Escaping the Dusty Bookcase

Considerations for Meetings

Meeting libraries can be a useful resource for members and inquirers or can devolve into cluttered stacks of stuff on dusty bookshelves. The following are queries for meetings to consider as they discern how and why they might maintain a meeting library. Meetings may also consider if they need to distinguish between their meeting library and a meeting history room. Depending upon the meeting, each might be useful resource but are likely best managed as distinct collections.

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Queries for Meeting Libraries

Who does my meeting library seek to serve? What information needs do we seek to provide? Is there a desire to provide both informational and recreational resources? Is the space set up in a way that is conducive to providing the intended access? Are there other ways beyond bookshelves that some needs once served by my meeting library might be better served by using new tools and resources? Are there resources located elsewhere that my meeting can readily refer inquiries to as an increasing amount of information becomes more accessible online?

Does my meeting library focus on a particular subject or seek to meet a number of likely resource needs? (Example categories might include historical Quaker texts, contemporary Quaker spiritual reflections, broader information needs relating to spiritual development, pastoral care, or/or contemporary social justice issues, recreational reading.) Is there an expectation that the available resources include materials that are accessible to a wide range of ages and intellectual abilities? Are materials collected in standard book form only or are other formats (large print, audio, video, etc.) also made available?

Are new materials added to meet the current information needs of the meeting community? Are older materials reviewed and updated as appropriate as needs and resources change over time? Does my meeting have ways to refer people to resources beyond those maintained at the meetinghouse? Are members (or other potential donors) provided with information regarding what types of materials are (and are not) sought for donation so they may better support the work of the meeting in their own book purchase and/or downsizing choices?

Queries for Meeting History Rooms

Does my meeting have a designated archival repository (either through my yearly meeting or another arrangement)? If yes, does my meeting make routine deposits and keep record of what materials are already preserved there? Does my meeting seek to maintain copies of unique meeting records at the meetinghouse or simply collect more ephemeral items and publications specific to the meeting and/or local Quaker history?

Does my meeting have the physical space and energy needed to maintain a history room (or corner)? Does the meeting have a common understanding of what types of materials are sought and maintained for the history room (i.e. does it include artifacts, family papers, rare editions of classic Quaker texts, or just items specific to the meeting’s own history)? Are members (or other potential donors) provided with information regarding what types of materials are (and are not) sought for donation? Does the meeting have a process for directing potential donors to other sources when offered items might be better housed elsewhere?

Gwen Gosney Erickson

Gwen Gosney Erickson is the Friends Historical Collection Librarian and College Archivist at Guilford College where she is a member of Hege Library’s leadership team. She is a member of Friendship Meeting and currently serves as clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). She lives in Greensboro, N.C.

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