KC Libraries offer a variety of books on spirituality

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Credit above: These religion books, which fall into the 200s of the Dewey Decimal System, are on the shelves of the downtown Kansas City Public Library’s central branch. (Bill Tammeus | Flatland)

In the Country Club Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, not far from the area full of children’s books, you’ll find a double display case that reads “Human Spirit.”

It is far from the only assemblage of books on religion and spirituality at the Kansas City Public Library or other public libraries, but it is evidence of how and why such libraries offer patrons books and other material about the eternal questions that religion raises and seeks to answer. . .

The display of the human spirit is sponsored and paid for by an area interfaith organization called Cultural Crossroads, whose president Mary McCoy says this: “The idea of ​​the human spirit the collection actually came from my husband, Greg McCoy, when we were discussing how Cultural Crossroads could support the library. We already have long-standing partnerships with several local library systems through our programs. After contacting the libraries, the KC Public Library expressed interest, and I worked closely with the library’s Joel Jones (he oversees the department that buys books) and others to decide on the location and presentation of the collection.”

This double display case at the Kansas City Public Library's Country Club Plaza branch contains books donated to the library by an interfaith group called Cultural Crossroads.
This double display case at the Kansas City Public Library’s Country Club Plaza branch contains books donated to the library by an interfaith group called Cultural Crossroads. (Bill Tammeus | Flatland)

“We were open to the idea,” says Jones, so the collection opened in 2014 and continues to be used regularly.

However, in addition to the books purchased by Cultural Crossroads, local public libraries spend tax dollars on copies of the Bible, the Koran and other sacred texts, along with books and other materials that explore religious ideas. The educational value of these materials makes their price perfectly defensible and welcome.

In light of the ongoing controversy over book bans and the separation of church and state, library officials say their decisions to acquire books that fit into the categories of religion and spirituality are made the same way they select books in other categories.

Terri Clark, who oversees the collection management services department for the Mid-Continent Public Library, puts it this way: “For every title that comes across our desk, we would have to ask for author credentials. Is the publisher serious? How old is the information? These are questions that collectors ask themselves every day. Another question we would ask ourselves is whether there is an audience for this book in our community.”

And when it comes to matters of faith, libraries generally avoid books that seem overly academic, such as the volumes often found on the shelves of seminary libraries.

However, if a library patron really wants to borrow such a book, it can often be obtained through the interlibrary loan system.

For example, Bailey Grim, collections manager for the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas, notes that “we have a great relationship with Donnelly College Library, a Catholic college.”

Bailey Grim, Collections Manager for the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas.
Bailey Grim, collections manager for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, says only about 6% of the nonfiction books in the KCK system fall into the religion/spirituality category. (contributed)

And similar in some ways to the Plaza Library’s collection of human spirits, KCK’s main library branch has a special collection called the Kansas Room, which Grim says contains photographs and other material “about local religious institutions.”

Representatives of several area public library systems consistently say they try to avoid personal interests and opinions when selecting resources for patrons.

“When we think about buying material that falls into the religion and spirituality section,” says Grim, “we approach it the same way we approach a lot of our nonfiction section. Our top priority as public libraries is that we want high quality, we want value for our money, and we want long-lasting materials. We also want titles that our customers are very interested in, and we want materials that are accurate.”

Clark adds this: “We don’t make decisions about content. We do not assign value. With every book we choose, we try to keep everything as objective as possible. It is important for us to leave any personal values ​​out. We leave it up to our community of readers and users.”

These materials are nowhere near the majority of the space that public libraries acquire. For example, Grim says that only about 6% of the nonfiction books in the KCK system fall into the religion/spirituality category. Deborah Stoppello, who helps oversee acquisitions for the Kansas City Public Library, says the cost of such books is only “a small segment of the budget.”

While there is certainly a demand for such materials, Clark notes that “this area is not in as much demand as our cookbooks.”

But as library staff try to give patrons access to the core sacred texts of various religious traditions, they notice something odd.

“Books like the Bible, the Koran and other spiritual books or alternative books like palmistry tend to disappear quite a bit,” says Stoppello. So library systems must have extra copies to replace stolen or lost items.

“It’s basically the cost of doing business,” he says.

Mid-Continent Library’s Clark also says that “we replace our Bibles and Korans fairly regularly,” but that’s largely because the texts are too worn and because “it’s important to have books on the shelves that are clean and fresh. “

When public libraries purchase books and other religious materials, they must think locally. As Stoppello explains, “I can’t buy everything. So I have to look at my community. If we were a predominantly Jewish community, we would probably see more books about Judaism. Same if we were a majority Hindu or Muslim community. Either we’re not. We are a predominantly Christian community. So we ask, ‘What do people ask for and expect to find on our shelves?'”

But he adds this: “We have everything from Scientology to the Bible.

This range is a welcome sign of a good public library.

Bill Tammeus, award-winning columnist formerly of The Kansas City Star, writes “Faith matters” blog for The Star website and book reviews for The National Catholic Reporter and The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book is “Love, Loss, and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.” Email him at [email protected]

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