One of the rare privileges of being Sunday School President in a Mormon congregation – second only to holding the keys for sounding the bells to end class on the hour – is the occasional opportunity to fill in for the meetinghouse librarian. If you’ve never stood behind the counter in a ward library, you might not be aware that
- Your average ward library is filled with all kinds of curious and apparently useless odds and ends; and
- Sometimes people stop by to check out things you would have never expected.
Poking around our library not long ago, I found a new pair of size 12 men’s work boots, audiovisual equipment of unknown function, and pictures from prior generations of the Gospel Art kits where the young couple meant to illustrate eternal marriage is surely putting that doctrine to the test by now. Clearly, ward libraries are in need of some vigorous collection management so that they acquire the things people need and remove things that are taking up space.
What’s not often appreciated, however, are the doctrinal implications of ward library collection management. What do you do with things that are too old or worn out to keep using, but still burdened with sacrality? What do you do with an incomplete, dog-eared, broken-spined copy of holy scripture? Are you going to be the one to drop it in a trash can? Maybe it’s easier to just let the other ward’s librarian take that risk.
And what about that librarian from the other ward, anyway? Most meetinghouse libraries serve two or three different congregations. How do you know what the primary teachers in the other wards are actually using? If you toss that junky set of hand bells, will you scuttle the other ward’s primary Christmas program?
The obvious solution is for all the librarians to get together periodically and cull items from the collection. But with any one librarian holding veto power, and all of them being somewhat reluctant to throw things away, the chances of something useless actually being thrown away drop exponentially towards nil.
Not only that, but librarians meeting together is a tricky issue. There are few organizational structures in place for inter-ward cooperation not under stake direction (and if you involve every librarian in the stake, nothing would ever be thrown away at all). If a librarian is unwilling to cooperate informally, the decision about throwing away or keeping the 1948-edition hymnbooks would have to be kicked upstairs to the bishops, who all have better things to do. Until that happens, the library remains a site of doctrinal uncertainty and inter-hierarchical struggle, where church-related VHS cassettes and duplicate back issues of the Ensign will be unseen and unused but entirely safe from disposal for years or decades to come.
Until the Sunday School President fills in for a week or two, and decides to start poking through the cupboards…