No late fees, but Jesus may love you a little less.

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“No furniture so charming as books”. Sydney Smith

About a year ago, our dear old church librarian suddenly passed away. A few weeks later, our minister asked if I would “take over” her role. Being someone who can’t seem to say no very well, and thinking “How hard can it be?”, I mumbled something like “um okay” and then promptly forgot about it.

Until last week.

The church secretary emailed to say that all the “library stuff” was “clogging up” her office. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, until I suddenly remembered. “Jesus! Am I supposed to look after the church library?” Apparently so.

I went round the church office one morning and found about 15 books that were supposed to be added, along with the remnants of whatever Mary, the former church librarian, had around her house: Five or six yellowed and dusty pamphlets put out by “The Church and Synagogue Library Association“. I didn’t even know there was a “Church and Synagogue Library Association”! Half a box of catalog cards, a quarter box of book pockets.  Book pockets? We haven’t used book pockets in our public library in 20 years! In fact, we have an ongoing project of removing book pockets from older books and using them as scrap. Here I am supposed to be adding book pockets and cards to all new books. Another anachronism was the handwritten accession book: a simple blue binder with every item added to the library since 1988. Why 1988? 1988 was an auspicious year for the United Church of Canada. It was the year of the schism: the year that General Council voted to allow non-heterosexuals the possibility of ordination. Looking back on it, it seems almost quaint that this was even ever an issue, and I’m proud of the stand the church took back then. It wasn’t an easy decision at the time, and many congregations were divided. Many long time members packed up and become Anglicans, Presbyterians, or stopped going to church altogether. The joke’s on them though, because Anglicans and Presbyterians are struggling with the same issue now. The world’s moved on, as Stephen King would say. So maybe 1988 was a fresh start for the library too?

If I was chagrined by what was present in Mary’s library supplies, I was even more troubled by what was missing. No dust jackets, ( a must!) no spine labels (another must!) and no book stamp. What’s a library without a nice rubber stamp and stamp pad? But the biggest stumbling block was that Mary seemed to do all the processing with a typewriter, something that neither the church nor I have any access to. I suppose we could ask the congregation if anyone had one they would donate, but then you run into the trouble of finding ribbon, repairs, etc. Who needs the hassle?

I’m thinking that for labels, we’ll use a word template and find a suitable size that is printer friendly. I’ve done some investigating and Avery 8163 sized 4×2 labels would probably work for the catalogue cards, and something smaller for the spine labels.

Pick a card, any card!

Ultimately, I’d love to get away from the physical card catalogue altogether. For a one-time fee of $20 librarything.comwill let you create a library of unlimited size. The church library is hovering around 1000 items right now, and isn’t about to get much bigger. It would be fully searchable, we could update borrowing info with a laptop with an internet connection and we could link it to our church’s website. The future is friendly. Practically though, adding 1000 items to any catalogue, even one as easy as librarything, won’t be done overnight, and it may take a while for our users to adjust to not having a card catalogue on site.

How many gigabytes does this hard drive hold?

In my day job as a public librarian, I don’t really get my hands dirty doing alot of the actual cataloging and processing. I have people for that, dont’cha know? So it’s been kind of fun looking up titles and determining the most appropriate spot for them. I get to see the whole process through, not just my tiny part of it. The last time I actually got to do any real cataloging was in library school, and I quite literally phoned that course in, in my slippers.(distance education)

This led me to my next line of questioning: who actually uses the church library? I’ve been going to this church for about seven years, and I haven’t borrowed a damn thing, and I’m a librarian! There’s currently no real effective way of keeping stats on use. Do enough people still rely on a local church library to even bother revamping and modernizing the system? As in Sydney Smith’s quotation above, are the books in the church library nothing more than charming furniture? Our church is in the midst of a major multi-year renovation, and I haven’t bothered to check if there is any space dedicated to a library in the new plan. Maybe there is a spot for a library, but my indifference on this topic speaks volumes. Ideally, it would be great to see a little “lounge/library” area in the new layout, with a computer for searching the library catalogue as well as just a spot for quiet reflection and study. Book lined shelves, and a few comfy chairs and maybe a fern or two…But I’m getting ahead of myself. My request for the above-mentioned supplies (in the ballpark of $200-250) was turned down because there’s “no money” and that I’ll have to wait until next year to make sure its added to the adult education committee’s budget. The wheels of church council turn SLOWLY.

Artist's rendition of proposed new church library

In my travels, I found this really fun and totally useless website that allows you to customize old-timey catalogue cards with anything you want. I’ve had way too much fun playing with this. I made one for this blog. What do you think?

I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.

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