Using the LDS Ward Library

IpadWithHandWhen looking for a picture to show in Sunday School, the ward library is sure to have an image. Plenty of Scriptures are available if not all the students have them. There is also a collection of Presidents of the Church manuals for Relief Society and Priesthood meetings. A well used copy machine exists for handouts and the latest Conference Report lesson. Occasionally there might be a video produced by the LDS Church to pass the time or make a short point during class. It also has pencils, paper, and even crayons if the occasion requires. These are the most common uses on any given Sunday for the small room often taken for granted staffed by familiar faces.

Maybe “library” is the wrong name at times. It is a place of resources more than reference or reading material. The collection of books is small and often of old vintage. Almost none of them are ever checked out. Books of any consequence can easily be found in the local public library. There are some places owned by the LDS Church that do have good collections. It isn’t surprising the Brigham Young University in all of its franchises probably has the best and most number of Mormon reading and resources for average members. That includes writings that its critics would not believe would be carried. Scattered all over the United States are college seminary libraries of varied quality. Good as these places might be, they are few and far between. The problem with public libraries can be a lack of control over what might be available, even for Mormon majority populations. The needs of ward members are not always the same as the community they belong.

The point of all this is that no matter how many Mormon must read lists are devised, it won’t make any difference when few can get access to the books. This isn’t even related to how realistic or contested such lists might be to average members. Regardless of how thick our Scriptures might be or the call for daily writing and journal keeping, Mormonism isn’t a reading culture. What can be found in the Ward library is one testament to this fact. Evidence can also be pointed out by the scarce reading material in most homes. It can be a shock coming from a book culture family to see the famine of words in both places.

I would like to share a personal story to illustrate the possible power of having a decent ward library with more than paper and pictures. While on my mission I got bored as happens during gatherings of wards you don’t actually belong. We had already done our greetings and pressing for names of people who might be good candidates for teaching. Me and my companion wandered down the Church building hallway and found the library still open. My memory of what he did is gone, but I picked through the small collection of books that always calls out to me in new places. Among the mostly boring or repetitive choices was a book about and called The First Vision by Milton V. Backman. What I learned from him inspired my confidence in this event and gave me a greater testimony of the truth of the Restoration. No doubt I would have found and read it some other place, but there it was in an inconsequential LDS ward library in a forgettable Midwestern town.

My current place of residence makes me sad when I go inside the ward library. Sorry, but that is the truth. Yes, I can go into my hometown public library and find all kinds of Mormon related books to read. It would be nice to do the same where it matters most; a place of worship. Certainly there could be reading material that no public library would have reason to carry, such as local theology authors or the most recent General Authority publications. Not even those are present in any buildings I have visited. The most in depth informative books are the Encyclopedia of Mormonism probably included just about everywhere.

The suggestions at lds.org for ward libraries are a necessary start up. It includes entries for Gospel Art, DVDs, Music, Scriptures naturally, Books and Manuals, and Equipment and Furnishings. The books and manuals section is heavy on manuals and light on books, almost all of them found in most any Mormon household. Obviously this isn’t exhaustive because, “Wards or branches may add to these materials depending on their needs from materials available through store.lds.org.” What can be found at the distribution site isn’t much more expansive.

None of this is to say that the ward has to replace the public library or become like the ancient Alexandria. It would be nice to give it the meaningful name of library where the needs of members can be satisfied. What can be found there might be less important than the idea that something can be found. Despite the outdated and currently out of favor status of Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, seeing it on a shelf would be an improvement over the even older missionary books stocking the shelves. The only acceptable excuse for lacking is poor funds. That is if the books would end up read and checked out. Perhaps more robust choices can create a culture of reading that leads to an opening of more spiritual knowledge and faith. With that said, time to get busy with the inevitable discussion of what books would be useful and important to included in the ward library.

12 thoughts on “Using the LDS Ward Library

  1. Just anecdotally, a friend of mine living in a place far from the Mormon Corridor had his mover tell him that they liked to move Mormon families because they always had pianos and lots of books that added to the weight charges. I guess it’s all relative.

    I agree that the ward library has never been much use to me as a bookworm, but I’m not sure that it could be. Any library selection that catered to bookworms would not be a selection that could be of much use to the majority of members. Do you try to help the fat part of the reading bell curve or the long tail?

  2. For wards/branches outside of LDS population centers it would be nice if they had selections that lie outside of what you can buy at the distribution center. But I find they rarely do. Church libraries face numerous problems; small budget, lack of priority by leadership and usually open access (ie no control who “checks out” books). Our ward gives the library $150 a year and the library is also responsible for buying Book of Mormons to put in our missionary display. Of course the books always walk off thus that $150 just turned into $80. How many real books can you get for that amount? And for that matter how many ward librarians actually take their calling seriously?

  3. I live in Scotland and the ward library is the only place we can get access to Mormon related books. My ward library is well stocked due to our dedicated Librarian who relentlessly hassles the Bishop for extra funding to buy in new books that she gets from internet stores that ship internationally. This is really a blessing as these books are so expensive to buy in this country.

  4. I don’t know if this is happening everywhere, but in our area, and my parents area, the ward libraries are being “standardized” and all of the extra things are being given away. Last year our ward library gave away all of the old, out of print LDS books. The librarians told us they have a list of things that are allowed to be in the ward library, anything else is not allowed. And then they also made a big announcement that no more donations to the library can be accepted from members. It’s sad, but good at the same time. My husband and I took special time to browse the books and we picked up some GREAT old, out of print LDS books.

  5. lds.org has several pages about ward libraries. I found this in the Q&A section:

    4. Can books or audiovisual materials donated by ward members be included in the library?

    Answer: Commercially produced books and materials, even if authored or created by Church members, are not to be included in the library. Only books and audiovisual materials produced and distributed by the Church may be stored in and circulated from the meetinghouse library.

  6. Joyce,

    It’s not just your area. I’ve plucked many good old books that way.

    There’s always Amazon, of course.

  7. I apologize up front for this comment being slightly off-topic, but I have a question that somebody interested in this thread might be able to answer.

    I’m desperately looking for a VHS tape that at one point could be found in most meetinghouse libraries in at least the western states. The title is “The Award,” and it was produced by the Cypress, California Stake. My meetinghouse is newer and only carries the standard stuff. Has anybody seen this title collecting dust in their ward library? Again, I apologize for being slightly off topic.

    On topic, I remember when meetinghouse libraries weren’t blah standard. When I was little I would skip primary and help my aunt run ours. That library had all kinds of stuff in it aside from books/tapes/art. It had object lesson props, maps galore, globes, non-standard (but totally appropriate) art. I loved being in that library!

  8. There goes another good intention down the drain. I have a rather extensive collection of Mormon-related books (both pro- and con-) along with a good collection of general theology and general religious history and apologetics (Bart Ehrman, Greg Boyd, Luke Timothy Johnson). My NM wife and kids probably won’t be interested; the thought of these books (some worth $100+) being dumped at Goodwill makes my blood run cold. And now . . . the Church won’t take them.

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