This post focuses on the resources to which libraries provide access.

Collections of information-bearing works—scientific, historical, creative, and more—are intrinsically associated with libraries. Interestingly, the Creation frame anticipates in at least three ways the emergence of an abundance of recorded works. First, Adam and Eve received a mandate to exercise responsible dominion over the earth’s resources.1 Working to fulfill this assignment naturally leads to discovering, preserving, and transmitting information—more than can be managed through oral tradition alone. Second, curiosity and creativity are intrinsic to human nature; we are, after all, made in the image of the supreme Creator.2 Third, creation is vast in scope and complexity, comprising not only our natural environment but also its potential to sustain a diverse social milieu.3 These factors ensure that there is no shortage of subject matter to be explored or of motivation to gain mastery over it.4 The amount of information produced by human actors over the course of millennia, but with increasing intensity in a digital age, is massive.

Whereas the Creation frame rationally accounts for the proliferation of books and media, the Fall frame explains why the information contained within such works is often misleading, inconclusive, and devoid of moral virtue, generally evidencing the brokenness of the world in which we live.5 Although absolute truth—God’s knowledge of reality—does exist, human ability to perceive it is limited because of the personal and systemic effects of sin.6 Much published information reflects a skewed, self-serving interpretation of reality. Not surprisingly, scholarship in the academic disciplines generally starts from humanistic, agnostic, or atheistic premises, never giving credence to the authority of the Designer.7 As a further consequence of the Fall, libraries operate in a physical environment where resources are scarce and prone to decay over time.8 When these factors are combined, they diminish the chances that library users will realize the learning potential latent in creation.

The Redemption frame offers hope that, notwithstanding sin’s profound effects, God is actively working in the world to mediate blessings to fallen people.9 This hope manifests itself in many ways, including the resources that libraries make available to their users. Expressions of God’s goodness to humanity may be found in medical literature that aids in the prevention and treatment of disease; in scientific studies that help people use the earth’s resources to sustain an ever-growing population; and in educational publications that enable teachers to foster the many possibilities associated with literacy and learning.10 Of course, divine grace is not confined to that which serves research or technical purposes. Poetry, fiction, musical recordings, films, biographies, and graphical works are a source of great enjoyment and can help to counter the ills of a cursed world.11 All of these blessings tend to extend the duration of human life and/or enhance its quality; indirectly, they may create opportunities for people to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.12

Library resources can also play a role in furthering God’s redemptive activity in its purest sense. The Bible—or at least some portion of it—has been translated into an ever-increasing number of languages. Additionally, a vast amount of published literature is available to aid in the interpretation of the Scriptures and the application of its truths to personal and collective life. Finally, as evidenced by this blog and the journal with which it is associated, Christian scholars have made significant efforts to produce resources that interpret the academic disciplines in ways that are faithful to biblical teachings.13 As the Scriptures and Christian publications are made available in libraries, they can help to advance the kingdom of God.14

The Consummation frame emphasizes that God will ultimately dwell amid those people who have gladly received him as King, forever satisfying them with delights that are consistent with his holy will. The joys of using a well-resourced library may supply a foretaste of what awaits the Lord’s redeemed in a perfect environment. Perhaps, then, there is some truth to Jorge Luis Borges’s assertion: “I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.”15

Nevertheless, Consummation entails a sobering truth: that all people will give account to God for choices made during their earthly life span.16 Since eternal life can be found only through faith in Jesus Christ,17 it is important that publications rooted in biblical teaching be made broadly accessible,18 including through libraries. The principle of intellectual freedom, if applied equitably, will ensure that those who seek to learn about the Bible and the Christian faith can do so without difficulty. Of course, resources that reflect or describe other belief systems will also be present in libraries, and Christians may use them profitably to learn how to engage effectively with their adherents.19

The biblical worldview makes sense of libraries’ existence. Furthermore, it anticipates the opportunities and challenges that arise when libraries seek to serve a diverse array of users with access to cultural media. Although many library resources may have questionable value, library collections generally play a variety of positive roles in society. Christians have an interest in using them and shaping their development.

In my next post, I will examine library programs, services, and roles from a biblical perspective. Readers who want to explore further the subject matter of this post may find value in the following sources:

Delivuk, John Allen. “The Biblical Concept of Remembrance and Some of Its Implications for Library Science.” The Christian Librarian 37, no. 4 (August 1994): 99–103.

———. “Wisdom Literature and Some of Its Implications for Selecting Library Materials.” The Christian Librarian 41, no. 2 (April 1998): 34–38.

Johnson, James R. “A Christian Approach to Intellectual Freedom in Libraries.” In Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, edited by Gregory A. Smith, 139–64. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

Silver, Steve. “Faith, Freedom and Information: A Christian Perspective on Intellectual Freedom.” In The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession, edited by Garrett B. Trott, 123–37. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019.

Smith, Gregory A. “The Cultural Mandate, the Pursuit of Knowledge, and the Christian Librarian.” In Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession, edited by Gregory A. Smith, 28–39. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

Footnotes

  1. Gen 1:26, 28.
  2. Gen 1:26–27.
  3. Gen 1, esp. v. 31; Ps 104:24–26.
  4. 1 Kgs 4:29–34.
  5. Job 21:34; Matt 15:14; Rom 3:13–14; 2 Tim 3:8.
  6. Rom 1:18–23.
  7. Ps 53:1–3.
  8. Rom 8:22.
  9. Gen 12:1–3.
  10. Acts 14:17.
  11. Ps 104:14-15.
  12. Acts 17:26–31.
  13. 2 Cor 10:4–5.
  14. Acts 8:30–35; Rom 10:17; 2 Tim 4:13.
  15. Jorge Luis Borges, “Blindness,” in Selected Non-Fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger (New York: Penguin, 1999), 475. Borges made this statement in a 1977 lecture in which he described his nomination as director of Argentina’s National Library. His poem, “The Gifts,” which contains a similar line, reflected on the irony of receiving such an appointment around the time that he became functionally blind.
  16. Matt 12:36–37.
  17. John 17:3; Acts 4:11–12; 1 Tim 2:5.
  18. Rom 10:13–14.
  19. Col 4:5–6; 1 Pet 3:14–16.

Gregory A. Smith

Liberty University
Gregory A. Smith is Associate Dean, Library Technologies & Collection Services at Liberty University