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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Materials Center: You're Doing it Wrong

by Ben Johnson (bio)

The Vatican Library

One of the first posts I ever wrote for MMM was about being called as the ward librarian. As I mentioned in that post, my testimony was nurtured by the books that I found in the various meetinghouse libraries throughout my mission. I was disappointed to learn that not all libraries had troves of incredible church books. Then, when I got my calling as librarian, I was even more disappointed to learn I'd be in charge of a 'materials center.' How can you be a librarian without a library?

I didn't know this, but they weren't always called materials centers. I recently came across this talk by Howard W. Hunter in 1971 where he introduces a new (correlated?) church library program. From what I can tell, not all meetinghouses has been built with a library, but from then on they were. Then somewhere along the line someone felt guilty about calling a room without books a library and the name was changed to Materials Center.

But one thing stood to me out from Pres. Hunter's talk. He said, "If we are to teach one another, if we are to seek wisdom and learning by study and by faith, we must organize and prepare every needful thing. These words form the basis upon which the idea of the meetinghouse library is conceived—to 'prepare every needful thing' for more effective teaching."

It seems to me that preparing every needful thing goes beyond having some chalk and a map for your lesson. How much more riveting would Sunday School be if your teacher could check out a copy of any of Skousen's Book of Mormon tomes? Or bring to class the library's copy of Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman? Or quote from the dog-eared copy of Givens' By the Hand of Mormon? Or use the library's laptop and projector to hit the Joseph Smith Papers website?

Lets think even bigger. Could the heartbreaking story of Han Mattsson have been different if his ward's library was actually a library with decent church books? What about all the people that go to the web to find some supplement for their lesson and are crushed when they come across polygamy or the priesthood ban or Mountain Meadows for the first time? Would the story be different if they first encountered those concepts at church?

So here's my humble proposal. Let's get rid of answer four and bullet point six and get some good, high-quality books in our libraries. Let's also get some good, high-quality brothers and sisters to staff the library. Brothers and sisters who know church history and love teaching it. Let's turn our libraries into more than a room that dispenses unnecessary coloring pages for primary kids. Let's turn our libraries into libraries.

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