Revitalizing the Ward Library

September 14, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 10:09 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Recently I have taken to enjoying my Ward Library, which seems to be one of the best kept secrets in the church. No, I’m not talking about the old film strip projectors and film strips it still has failed to throw away, nor am I talking about the 100 or so vhs tapes with conference reports on them that will probably never ever be watched. I’m not even talking about the flannel boards and the flannel cutouts of Nephi, Jesus, and Mary Field Smith, all ready and waiting to make any primary lesson 10 times better.

I’m talking about books. Ones that you can check out and take home and read. (not just the torn up scriptures that the YM and YW check out for SS because their teacher makes them) My Ward Library has some interesting Gems in it. Here are a few:

Emma Smith, Mormon Enigma– It’s considered by some to be the greatest biography of Emma ever written. To me, it is the only full length study truly dedicated to Emma I’ve ever seen. It does assume Emma’s thoughts and feelings at times, but it is a very compelling book, once you get past the boring genealogy at the beginning.

Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Juanita Brooks– While the history in this book has been updated in other volumes, this is a milestone in Mormon Historical writing. I consider it like Babe Ruth’s Home Run record. Hank may have broken the record, but no one is going to forget the Babe.

Recreational Singing– This book published by the church in 1949 is the only songbook I’ve seen by the church to include pieces from Gilbert and Sullivan. This book is definitely now in my top 10 favorite books published by the church. I don’t have it in front of me, but it’s introduction is astonishingly prophetic in it’s discussion of group singing, and I will always treasure that it says that negro spirituals are the miracle of modern music. (not a miracle, but the miracle)

It’s You and Me Lord by Alan Cherry– This is a book by a black man discussing being a faithful latter-day saint before the priesthood ban was even over.

This last book gets me to the problem- The newest book dealing with the priesthood ban in my Ward Library was the one by Alan Cherry. Juanita Brooks was the only book on mountain Meadows Massacre, and it’s 57 years old. Recreational Singing was the only music in the library I could find besides the Hymn Book (or the old hymn books) or the Primary Song Book. Og Mandino’s “The Choice” was the only book in the library by a non-member.

I think we need to update our ward libraries, and I think we need to revitalize our ward libraries. First, we need to advertise that they are there and available, second we need to get books in there that are current and up to date.

Here are some suggestions of things that should be in the Ward Library:

The Peace giver by James Farrel
Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman
The Mormon Experience in America by Terryl Givens
A collection of Music by Handel including the Hallelujah Chorus (at least!)*
How to Win Friends and Influence People or any other book teaching basic social skills (and then encourage ever YM and YW teacher to refer to this in their lessons to the youth)
A copy of PBS’ “The Mormons”
A copy of Gospel Link
A subscription to BYU studies, at least
The Mormon Faith by Robert Millet

Now, to open for discussion

1. What Gems are in your ward library?
2. What books would you say “need” to be in a ward library?
3. Is this section of the ward library irrelevant and in need of being excised completely? Would it be better to have just one Stake Library? Does the internet make even that irrelevant?
4. What is the book on blacks and the priesthood which should be in the ward library?

*- It is in our stake library, I will admit.


  1. On my mission (Florida) I would make use of the ward library constantly and I read lots of old books that way. The ward libraries in Oregon don’t seem to have much of interest that I have run into so far.

    I don’t think ward libraries should be revitalized. There are too many books on Mormonism compared to 60 years ago when the ward libraries were stocked, and it is far too easy to get whatever book you want for there to be any compelling reason for the Church to buy it for you. I think there are much better uses for our tithing dollars than putting books in every ward building. If you are in a small poor branch in some far away country, maybe it makes sense, but in the USA, no way.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 14, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  2. I owe my entry into the world of Mormon literature to the people who donated enough works of fiction and poetry to the Berkeley institute (enough to fill two shelves). Indeed, A Motley Vision would not exist without the person who many years ago donated an original edition of Orson F. Whitney’s Love and the Light.

    Comment by William Morris — September 14, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  3. William- That’s interesting. I’d forgotten about Institute Libraries. When I joined the Church, the Bloomington Indiana Institute had an awesome library and provided me with my first introduction to Hugh Nibley, Fawn Brodie, The JoD mand any other important works.

    Jacob- It’s funny, I began my post going in the opposite direction, thinking about how important the ward library can be, but ended with my lacking confidence in that. I think the Ward Library does have value though. If used properly, it could be a way for the church to endorse books not officially published by the church as great nd important books. It could also provide every bishop with a resource to turn any concerned member to on almost every issue. Perhaps the internet takes some of this thunder away from it, but I’d guess my ward only has at most 70% penetration with the internet. Further, I’d say 60% to 70% are’t even aware there are scholarly faithful lds books out there. If I wasn’t pushing RSR heavily in my ward in Texas, it would be pretty unknown.

    There were definitely no Ward Libraries in the philippines. One of my comps was committed to translating “Jesus The Christ” into Cebuano. I wonder if he ever did?

    ps- I have a friend who served in Florida about 20 years ago and said they had tons of baptisms. Was that your experience too?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 14, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  4. …they had tons of baptisms. Was that your experience too?


    Comment by Jacob J — September 14, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  5. A few years ago, the church decided it was cheaper to build us a new chapel than to make major repairs to our 40 yr old chapel because of asbestos issues. We stayed in the old one (there was no urgency) until the new one was completed, and then moved. The powers-that-be made it explicitly clear that no items from the ward library were to be transferred to the new building. The entire new library was stocked from Salt Lake.

    Publicly, I mourn the loss of that old library. It had some great stuff. Privately, I smile because I ended up with the Journal of Discourses for almost nothing. (We auctioned off everything in the building that wasn’t nailed or bolted to a floor or wall.)

    Sorry to digress, but there is very little in our current “church approved” library that anyone would take home to read (unless you didnt’ get your own subscription to the Ensign, New Era, or Friend). I’d say it’s just now easier to make my own church library at home with books I hope my children will want to read when they get older.

    Comment by Joe — September 14, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  6. 1. What Gems are in your ward library?

    S. Dilworth Young’s The Long Road, from Vermont to Nauvoo, Rodney Turner’s Woman and the Priesthood, Eugene E. Campbell and Richard D. Poll’s Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought.

    2. What books would you say “need” to be in a ward library?

    An Encyclopedia of Mormonism set; all the Institute manuals; Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism; Rough Stone Rolling; Brigham Young: American Moses; Story of the Latter-day Saints; The Heavens Resound; Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise; Women of Covenant; History of the Church; Comprehensive History of the Church; Personal Writings of Joseph Smith; the Papers of Joseph Smith; and some biographies on other church presidents (e.g., the Kimball bios).

    3. Is this section of the ward library irrelevant and in need of being excised completely? Would it be better to have just one Stake Library? Does the internet make even that irrelevant?

    Perhaps. I don’t see any ward members checking out books from the ward library.

    4. What is the book on blacks and the priesthood which should be in the ward library?

    Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Black Saints in a White Church.

    Comment by Justin — September 14, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  7. What I found is a few individuals who do study Mormon theology will build their own collection of books. On a larger scale just about anyone who has been a member for a while will have a random collection of books. My thought was to create a virtual library in which everyone documented what books they had and then posted it to a shared spreadsheet. Then any member of the virtual library could scan the list and then borrow the title from someone who had it. To sort of formalize what goes on informally now, with the added advantage of a searchable list of all titles rather than just the ones you happen to see on someone’s shelf while in their home. Also, it would be a much larger and diverse collection than any Ward Library could build, it would be stocked at no cost to the Ward, and it would not require storage space (which is at a premium in most libraries). Unfortunately no one else in my ward felt the excitement for the project that I did and it died.

    Comment by TStevens — September 14, 2007 @ 12:55 pm

  8. The other thing I did was start a informal book club in which I pick 2 to 3 books a year that interested me. More often than not they are LDS but I generally go for Religious as a criteria. I was able to get 6 others interested in that so I order the books in bulk and we have a little social event to pass them out. Otherwise we do not have meetings, but the topics do come up for discussion as they apply to our regular lessons and other meetings. It is not the best system, but it seems to work for us.

    Comment by TStevens — September 14, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  9. Matt:

    I’m thinking that the “church approved” library is not really a library any more but more of a resource center. (Seems like there was some talk about changing the name like they did for the kitchen, which is officially known as a “serving area.” But, that was due to building codes.)

    The website says:

    “One of the most important resources to support quality teaching is appropriate written, audiovisual, and supplementary material. The meetinghouse library, now under the direction of the Sunday School, should be stocked and staffed so as to enhance and support teaching in the classroom as well as in the home and family.”

    Other info from the website:

    “Audio and video materials that are not approved for distribution through Church distribution centers, including animated scripture videocassettes, may not be stored in or circulated from meetinghouse libraries” (287).

    Any items that are not included in the annual Library Start-Up Kit or that are not available in Church distribution centers should be discarded.

    Unapproved pictures, talks, worksheets, and other teaching resources that have been donated to the library should be discarded.

    Other books, while enlightening, may not pass the test.

    Comment by mondo cool — September 14, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  10. Oh, should I post this also at “Stalked by the Living…?”

    Comment by mondo cool — September 14, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

  11. T- interesting ideas- The first would die for me because I’d be too lazy to type in all my book titles. the second would be cool, though I’ve never done a formal book club. It would depend on who was picking the books to read. Laziness is a factor again though, as I have a tendancy to just ask my wife what the book said if she is farther along than I am, and then I eventually never finish it because I already know what it says.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 14, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  12. mondo: that’s pretty inciteful. Thanks. Does that mean I can go in the library and discard all the stuff not in the catalog over to my house? :) (I mean, I atleast would love the felt board stuff!)

    Of course, my wife would kill me.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 14, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  13. Justin, every time you comment on one of my threads, I want to go buy a book and learn more.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 14, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  14. Ask the SS Pres. Otherwise, it might be “inciteful” that you lacked the “insight” to ask your wonderful wife.

    Comment by mondo cool — September 14, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  15. Should I have to confess that since I had a key I simply spirited away Nephi Anderson’s “Added Upon” when our librry was starting to rid itself of the unapproved materials? But now everyone could download it from the web anyway ….

    Comment by anon — September 14, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  16. The most meaningful thing in our ward library are the chalk and eraser bags. The next most important are the ward librarians who always seem to know the most important gossip.

    Comment by John — September 14, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  17. Justin, every time you comment on one of my threads, I want to go buy a book and learn more.

    My plan is working. When you’re finished with the book, send it on to me.

    Comment by Justin — September 14, 2007 @ 5:22 pm

  18. When we moved in to my last ward, the Bishop took the rest of the budget and gave it to me to buy books for the ward library. I spent nearly $1000, and acquired all kinds of good stuff for the library- current biographies, some basic reference works, some basic scriptural tools, some good temple books. I don’t know how much they’ve been used since then, but they’re there at least. It was the most fun calling I’ve ever had ;)

    Comment by NItsav — September 17, 2007 @ 8:13 am

  19. Nitsav, I am definitely jealous.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 17, 2007 @ 8:27 am