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What if the Church Library was a Real Library?

By Sandra Clark

I accepted a new calling in the last week. It came as a surprise and not a surprise at all.

A surprise because I’m well below the unstated age restriction to become a librarian in my ward, but that’s where I’m headed. The senior sisters that dole out the chalk and flannel board figures behind the counter in my ward are tops. They’re pithy and sweet and will get you copies in a jiffy. But I won’t be sharing their distributing authority with the supplies, that task may be beyond my privileges. I’ve been charged with something else entirely, a new task: stocking the shelves of the library and curating the wall art of the building.

Not a surprise because what I’ve been doing this in my own home library for ages now. I’ve tried to be a lending library to anyone to inquire and return my books. The goal for the church library, as I’ve been instructed, is to fill the shelves with books, both print and digital, that people want to check out and read, resources beyond the standard works, manuals, and gospel art kits.  Think resources beyond the standard works, manuals, and gospel art kits, not just for lesson prep, but personal study. And then devise a way to maintain the supply by instituting a digital check out system (there are apps for this like Book Buddy).

This task of selecting and collecting books and art plays into so many of the loves and expertise I’ve grown in my time at Segullah. I can’t wait to start.

It will be a challenge to limit all the wish list books and art to the budget I’ll have. There are so many fantastic books that speak to the needs and wants of LDS people, things that you can’t get in a library in my neck of the woods. Maybe if you live in Utah you can find these sorts of books at your local library, but where I am (and I assume a lot of you reading) you are left to shell out for your own copies or borrow from a friend.

After speaking with the Bishop and Sunday School President, who created this role and shared their vision of it with me, I’m excited to collect books that offer information and diversity of voices that aren’t in the standard library resources. It’s entirely true that the shelves and walls of our buildings (mine and probably yours too) are filled with manuals, books, and art almost exclusively written by older Caucasian men. Even when they are good men and hold revered callings and have penned many inspired works, they can’t offer every needful thing to everyone. I love being able to read something from another perspective, it helps me learn.

So, I’m taking on the lines in D&C as my mantra,

118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

I’ll be looking for “the best books:” scholarship on church history (particularly essay topics on LDS.org), resources for faith questions, sex from a healthy LDS perspective, and books that highlight the voices of women and a variety of ethnicities and experience.

Just a few of the books I’d love to see (several have already been nodded yes to.)



I don’t want to forget about the kids either- I’d love to stock a mini bookmobile wagon to wheel over for families with young children to check out a few before sacrament meeting and return at the end. Even if I can’t make a tiny cart, I can put them in the library.


I’m excited at the possibilities for books, and instituting a barcode scanning app to check out and track the books, so I can keep those good books tracked and returned for all to enjoy.

With all the forward motion to recognize and elevate diversity in Mormon art, I’m so delighted to introduce some new artists and hopefully a few new styles in my home church building.

As far as I know, this idea is novel and my calling is unique; I love it. I may not have time, budget, and final say to get all of my wants on the library shelves and wall, but I’m feeling called to give it a go. And I’m thrilled to hang out with the continuing library staff, they’re pretty awesome ladies. I can’t wait to set them up with a scanner to expand their library resources and authority. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll let have a turn passing out the chalk and crayons even though I’m still underage.

If you had a church library stocked with church-minded books you’d want to check out- what would you like to see? I’d love some suggestions.


About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

33 thoughts on “What if the Church Library was a Real Library?”

  1. What a wonderful calling! Good luck.

    I don't know if you already have an idea for the digital checkout system or the library catalog, but LibraryThing was designed to be a catalog system for small libraries. Last I checked, there was a one-time $25 fee, but that may have just been for personal libraries.

    I would love an update on how things work in the future.

  2. "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. "

  3. Love this idea! Especially the idea of books for families to use during sacrament meeting! I have really enjoyed reading the Girls Who Chose God books with my children, there is a Bible and a Book of Mormon version. One more idea: What if your cart for families during sacrament meeting included some coloring pictures? The church has put out several nice coloring books that can be downloaded and printed or copied. There is also an LDS women coloring book I've been wanting to check out. http://www.the-exponent.com/illuminating-ladies-a-coloring-book-of-mormon-women/

    Good luck!! I'd love to have this in my ward!

  4. The power of a church library? Many, many years ago I converted to the church at the age of 15. There were only 2 branches in a large city; my parents didn't convert. I was baptized hoping what I had learned was true but could not accept the idea of living prophets but made the leap anyway. David O. McKay was the prophet – very old and fragile and I thought "no way was he a prophet." At 15 I was called to serve in the ward library that had every book written by Pres. McKay; every conference talk; every resource on living prophets, all of which I would not have had access to without that library. I soaked it up like a sponge, fasted, prayed and 6 months later had a top of my head to the tips of my toes witness from the Holy Ghost that Pres McKay indeed was a living prophet. That witness, the seed of which was planted in that library in the basement because of that calling, has never left me for the past 54 years.

  5. I would love to see what people would donate to your church library. Some of us have shelves full of church books by apostles and prophets that we have read, but may want to share with others. I'd ask. 🙂 I'd want to browse, what a lovely idea to curate a "real" church library.

  6. 21.2.1 Artwork
    Church-approved artwork for meetinghouses is obtained through the facilities manager using the Church Facilities Artwork catalog. The facilities manager may also obtain artwork that is appropriate for meetinghouses through Church Distribution Services.

    Pictures and other artwork may be placed in appropriate locations in the meetinghouse. However, they may not be placed in the chapel or near the baptismal font. Statues, murals, and mosaics are not authorized. This policy may not apply to works of art that have been on display for many years in the chapels of existing meetinghouses.

    Artwork in meetinghouses should be properly framed.


    I'm sure the Bishop & SS Pres. are well meaning, but they ought to read the handbooks. Looks like they missed it on both the materials and the "art curation".

  7. Wow–I've never seen a church library offer anything more than supplies for teaching classes. I second Women at Church by Neylan McBain. Also, Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy, Lengthen Your Stride by Edward Kimball, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Gregory Prince, In Quiet Desperation by Ty Mansfield, and some books by Chieko Okazaki and Eugene England.

  8. What an awesome idea! I love that your leaders were inspired to do this and call you to head it up. I would LOVE more access to LDS books without having to spend my own money to purchase them. I don't really have any suggestions, but think this is such an awesome idea!

  9. I agree with some of the other comments on here referring to the handbook. While I'm certain your church leaders are well intentioned, the policy in the handbook about church libraries is pretty clear. I can think of a lot of reasons why this church policy is in place. I wonder if instead of having this new library for your stake in a church building you could instead make some sort of Facebook page to share resources and literature that way?? Then you can still uphold church policy and abide by the handbook, but allow your stake to access books that may be difficult to access otherwise. It would be worth exploring other options. The handbook is there for a reason. If every stake went and changed policies…well, yikes!

  10. Exactly what I was thinking. For me, I think that while Deseret Book strives to promote and sell materials that are in keeping with our faith and are uplifting and moral, etc…they are not materials approved by the First Presidency. So while those materials may definitely have a place in your life or home, they don't have a place in a church sanctioned library.

  11. Also, the authority and direction of our local leaders does not supersede that of the General Authorities by whom the Handbook was written.

  12. 2 great books are by Beverly Campbell. One is Eve and the Choice made in Eden, the other title is similar, can't remember it at the moment. EvezrynLDS woman should read these. Also Following the Light of Christ into His Presence and John Pontius' Zion book.

    What a great assignment!

  13. I have no interest in arguing, only helping my ward where I've been asked and seen a real need. If we are encouraged to seek out the best books it feels healthy that they should be more accessible to those who cannot obtain them for themselves. Also, our library has had many books by general authorities- not just apostles- for years. The voices of women (especially our leaders) are wanted and needed and are valuable resources for those who teach and speak. Books like "At the Pulpit" share the words of those female leaders (RS, YW, and Primary) that are harder to find and needed. Those books certainly have a place at the library and I look forward to sharing them.

  14. Yes, hooray for local inspiration and innovation. When Chicago's racially diverse Hyde Park Ward's "new" building in the University of Chicago neighborhood was dedicated in 1992, the apostle presiding said that he and his colleagues had had their eye on Hyde Park. They were watching what Hyde Park was doing and learning so much about how they could apply the lessons Hyde Park was teaching to other developing areas around the Church. I assume these guys aren't just going rogue but have put a lot of prayer and thought into it – like you obviously have. Yikes, what would happen if we could never rely on fresh ideas or contribute our guided ideas to building up the Kingdom of God on earth!?

  15. Books I've loved:
    The Peacegiver:Ferrel
    worth the wrestle: Sheri Dew
    21 Principles: Divine truths to help you live by the spirit: Richard G. Scott
    There are also books like Understanding Patriarchal Blessings, Preparing for your endowment,
    Lectures on Faith:Joseph Smith..

  16. If your ward is going to do this, the only advice I would have is to have some sort of receiving and scheduled recycling policies in place.

    Years ago I was called as ward librarian in a ward that had shelves and shelves of "church books", most of them never checked out. The library had effectively become the place where, when you had a book, or your family member who died had books, that you had read or didn't feel a need for anymore, but it would never sell at the local Goodwill, you donated them. One of my jobs was to carefully and respectfully get rid of all the stuff that was many years old and never checked out.

    Once word gets out that you are stocking the library with books, people will start donating.
    Know ahead of time how you will graciously respond to donations and what the policy is on how long new acquisitions will remain on the shelves.

    And, though hard to believe, many of this decade's revolutionary and wonderful theological works and most innovative ideas, along with the more well-known current reference materials will be perceived as dated and common knowledge and will be languishing on those shelves in the future.

    Better to have an established plan for review and recycling than to leave them there unwanted and unloved.
    And better to have, already set and approved, a gracious receiving policy that avoids sending a message of rejection to members who donate in good faith.

  17. Oh I wish my ward would do this, but we've actually been going the other way, with discussions about whether we need to even have a library as a seperate room. "After all, isn't everything we need already in the Gospel Library app?" We used to have a lot of good materials but they were all weeded out at the same time as the really horrible ones. Now we have all the manuals, 2/3rds of a set of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 200 copies of the Joseph Smith Teachings of the Prophet book (someone ordered a factor of 10 too many and distribution didn't want them back), and all the old VHS tapes that no one has the equipment to play anymore.

    As for books to stock, I'd definately look at the Made Harder series by James E. Falcouner. Id also see if you can convince them to shell out for pretty much everything in the Church Historian Press' catalogue.

  18. I taught college English for over three decades, and it's just odd to me to see such fear from people about having a library stocked with an array of books. Didn't Joseph Smith say something along the lines of "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves?" We are charged to judge and weigh and discern. Yes, milk before meat and line upon line, but I don't think ideas or art are dangerous. I read a broad spectrum (I'm not super visual, so I'll shift to just reading issus now). I can read something without accepting every single word as fact. To a degree, it's "how" we read something that matters. (That being said, I do have a filter and don't read absolutely everything.) But I suppose it's easier to just tell people to read from a tiny, tiny, tiny set of texts so that we don't have to discern, judge, critique, evaluate, analyze–openly as a community. We have to do our hefty thinking in private? Scary stuff, that thinking. Run away, run away. It's funny, because my university friends are stunned by how conservative I am in my behaviors and faith even though I read broadly (I've taught world literature and American literature, but I read contemporary fiction, too.) University friends see that there is a difference between what I read and who I am. And my church friends think I'm a little scary because I read broadly–but I have four different church callings in my ward. So I'm not too scary to teach nursery, scouts, seminary or to do indexing (and to VT). My patriarchal blessing calls me to read from an array of books. All my best to you, Sandra, as you prayerfully and earnestly consider what books and art to collect as instructed by your local leader.

  19. I second so many of the suggestions above, especially anything and everything put out by the Church Historians Press and Letters to a Young Mormon. An excellent research-based (WHAT?? lol!) recently written book on sexuality for LDS audiences is And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by Laura M. Brotherson. Much much much better than The Act of Marriage (yuck!).

  20. This sounds awesome. I've longed for something similar. My own personal library is limited due to lack of access and shipping costs and I've often daydreamed of making a lending library for my "mission field" area too.

    You handbook quoters go somewhere else. Not only is this a beautiful plan, it is what she has been asked to to by her leaders. If you're a part of her ward, take your concerns to them. If not, butt out!! Trying to drag her down for a decision made by others is just bullying.

  21. "The Power of Truth" by William George Jordan ("The Majesty of Calmness" is also great). Here is a blurb from Wikipedia about The Power of Truth:
    The rights to The Power of Truth were purchased by Heber J. Grant, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in conjunction with the Deseret Book Company around 1933.[8] Grant had come across the book while in England sometime between 1903 and 1906. He purchased more than four thousand copies from the English publisher and before leaving England ordered another thousand. He also distributed more than seven thousand copies of just the first chapter. In a letter to Jordan dated October 5, 1907, Grant said: "I know of no book of the same size, that has made a more profound impression upon my mind, and whose teachings I consider of greater value."[

  22. I can see why a policy against the idea would be included in the handbook though. A ward librarian could potentially purchase a book deemed antimormon or controversial by some ward members. Maybe to sidestep this issue (or add on to what's already bought), you could create a "ward subscription" to BYU studies, gospel link, deseret bookshelf, and/or an Amazon account that purchases Mormon Studies (i.e. non Deseret book) ebooks? Then you wouldn't have to worry about placing "unapproved" hard copy books in the Church building or lost books.

    Also, book suggestions should range in difficulty so as to not turn off those less inclined to read more scholarly/dense writings.

    That being said, Lucy Mack Smith's bio on her son (the revised one by the Proctor's).
    Rough Stone Rolling.
    The Words of Joseph Smith.
    Joseph Smith's First Vision.
    Exploring Joseph Smith's First Vision.
    Schooling the Prophet.
    Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.
    40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young.
    A Reason for Faith.
    The Crucible of Doubt.
    Worth the Wrestle.
    No Weapon Shall Prosper.
    Lengthen Your Stride.
    To the Rescue.
    The Continuous Atonement (as well as the edition for teens).
    The Infinite Atonement.
    Jesus the Christ Study Guide.
    Let it Go by Chris Williams
    Opening the Heavens (2nd Ed.).
    The Witness of Women.
    The First Fifty Years of Relief Society.
    At the Pulpit.
    Women at Church.
    My Fellow Servants by William Hartley.
    Religion of a Different Color.
    Early Christians in Disarray.
    One Eternal Round by Nibley and Rhodes.
    Determining Doctrine by Dennis Horne.
    The Power of Everyday Missionaries.
    Making Sense of the D&C by Stephen Harper.
    D&C Compendium
    How We Got the D&C
    How We Got the BoM
    BoM Compendium
    Investigating the BoM Witnesses.
    By the Hand of Mormon.
    The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide.
    The BoM Reformatted Text by Donald Parry.
    Christ and the New Covenant.
    Five Classics by Truman Madsen.
    Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
    The Mormon Scientist.
    Counseling With Our Council's.
    Are Mormon's Christian?
    Do the Mormon's Have a Leg to Stand On?
    A Different Jesus? Robert Millet
    Catholic and Mormon by Alonzo Gaskill.
    Converted by Gaskill.
    Evangelicals and Mormon by Robert Millet.
    Getting at the Truth by Millet.
    The Increase in Learning series.
    Blake Ostler's series on God

  23. When I was 21 I was called to be the gospel doctrine teacher of the Old Testament. It felt so foreign to me. Camille Fronk Olsen's book, Women of the Old Testament was very helpful giving insight and adding a great deal to my understanding. I second Eve and the Garden of Eden and And they were not ashamed. Both books have been tremendously helpful to me. I hope this rolls out the way you envisioned! Sounds like a great benefit to the ward to have.

  24. Mary- You are exactly correct. We had the exact situation happening. Now we are shifting to this and only accepting donations from the approved and requested list. Otherwise, it's the recycling bin or take it back.


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