By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
NEWTON — After weekend Masses at Sacred Heart, church-goers flock to the church library in search of books, DVDs, CDs and more.
What was once a small, 250-volume library has grown to include more than 3,000 items available for check-out. The pastor, Father William Reynolds, believes it may be the largest parish library in the Diocese of Davenport. Kay Fisher, a retired English professor who is certified as a Dewey Decimal-based church librarian, is the brains behind the operation.
“Our parish library is highly utilized,” Fr. Reynolds said, commending Fisher’s work in rehabilitating the library to its current, thriving state. Most of the patrons are members of Sacred Heart, but the library also attracts people of other faiths and Catholics from other parishes.
Fisher, who said she could not run the library without the support and prayers of the parish and the work of two additional volunteers, said one thing that makes the library so popular is the relevance of the materials to the patrons. It isn’t about sheer volume; it is about asking people what they want and referring to the Vatican’s recommended reading list. For example, many Newton parishioners commute to places such as Des Moines so there is a high demand for books on tape.
The library also stocks DVDs. Parishioner Susan Becker often seeks out digital materials when she visits the library. “There are a lot of good things you can look for, and Kay is good at helping you find things.”
Cristal Perez, a teenage library volunteer, loves paperbacks, especially the “Courageous” and “Fireproof” series. “I like to read,” she said. “I am able to learn more of what I didn’t know.”
Other popular items in the library include materials on the topics of grief and loss, conversion and apologetics. “You can see they are well used by looking at the check-out list,” Fisher said. The library also includes materials on Scripture, spirituality, church doctrine, history, current affairs, liturgy, encyclicals, church fathers, biographies of saints and other persons and reference materials.
This isn’t Fisher’s first go-around in library planning. Following her retirement from Simpson College, she lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a few years. While there, she helped the Diocese of Santa Fe set up an electronic organization system for its library and also set up a library at her home parish there. Parishes in Wisconsin have sought her advice in building or expanding their libraries.
She believes that a functioning library can be an excellent asset for a parish, as long as it demonstrates a desire and commitment. Financially, she said it is easiest when the library becomes part of the parish’s ministry budget. Volunteers are also essential for making a library work. In Newton, seed money was available to help make the first purchases.
She suggests parishes interested in updating or expanding their libraries learn what kind of materials parishioners are looking for to avoid wasting money buying materials that won’t be checked out. “You first have to find out what people are going to read and what their interests are before you buy anything.”
Some bookstores will offer discounts to religious organizations; finding these can help cut costs on new materials, Fisher said. Additionally, parishioners may want to donate materials from their own collection.
Fisher enjoys being part of something that, she hopes, will support and nurture the faith of the parishioners. “It’s a service ministry,” she said.