The sacred and the secular

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  –John 1:1, King James Bible

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a passion for the sacred.  In high school I studied world religions in my free time.  In college I double majored in Biblical studies and philosophy.  I poured over thinkers like Augustine and Plato trying to get a glimpse of God’s nature and a clearer understanding of my own.  Even at a young age I knew my vocation would be serving people and God in some form or another.  

My chosen profession couldn’t be more apt.  Imagine this: I sit serenely at the Ask-A-Librarian desk and people approach meekly as if approaching an altar, and then confess that they haven’t been here in years.  I benevolently welcome them and absolve them of this sin.  They ask me for guidance in their search for knowledge and truth.  I consult my sacred text, the card catalog computer, and then I graciously step off my throne and guide them to the Mezzanine.  Finally, they bow and kiss my hand in gratitude as I offer them a blessing.

Okay, not exactly, but I’m not the first person to make this connection.  In her book Sacred Stacks Nancy Kalikow Maxwell makes an argument for the library as both a sacred and secular space.  She discusses the awe-inspiring and almost religious aspects of library architecture and atmosphere (“shhh…”), and also the idea that librarians are the venerated clergy and guardians of knowledge.  Along with organizing the chaos of information and presenting it in an accessible way for the masses, librarians also bestow immortality through the preservation of the written word and bring the community together to learn and share ideas.

I like being the intermediary between people and information, knowledge and truth—define each as you will.  I like that people can enter our hallowed walls and ask for anything—anything at all and we can help to guide them to the answer. 



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5 responses to “The sacred and the secular

  1. Believers and doers are what we need — faithful librarians who are humble in the presence of books…. To be in a library is one of the purest of all experiences. This awareness of library’s unique, even sacred nature, is what should be instilled in our neophites.
    — A Passion for Books
    Lawrence Clark POWELL (1906- )

    Bonnie, your post performs beautifully in the service of such a reverential tradition. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. For a great film rendition of this connection between libraries and the sacred, check out Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire,” in which his Berlin angels live in a Cathedral of Books, the public library.

    For those of us whose faith is in fictions, the library certainly is sacred shrine.

  3. Brenda

    I always saw us librarians as guardians of knowledge! :-)
    Or looking at it another way: In the cathedral of learning (not necessarily Pitt’s), librarians are the priests and priestesses! ;-)

  4. Brenda, I like the way you think, and I’m right there with you. ;)

    It’s really a privilege to work in the service of something larger than any one person. And, of course, we can often receive from our patrons as much as we give to them, if we are open to it…

    Tait, thanks for the film recommendation! I can assure you that our library is chock full of angels – Bonnie’s too modest to admit it, but she’s one of them….:)


  5. Don

    “Wings of Desire” is one of my top 5 favorite movies. The library scene is amazing.

    I’ve always thought about service, which is what we do (not what we provide), in the Buddhist sense. It is not about customers or about product: it’s about people. A two-way giving and receiving …

    How very much we as librarians get back from the people we serve …

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