John Wickenden

Digging Deeper into Christian Thought – CLIS Annual Lecture

DIANA GUTHRIE reports on the CLIS Annual Public Lecture held in Salisbury Library on Saturday 17 October 2015

Our President, Eddie Olliffe, introduced this year’s speaker, the distinguished writer, Church of England Reader, and Group Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People: Kevin Carey, who spoke on the theme of ‘The role of the Christian librarian in a theologically turbulent age’.

Kevin Carey began with this paraphrase of Winston Churchill’s familiar saying, ‘Never have there been so many theologians writing so much for so few’. This prefaced a lecture which ranged very widely over a spectrum of ideas with which modern Christians should be concerning themselves  and which dug deep into Christian thought and traditions. What follows in this brief report is a précis of some of the topics covered, which gave rise to nearly half an hour of questions and comments afterwards.

A lot of the ills in Christianity can be traced back to the exercise of inordinate power. This was recently illustrated by the long-running debate over women bishops.  It ultimately comes down to the question, ‘Who has the authority to determine the meaning of Scripture?’ Christianity must make room for enquiry, but this should not become a merely intellectual pursuit. Our primary preoccupation must always be: what must we do to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth?

The modern tendency is to concentrate on private moral conduct at the expense of social and economic justice. The 1980s document Faith in the City  was a rare instance of an organisational attempt to redress the balance, but its political effects were short-lived, and there’s an instinctive secular suspicion that we’ve not lived up to Biblical instructions on social justice. God is love and created us in love, and we need to express that love in action rather than judgment. We cannot separate Christianity from politics.

Why does ‘the God of love’ allow suffering? This is probably the most common question asked of us, and we are fatally handicapped as Christian witnesses if we can’t attempt an answer. It all goes back to the Fall.  Where did the serpent / evil come from? If there was a serpent, then God probably spoke through it. The world was not created to fit human ideas of perfection; we are God’s broken creatures, deliberately made so. We can’t love unless we have free will, and we can’t have free will in a perfect world. But having free will, we should exercise it in compassion and empathy. Most of the bad things that happen are the result of human fault, (though there are obvious exceptions to this rule of thumb). Suffering in itself is not sin; sin is being responsible for or being indifferent to suffering. What is at stake is not suffering but human identity.

The role of the librarian can be compared with that of the theologian, in promoting enquiry and discussion. Both librarians and theologians are the mats under the feet of those wishing to explore the world of ideas, and we should see ourselves as the servants of those who seek our assistance. The core purpose of librarianship is to point out the possibilities that lie beyond our sphere of knowledge or our comfort zone.

The Lecture was rounded off with a vote of thanks from CLIS Chair, Robert Foster, and then tea.

Diana Guthrie, MA, serves on the executive committee of  Christians in Library and Information Services as Treasurer.

Sarum College Library Visit October 2015

JANICE PAINE reports on a visit by CLIS members on Saturday 17 October 2015

Sarum College is an ecumenical theological college situated in Salisbury’s beautiful cathedral close. The Librarian Jayne Downey was our host on this Saturday morning, and explained the history of the college, which since its foundation in 1860 has had various merges and changes in the type of courses offered. It now provides mainly Anglican ministerial training for about one hundred full or part-time students, plus another one hundred and twenty students on four three-year MA courses. The site includes a Victorian chapel, a public bookshop (with second  hand department), Bed and Breakfast accommodation, and of course a substantial library of about forty-two thousand  books.

As well as providing material for the on-site courses, Jayne (with the help of seven volunteers) provides for external paying users such as local ministers, Moorlands Bible College students, and visits from two   local schools. The library is housed in a recently refurbished extension to the main Georgian building – we loved the comforting red carpet! – and there is an additional stack area for eleven thousand  pre-1900 works. A sample of the oldest works was displayed for us, including a 1545 Bible. There are about forty journal titles, and a strong liturgical and church music resource.

The service has many up to date facilities including the Heritage on-line catalogue, some on-line resources including e-journals and the American Theological Library Association  Religion Database, access to the University of Durham e-resources. Inter-library loans and postal loans are also available.

Website address:

Many thanks to Jayne and the college for their hospitality, including a delicious lunch!

Janice E.  Paine, MCLIP, serves on the executive committee of  Christians in Library and Information Services  as Membership Secretary.

Spurgeon’s College Library Visit August 2015

JANICE PAINE reports on a visit  by CLIS members

On Tuesday 18 August 2015,  six CLIS  members were welcomed to Spurgeon’s College in South London by the Librarian, Annabel Haycraft.  It was a fine day so we ate our packed lunches on the lawn in the very pleasant gardens outside the Victorian mansion originally built as “Falkland Park” in 1890. This was given to Spurgeon’s College in 1923 when they were able to move from “central London, with its infamous smog, to the bracing air of the leafy suburbs of Upper Norwood”

The college was founded by Charles Haddon Surgeon in 1852 to train young men for the Baptist ministry; it now provides a variety of courses for men and women of all ages, including evangelism and counselling, from short courses to research degrees, with on-line learning options. Some of the students live on-site.

Our group relaxed in the current Student Common Room (previously the mansion’s dining room) before visiting the adjacent 1937 building housing the library. This was splendidly refurbished in 2009, bringing together the lending and reference libraries previously in separate buildings. A beautifully carved frieze showing Spurgeon teaching his students is inserted in the wall of the Reference Library.

The collection of 70,000 books is classified by Dewey and uses the Heritage Cirqa LMS; borrowers use a self-issue system. There are extended, partly unattended opening hours (7.00 am – 11.00 pm) which unfortunately give rise to concerns about book losses.

As well as the main lending collection there is a large Biography section, periodicals, a Reference sequence including study Bibles, commentaries, and dictionaries and a Temporary Reference section for heavily used texts. There are considerable electronic resources, with access to the American Theological  Library Association  Religion Database and many e-books and e-journals.

The library is available to  all staff and students, but distance learning students do not have borrowing rights. A generous book budget keeps the stock up to date, supplemented by donations from staff and retired ministers, and Annabel also uses ABTAPL (Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries) resources for inter-library loans.

As the only full-time librarian, Annabel deals with a wide variety of tasks, including external enquiries, many of which are of a historical nature. She answers many of these from archive resources kept in the Heritage Room (no longer available for public visits, though we were able to see this on a previous LCF visit).

The librarian takes part in college open days, which include sample lectures, a service, and opportunities to learn about the courses available. A recent innovation is the Centre for Spirituality which runs Quiet Days one Friday per month, open to all (pre-bookable).

We then visited the college chapel, opened in 1957, where we admired a statue of C.H. Spurgeon and the pulpit from the church where he was converted. A daily service is held here for all staff and students; those in training are encouraged to preach and lead the worship.

Finally we were provided with tea and biscuits back in the lounge, with time for a wide-ranging discussion on our varied current interests and concerns in the library world, such as preserving archives, running church libraries and using social media.

Many thanks to Annabel for giving up her time to host this visit.

Janice E.  Paine, MCLIP, serves on the executive committee of  Christians in Library and Information Services  as Membership Secretary.


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