Why don’t pastors use libraries, especially if they have to prepare two sermons a week?
In a 2010 study of ministers’ information use, all ten of the ministers interviewed indicated that they did not use libraries. A 1974 survey intended specifically to aid in helping the Case Memorial Library of the Hartford Seminary Foundation better serve its patrons found that only 5.5% of respondents reported to using the library weekly, and that “the usage by others spread almost evenly among monthly, weekly, bi-weekly, quarterly, annually, and nil categories.” Earlier studies that, like Huseman’s, do not account for work-role nevertheless indicate low library use. A 1961 article in Christianity Today found that of 100 ministers surveyed, only six reported regular library use. A 1944 study – after bemoaning the number of Union Theological Seminary graduates who wasted their time on Readers’ Digest – found that most ministerial books were purchased rather than borrowed.
This consistent finding across time and space is difficult to ignore. But anything one might extrapolate from such data is hamstrung by the lack of studies specifically targeting ministerial library use, and by a general lack of diversity in the studies that have already been conducted. The ministers focused upon are in many cases Southern and Midwestern, and almost exclusively protestant – sampling is limited to Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, members of the Church of Christ, two Roman Catholic Priests, and pastors of murkily defined “evangelical” communities.
So why do (many Protestant) ministers avoid the library? Could it be a lack of academic-theological materials in the collections of most public libraries? A lack of access to specialized religious libraries? A misperception of library resources on the pastors’ part? Or do ministers simply prefer the advantages of the personal library? Answers to these questions would help scholars better understand the information worlds of contemporary ministers, and how they choose and use information to create their religious worlds. Information matters. It must. Why else choose it over the baby’s shoes?