Anti-Intellectual, Picky, or Not Willing to Share?

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.[4] 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.”[5] 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[6]. 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.[7]

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?

12 thoughts on “Anti-Intellectual, Picky, or Not Willing to Share?

  1. If you work at a college or a seminary you might miss the fact that many pastors don’t live near an adequate library. If a person has to drive an hour and a half each way to use a library that obviously limits its practical usefulness. Is it anti-intellectual to minister away from urban centers with decent academic libraries?

    I do frequently use my local library as a place to study and write (I don’t have an office) but I have to bring the books with me!



  2. DGH, I am amazed at how many pastors around here– even older ones- are using Logos or a similar platform. Seems to have reached and passed critical mass in the last couple of years. Not sure about the economics.


  3. Public libraries still have books? Back in the dark ages (B.K.) I stopped by one and all they had were books for kids, how to books, and bestsellers.


  4. My local state university has a great selection of books. I was able to borrow Justo Gonzalez’s works on Church history for my Church History courses.

    Saying that.

    I want to write a thesis on St. Athanasius. My professor suggested I start reading “Backgrounds in Early Christianity” so that I can get a handle on the subject. My local state university and the government issued library doesn’t have the book.

    The University of Miami (SoFL) has the book. Now if I can get my friend to use his library card.



  5. Also as a youngin’ (26 years old here) I’m not a fan of Logos. I need to feel the book to get the information. I dunno. The more senses that are engaged, the more I seem to remember.

    Then again, I read a lot of my dead people on CCEL.

    Gosh I’m hopeless.

    Though that gets me to wonder. How many pastors view Calvin, Luther, and the early Church fathers as relevant commentaries? And should they? I mean, I think they should be but I’m young.


  6. A city library system usually transfers books to your local branch upon request, has done this for about 110 or so years.

    Logos is great for collecting works that aren’t readily available in book format, and that cost an arm and a leg to obtain in book format.


  7. kent, I didn’t know that. Thank you for informing me. I’ll see if I can get a librarian to help me than.

    And you’re right about Logos. It is a useful way to get a library fast. I just prefer actual books. >_>


  8. Remember when Wilbur Smith encouraged pastors to build their own library. His 25,000 volume library spoke of his own commitment. Same with Roger Nicole. Even Warren Wiersbe called for pastors to construct a viable library. I have access to Harvard Div School library and it is the best. Gordon-Conwell is also available. Public libraries do not have the theological resources needed. Here in New England many libraries have sold their religious and theological holdings. One wag put it this way:
    if the choice is between buying a book and paying the bills, buy the book!”


  9. sjg^3, I prefer books as well, have about 2000 in my home library and always looking to add to it. It’s a bit of an illness because i have long been supersaturated for 6 lifetimes of 24/7 reading, oh well.

    The best bet is used stores, grabbed a good theology book used for $5.99 which was $46.99 new in the next store i went to.

    And grab all you can for free from scans into google books (this has to be totally criminal) as well as sites that scan complete books into pdf form for your perusal.

    This site entered my life last month, an interesting collection for the arts and technology and Dialectic crowd…


  10. When I was in first grade, I got pink-eye from a library book. It has been all downhill since then.


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