Magazine article American Libraries

Keeping the Faith: Religion in the Professional Sense

Magazine article American Libraries

Keeping the Faith: Religion in the Professional Sense

Article excerpt


David Iverson has an MLS degree and 10 years' experience in public librarianship. But in October 1998, after a month on the job as librarian at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota, the librarian conceded he didn't have the "foggiest idea" how to manage a small, one-room library containing 2,000-3,000 volumes and operating on an annual budget of $400.

The longtime librarian at the Bethesda Lutheran Church in Iverson's hometown parish urged him to join the Minneapolis-based Lutheran Church Library Association (LCLA). So he wrote a letter to Leanna Kloempken, LCLA's executive director, in which he expressed his frustration and asked for help.

Kloempken sent Iverson a membership packet that included a manual explaining how to catalog books in a parish library and information on such aspects of church librarianship as recruiting and managing church-library volunteers, making a small budget last all year, and selecting computer software.

"Mr. Iverson's letter is typical of the many letters and phone calls we receive, asking us for help on how to organize or work with a church library," explained Kloempken. "While the Bethany Lutheran Church Library is fortunate to have someone with professional library training, most church librarians are lay people who are quite interested in providing good reading and AV materials for their congregation's use, but don't have an ounce of church-library training."

Lutheran Church Library Association

The LCLA is just one of several religion-oriented library associations that are quietly filling an important niche in the profession - serving the specialized needs and interests of the many thousands of librarians across the United States who manage religious-based collections. The members of the associations come from a variety of libraries: the one-room church library, seminary and synagogue libraries, special religious collections at university libraries and research centers, and libraries that may have few or no collections of religious materials.

The religious library associations, moreover, are helping librarians in a variety of ways - for example, through professional publications, workshops, regional meetings, preservation programs, and even outreach in foreign countries.

American Theological Library Association

The American Theological Library Association (ATLA), for example, has made an industry out of offering practical services and products to its members and to the scholarly world. "We are not a very political organization and our customers tend to focus on practical uses," explained ATLA Executive Director Dennis Norlin. "That's probably the reason why we get so much done."

Founded in 1946, ATLA has always been ecumenical and its objectives have remained the same through the years: to promote theological librarianship and to develop the professional skills of its members. Today, ATLA has 243 institutional and 350 individual members, who come from every state and a few foreign countries, and 18 regional associations that hold regular meetings and workshops.

"The membership works closely together and helps each other out," explained John B. Trotti, an ATLA member since 1968, who is librarian at the Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. "One of the first things new members want to get in on is our duplicate exchange. Members list duplicate materials from the collections in their libraries twice annually and give them to anybody who wants them."

For the past 50 years, the ATLA Religion Database has been the principal means by which the association has enhanced theological librarianship. As a publisher, ATLA has converted over a million records in the database to US-MARC format, and they are now available in several online versions produced by Ovid, OCLC, First Search, and SilverPlatter. …

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