Can Libraries Save The Church?
by Phil Miglioratti @The Reimagine.Network
So I turned the page in a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine. Just hoping for a few minutes of interesting diversion.
The article was simply entitled "New Chapter." "New" caught my attention. I like new ways of approaching old problems or assessing current programs and unexamined systems.
But when I read the headline...
"At the nation's most innovative public library,
you can play the ukulele,
learn photography, or record a song in a top-flight studio.
You can also check out a book."
...I realized this article was about to be a tutorial on how to reimagine Church.
As curator for The Reimagine.Network, where we engage and equip church leadership to not be conformed but be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). I am always on the lookout for new insights and fresh ideas. They come from many different sources: Outreach Magazine, Church Prayer Leaders Network. @Cityreaching. Inter-Varsity Publishing. I did not expect to be tutored how to re-view "church" by an article in Smithsonian on the library system in Memphis, Tennessee.
"Myriad changes (are) taking place in American public libraries.
Libraries are no longer huge repositories of books.
You can check out books and movies.
But also sewing machines, bicycle repair kits, and laptop computers.
And late fees, a thing of the past.
Those few sentences are enough for some. It is your "Aha! moment."
They have already begun to think conceptually by applying how a library system was transformed to what takes place in the church building; Sundays, weekdays, evenings.
They recognize transformation is a unique equation of keeping some of the old while bringing in some things new.
Uncommon ideas that support our mission statement while identifying "late fees;" sacred cows to be put out to pasture.
At a time when public libraries were being "increasingly described as obsolete," with many cities slashing library budgets and closing branches, Memphis, one of the poorest cities in the nation, chose instead to "open new branches" and "increase the library budget." Do you see the parallels? (If not, substitute "church" where you see "library")
Even more stunning, the city hired a new director who had zero schooling and experience in library science. "It caused quite a stir in Libraryland." But while those programmed to say "No!" to change complained and criticized, "attendance at library programs quadrupled in six years, more than 70,000 attended the annual literacy and education festival. Its branches receive more than two million visits a year."
The new director's first step to change the way people think about and benefit from the library "was to rethink the traditional library card."
"The old card was black and white with no design,
just information about rules and fines; it was like getting your parole papers.
There was no sense of joining something."
They made the application process easier and redesigned the library card to "look like a health-club membership card." They realized the process of connecting to the library was a system created for a 19th century society. Instead of simply adding a new coat of paint (or a new color of paper), they tore down the process and started over based on the needs and sensibilities of 21st century communities. This and other systemic changes did not endanger the core purpose of the library; it recast the vision of "library" to the organizational shapers and servers (employees) while reframing the inventory and benefits to the needs and learning modes of the customers in their community.
"The real power of libraries is they can transform people's lives.
But libraries can also be fun."
Their emphasis in planning shifted from collecting and categorizing books to connecting to the people who want (and need) to read them. And to provide "fun," lifestyle-options, to experience the fiction and nonfiction of their reading. From fitness -health-culinary to discussions-gardening-3D printing.
The former president of the Public Library Association says, "What's happening in Memphis epitomizes how libraries are becoming community centers; a third place after job and home." A place for children to do homework or explore the world of reading options, a place for people to improve their literacy (reading, digital, financial), a place to learn from books, but from more than books. Work stations, meeting rooms, sewing and embroidery equipment, dinners for the homeless, an incubator for entrepreneurs. He was impressed by "attendance at their programs, the impact they are having on communities...the creative innovative thinking, and visionary leadership."
"If librarians can't save the world, no one can."
The "librarians" of the Church (pastors, ministers, leaders, prayer champions) need this audacity ... not to make the church into a library but to learn how to rethink, to fearlessly ask uncommon questions, the way they did in Memphis.