Faith at the Front Desk: Spirituality and Patron Service

Abstract: Wessells argues that the neutral bastion of the public library is one of the few places remaining where a person may explore deep spiritual issues. However, in order for the library to serve these needs well, he recommends instituting more sensitive collection policies and training staff to be sensitive to spiritual queries. He recommends that librarians:

  • ask faith communities what works best reflect their faith to someone who doesn't share it;
  • interact regularly with clerical groups in your area;
  • cultivate input from religious youth groups in your area;
  • tap into staff's religious sensibilities to learn their religious fellows':
    • language,
    • modes of thought, and
    • information needs;
  • develop your own spirituality.

If a librarian is having difficulty remaining neutral Wessells reminds one that: the best sharing of anyone's faith is the simple living of it in front of others.


Wessell highlights a frequent library ethical claim about intellectual freedom that is especially true, I think, of the three traditionally sensitive areas of conversation: sex, politics, and religion:

"There should be something in the library to offend everyone."

Too often we focus only on building collections in these areas that are offensive to conservatives. Equally important for truly ecumenical thought, we must also focus on resources/viewpoints that are offensive to liberals and to "third-parties" of all stripes.

I agree that we need to pair this universally-offensive collection with the need to train staff to be sensitive to religious questions in libraries. It is a failing in our society, in general, that we don't know how to talk about religion with those of differing viewpoints, especially from a neutral stance.

Wessells, Mike. (2003). Faith at the Front Desk: Spirituality and Patron Service. American Libraries, 34(Number 5, May 2003):p. 42-3. Retrieved October 26, 2008, from Library Literature and Info Science Full Text.