By contributing writer Brian Austin
As church librarian, I have the privilege of managing a treasure of almost measureless value. I love books. The eyesight issue that has created a personal struggle for the last number of years has not diminished that love at all, although it has reduced my personal reading drastically. The HMC Resource Centre has been a personal work of love and ministry for more than 31 years now. I suspect the time is coming soon when it would be healthier for the church and Resource Centre if I stepped aside and someone else gave leadership, but I count it a privilege and an honour to still be deeply involved.
I take delight in watching toddlers love for books. It is a rough love and torn pages are part of it. But the simple joy they find even before they can read – not caring what page they open to or even if the book is right side up – just caught up in something full of wonder. . .
I want so much to have our teens reading – though a part of me cringes when a new book gets carried in a backpack for a week. Signed out once it shows more wear than a book stamped 20 times that our seniors have been reading. Still, from my perspective, finding another book that will grip that teen is one of the places real ministry happens.
A lot of main-stream teen fiction is scary stuff. Some of it is brilliantly written, way beyond my skill as a writer. But if the message is dangerous, and it often is, the very brilliance gets a hold on a young mind and draws them back for more. It thrills me when I find wonderful teen fiction with biblical truth woven into the story. When I get that into a teen’s hands and they come back for more – then a prematurely worn out book is an excellent investment from my perspective.
I don’t know how to compete with TV and iPads and computers. Kids are growing up with so much technology and according to some research, with increasingly short attention spans. I can get all uptight about that, or I can remind myself that the greatest teacher of all time used sound-bytes 2000 years ago. I don’t think any of Jesus’ parables take five minutes to tell. I wonder if there is a message there for us authors. As a librarian I can focus on what I can do something about – searching for and buying the best children’s and teen books I can find, and encouraging the kids who do love to read, getting to know their interests a bit and pointing them to books that fit.
For me there is another huge, almost impossible hurdle to overcome. An ever increasing percentage of the people who use our library have never read the Bible for themselves. If they come regularly to our church they have heard preaching that is always Bible based, but at best that gives them snippets of the Bible’s message, not the whole of it. The best intentioned preacher joining forces with the best intentioned authors cannot fill that void. As a church librarian with a treasury of rich, theologically and doctrinally sound resources available, I cannot fill that void. Reading about the Bible’s message, no matter how beautifully done, is not and cannot be the same as actually reading the Bible for itself.
If I can ever summon the nerve to do it, people will come into our church some Sunday morning to find the library door locked, a big poster of an open Bible, and the question in huge block letters: “Have you read any good books lately?” Maybe I’ll picture an e-reader on the poster as well, a nod to people younger and more technologically connected than me. It will be a reminder to me as much as to anyone else, because with eyesight issues, my Bible reading has also suffered.
Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.