Orthodox Christian Library Outreach
By Lydia Westerberg
Many, perhaps most, public libraries have few or no books about Orthodoxy. This is another aspect of the Church’s being “America’s best kept secret” and it is particularly unfortunate from the point of view of mission. We probably all know of converts who have “read their way” into the Faith. But this possibility remains very limited as long as reading material is virtually inaccessible to the general public. Observing this problem, and taking a suggestion from the Resource Handbook’s pages on “Operation Library!,” members of the Holy Transfiguration parish in New Haven, Connecticut decided to act to fill the need.
Lydia Westerberg, herself a public school librarian, first came up with the idea and got the ball rolling. She began to form the organization that would become the Orthodox Christian Library Outreach by making informal contact with parishioners and a few people outside the parish who she thought would be interested in this work - people who are readers themselves, who are concerned with evangelization, with students. They got together for an initial session of “brainstorming” under Lydia Westerberg’s guidance.
DIVIDING UP THE WORK
The outcome of this was the formation of a new parish organization, and the establishment of “subcommittees” to deal with various aspects of the work we were undertaking. The most important of these were the Ways and Means Committee for fund raising, the Book Selection Committee to decide what books we would try to put on library shelves, and the Public Relations Committee to ensure that our work received the necessary publicity. Meanwhile, individual members were sent out to find the answers to some questions: What holdings do our local libraries in fact have? How do libraries decide what books to purchase? How many books, and what kind will they accept as donations. Where would it be most appropriate for us to donate books?
A vital feature of Library Outreach was the use of the special skills of our members. For instance, the Ways & Means Committee was composed of people with an understanding of financial matters and experience in fund raising. The Book Selection Committee included people who read a great deal, who are familiar with much Orthodox literature, and converts who, it was felt, would have special insight into what material might appeal to those outside the Church. For publicity, we were very fortunate to have as a member a man who is not Orthodox but is interested in spreading knowledge of Orthodoxy, and is a professional public relations expert. We also made the most of personal contacts such as librarian friends, for gathering information.
Eventually the committees reported on what they had come up with. For fund raising, we decided to rely heavily on contributions that we organized into a patronage system. We also sponsored a theater trip. Another highly successful device was to sponsor a lecture by an Orthodox speaker. We invited an audience from our own parish and from all the parishes in the surrounding area, and charged a moderate admission fee. This, indeed, seems to be a model fund raising effort; it was educational in itself, and served to bring in money for our work.
Meanwhile, the Book Selection Committee came up with a list of about ten books, and another smaller list in case some libraries would not accept that many. The list was a mixture of many different kinds of books, chosen to include “something for everyone” - theology, spirituality, Church history, lives of the Saints, the Fathers. Finding that our list included many of the works in the reduced-rate packages put together by the OCA Lay Ministries Department (see in the Resource Handbook, “Operation Library” by K. & S. Sivulich, under WM, p. 4), we decided to order these and supplement them with a few works we thought would be appropriate.
INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL PUBLICITY
Public Relations had to cover two areas: publicity within the Church, both for soliciting contributions and for locating parishes, especially missions that we could help with books and tapes (a subsidiary part of our work); and publicity outside the Church to let the local community know that Orthodox books were appearing in the libraries. After all, it wouldn’t be much good to have the books silently appear on the shelves and no one know about them!
For internal publicity, we used informal contacts with other parishes, published an article about our organization in The Orthodox Church newspaper (in which we both offered our services and asked for support), and produced pamphlets (see sample) about Library Outreach that we distributed, for instance, at the fund raising lecture. For external publicity, we decided to try to get the libraries to put up displays of our donations, and to make sure that articles about our gifts to libraries would appear in local newspapers.
Finally, it was time to ACT. We bought the books, and, since most of them were paperbacks, we sent them to a bindery to be hard-bound. This involved extra expense, but was very worthwhile because it tremendously increases the life of the books. When we got them back, we all looked at them and were much impressed with what we had achieved. Then we presented them to the selected libraries, with the publicity that we had planned.
In the meantime. Library Outreach had extended its work in other ways by seizing opportunities as they arose. For instance, when there was a lecture series in our parish (originally unconnected with our organization), we provided refreshments and made tapes of the lectures that we then sold. This was another chance to raise money and provide an educational service at the same time. We also undertook to send materials free of charge to mission parishes that do not have the resources or the opportunities to buy books and tapes. And, we made our efforts part of the New England Diocese’s 25-Year Jubilee by proposing to other parishes in the diocese that if they would provide the money for a set of books, we would “do the footwork” of buying and binding the books for a donation to the contributing parish’s local library in the parish’s name. This was easy for us, since we already had the active organization and the choice of books. It enabled us to extend our work into parts of New England beyond our own area - a convenient arrangement for everyone!
In summary, we may say that our work was “slow but sure.” After all the planning and preparation, the books have reached the library shelves. Will they bring anyone into the Church? We don’t know. But they will be available for a long time, and may at least, by God’s will, shed a drop of grace and truth into the life of anyone who read them.
REFLECTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
Go slowly; don’t think too big. We had some trouble at first with grandiose plans that were quite beyond our capacities, and that only distracted us from what we could really achieve.
THINK; brainstorm; get everyone’s ideas. Don’t leave things out. For instance, we might easily have neglected to arrange for publicity, or to have the books bound. Such oversights would have made our work far less valuable.
Be willing to spend money, in our case, for binding. Remember that money is only a means. It’s no use unless it’s spent.
Find the right balance between organization and informality. We had trouble with this, too, tending toward too rigid a form, and hence toward the inefficiency of bureaucracy. On the other hand, having everyone “do his own thing,” without any formal assignment of tasks, is also inefficient and is likely to end in nothing being done.
Delegate tasks; make the most of everyone’s individual talents, knowledge, and circumstances. What Library Outreach has achieved is largely due to our members’ coordinated use of special abilities.
1. Gather interested people for an initial meeting. “Brainstorm” all possible ideas.
2. Set up subcommittees that include:
Research of local library situation
3. Sponsor fund raisers.
4. Plan and circulate internal publicity. Plan with library for external publicity once books are donated.
5. Buy books. Have them bound.
6. Present books to the library with appropriate planned publicity.
7. Research other libraries in the community to learn if they are in need of similar donations, i.e. college libraries.
8. Research who else might benefit from receiving books and tapes, i.e. mission parishes, hospital or prison libraries.
Lydia Westerberg is a member of the Orthodox Christian Library Outreach Program at Holy Transfiguration Church, New Haven, Connecticut. She is a librarian by profession.