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In my first post in this series, I explained how I convened a group of colleagues to explore the implications of the biblical worldview for the realm of libraries, using a four-frame model of the biblical narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Drawing on insights from the group’s discussion, I outlined in two additional posts a biblical perspective of library users and library resources. This post continues the trajectory, focusing on the programs and services that libraries provide and the roles that they play in society.

As I stated in the preceding posts, information-bearing resources and users are essential to libraries. However, a library that yields high value is one that purposefully enacts programs and services for its intended users. Stated another way, an effective library directs its efforts to unleash users’ potential by increasing their capacity to use information resources to good ends.

The nature of a library’s programs and services can vary widely depending on its clientele and mission, as suggested by the following examples:

  • An elementary school library, seeking to instill a love for reading among young learners, purposefully segments its collection of books according to reading difficulty, making it easier for emerging readers to select appropriate titles.
  • A university library partners with other units on its campus to embed digital textbooks in online courses, ensuring that all students, regardless of financial means, have access to needed resources from the first day of the semester.
  • A corporate library, aiming to fuel a firm’s pursuit of competitive advantage, provides knowledge management services to its researchers and executives.
  • A liberal arts college library assigns librarians to support faculty and students in specific academic departments; such liaisons assist by developing collections, teaching information literacy, and assisting faculty members with literature searches.
  • A public library’s building and grounds offer vital Internet access in a rural area where many residents cannot obtain home broadband service.
  • A seminary library in North America purposefully acquires and promotes theological literature from the global South, amplifying voices that students might otherwise never hear.

The Creation frame describes humans as morally responsible beings who have been gifted with intellectual, relational, and spiritual faculties, and who have been tasked by their Creator with a mandate to exercise dominion over the created order.1 Managing natural resources effectively requires the application of knowledge. Discovering knowledge consumes time and resources. Information-bearing records play a critical role in conveying knowledge across space and time, thus reducing the need for important discoveries to be repeated. However, as knowledge proliferates over time, it becomes unwieldy and must be organized.

Although biblical revelation does not refer to God commissioning or approving the creation of libraries, it is not difficult to envision that, in an ideal environment, they might perform the critical function of equipping people to fulfill the charge of responsible stewardship within the context of an evolving society. Quite apart from scientific discoveries and the diffusion of technical innovations, libraries might transmit the cultural heritage that accrues as successive generations share wisdom, tell stories, and make music. Furthermore, by helping to establish connections between users around common points of interest, libraries might be expected to contribute to the sort of relational wellbeing for which humans were created.2

Perhaps more than anything, the Creation frame emphasizes that the created order owes its existence to the work of a Creator-King who is ineffably powerful, wise, and good; that what he has created exists for his purposes and glory; and that humans are to carry out dominion under his authority, seeking to extend his beneficent rule.3

The Fall frame, of course, violates the assumption of an ideal environment. As a result, in a world where sin and its effects are pervasive, it is reasonable to assume that decisions regarding library programs and services fall short of rendering due glory to God.4 Because the world has set itself up in rebellion against God, libraries tend to encourage and celebrate the sinful actions and attitudes of the culture around them.5 Interactions between a library’s stakeholders—for example, users, employees, funders, and suppliers—reflect divergent values, leading to conflict.6

Users approach the library from a position of alienation—from God, the natural environment, self, and other humans.7 The Redemption frame conveys a measure of hope amid seemingly irremediable conditions.8 Library programs and services help to advance outcomes such as literacy, economic development, and physical and mental health, thereby fostering human dignity.9 In a complex and confusing information environment, libraries help users find what they need and learn to make discerning choices.10

Combining the Fall and Redemption frames, tensions become evident: Libraries offer abundant evidence that the natural and social worlds are dysfunctional, but they also document God’s merciful intervention in history, without which the world would be darker still.11 Nevertheless, although libraries seek to ameliorate the world’s brokenness, they inevitably contribute to it as well.12

The reality of a pending Consummation calls for careful consideration of the choices that we make as consumers, producers, and purveyors of information.13 Accountability for such choices extends both to what we do and how we do it. Library workers who have experienced God’s redemptive grace endeavor to serve his kingdom in the workplace,14 knowing that God will one day judge the quality of their work—including programs and services over which they have control—not by fallible human standards, but according to his perfect will.15

The Consummation frame imbues library work with dignity on at least two counts. First, libraries promote literacy and freedom of inquiry, by means of which users can gain exposure to the gospel. When people receive the gospel in faith and repentance, they are liberated from present bondage and future judgment.16 Second, libraries may prefigure the restoration of benevolent human dominion that was spoiled in the Fall. God has promised that he will ultimately renew all things and dwell among his people on earth.17 Michael Wittmer has described this future environment as one of joyous exploration, one in which libraries might plausibly play a role:

The new earth will be an exciting, interesting place to be. We will be always growing, always learning more about ourselves, the world, and God. We will never bottom out and become bored, for we will never know as much as God knows. There will always be some new joy to discover, some place to visit or revisit, some new dish to create, a new flower to breed, a new song to sing, a new poem to write, a new golf club to try out, a new lesson to learn and then pass on to someone else, some person to know more deeply, something new in our relationship with God. And this stretching and growing will go on forever.18

Library programs and services are the source of much social good and can even impart spiritual blessings. Although libraries in their present form, along with every other social institution, bear the marks of sin, they offer a glimpse of the whole-person engagement that will characterize the world to come.

The final post in this series will examine the people who work in libraries through the four frames of the biblical narrative. Readers who wish to look further at the subject of this post may find the following sources worthwhile:

Cardenas, Ricardo. “Public Libraries as Places of Hope.” Christ Animating Learning (blog). October 24, 2022. https://christianscholars.com/public-libraries-as-places-of-hope/.

Filgo, Ellen Hampton. “Incarnational Librarians: Liaisons Moving into the Neighborhood.” The Christian Librarian 65, no. 1 (2022). https://doi.org/10.55221/2572-7478.2357.

Nelson, Denise D. “In a Manner Worthy of God: Hospitality and the Christian Librarian.” In The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession, edited by Garrett B. Trott, 66–75. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019.

Trott, Garrett B. “Faith, Librarianship, and Technology.” The Christian Librarian 52, nos. 1–2 (2009): 19–23. https://doi.org/10.55221/2572-7478.1758.

Footnotes

  1. Gen 1:26–28.
  2. 1 Kgs 10:1–9.
  3. Gen 1:28–31; Ps 24:1–2; Col 1:16; Rev 4:11.
  4. Gen 6:5; Isa 1:4–6.
  5. Isa 5:20; Rom 1:28–32.
  6. Jas 4:1–2.
  7. Gen 3:16–19; Isa 59:2; Titus 3:3.
  8. Jas 1:17.
  9. Jer 29:4–7.
  10. Prov 14:6–8.
  11. Deut 10:17-18; Acts 10:37–38, 43; 17:26–28.
  12. Eccl 1:13–18.
  13. Eph 5:15–17.
  14. Eph 6:5–8.
  15. Rom 14:12; 1 Cor 3:11–15.
  16. John 3:16–18; 2 Tim 2:24–26.
  17. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1–5.
  18. Michael E. Wittmer, Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 207.

Gregory A. Smith

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