Church libraries for promoting ethical, spiritual values
It is worth knowing that some of the Churches in Nigeria own Seminaries, Theological colleges and institutes, which have functional libraries to support their academic pursuits and programmes. These libraries are specifically intended to serve the Church Clergy, especially those in training and their Formators. They are academic libraries in nature and not church libraries. Church libraries are meant to serve the lay or congregational members of the churches and are owned and managed by the Church councils or other church management structures. In Nigeria, there are some functional church libraries and their selfless services and potentials seem un-noticed.
Some of these church libraries could be found at the Chapel of Resurrection, University of Ibadan, Ibadan; Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, Falomo, Lagos; Christ Church, Old GRA, Port Harcourt; Mater Miscerecordia Catholic Church, Port Harcourt and a host of others. One noticeable fact is that majority of the existing church libraries in Nigeria today are owned and managed by the Orthodox or early Churches that helped in planting the seeds of Christianity and formal education in Nigeria such as the Roman Catholic Church, The Anglican Communion, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church and so on.
As earlier stated, not much attention has been given to the importance of Church libraries in Nigeria, especially in promoting ethical values and spiritual growth among Christians. This may be partly due to the ignorance of some church ministers and church administrators referring to small book shelves in their offices as “libraries” from where they retrieve and use information for sermons and personal study. Indifference by the members of the congregation to the establishment and the use of Church library or even lack awareness or ignorance on the importance of a library is also a factor. In addition, some of these churches exist in environments not suitable for hosting the church library and lack space.
Meanwhile, Nigeria continues to witness an increasing proliferation of churches alongside an escalating rate of moral decadence and flourishing corrupt practices with a declining educational system. The country has the highest number of churches and churchgoers in Africa with several denominations and groups. Many Churches today offer educational services to their members and beyond (through the establishment of schools at various educational levels) in a bid to impact positively on their character formation while instilling appropriate ethical and spiritual values.
However, it is quite uncertain if the Churches have considered the idea of the Church library as another educational service that can be an agent of moral change. Potentially, the church library can equip the church in its many battles against immoralities, ignorance and poverty while guiding its faithful on the right path to prosperity and proper ethical conduct.
The library is an efficient system for conserving, storing, protecting, circulating, and promoting resources for the church and community. Libraries have over the times been symbols of learning just as churches are symbols of religion. They serve as the repositories of the written historical records of the knowledge of cultures and civilizations. The church Library is not just a physical place for keeping church records and books but a resourceful hub for transmitting knowledge and refining hearts and minds. It also can be a place of relaxation and healing of the mind where one can escape from the various tensions of life to savour some reliefs.
Church libraries also have potentials for being alternative sources of information to people who cannot reach the Public Libraries. With the continued deterioration and inadequate funding of Public Libraries in Nigeria, the proximity of churches to neighborhoods creates possibilities for church libraries to become more relevant to those around them and increase their range of library services to all categories of churchgoers. The Church Library can accommodate people of all faiths, ages, educational and social backgrounds.
According to a study, young people, especially teenagers, are the most populated category of the users of the church library and most of them are secondary school leavers, probably seeking admission to higher institutions. The church library can help them spend their time well by providing resources such as inspirational books, biographies and autobiographies which can help the young readers know more about their heroes and heroines, in forging their path to a successful life. The study also revealed that there are quite a sizeable number of people who are not members of the churches that make use of the libraries.
This reinforces the fact that church libraries because of their proximity and serenity within neighborhoods, can become alternative sources of public libraries. This development also places more expectations on the church libraries to make their collections rich and wide in scope and content while making their environment as friendly as possible especially in the treatment of the non- members of the Church. Onwueme is with the Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas, Bonny Island, Rivers State.
This in a way, would enable churches revitalize the all important roles of public libraries, as an infrastructure of a civilized society, where both the rich and poor take advantage of a resource centre for the actualization of their educational goals
While it is commendable that the church libraries have done well in providing Bibles, inspirational books, reference books and so on, it is important for them to acquire audio visual resources especially for the benefit of the younger users of the library. Audio visual resources have proven to be very useful for stimulating and sustaining interest in the younger users’ quest for knowledge. It is important to stress here that with the many innovations in ICTs today, there is need for the church library to take advantage of the numerous possibilities that ICTs provide in impacting lives. The provision of computers and improved internet access or penetration can make a lot of difference especially in providing information that is current and not readily available in print format.
Finally, Church administrators and leaders should consider setting up church libraries as an essential service of the church. Wealthy and privileged Church members and groups should be encouraged to channel some of their kind donations to the sustenance of the church library. The gains of having a good church library indeed cannot be quantified in monetary terms. Onwueme is with the Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas, Bonny Island, Rivers State.
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