How church libraries can minister to college students

We often consider adolescents as confused and searching for answers in many places. College students, at the older end of the adolescent maturation process, are truly in a valley of decision, where successive decisions seem to get bigger and more important with each passing semester. How can the church library minister to this group? What are their needs?

Understanding collegians

Characteristically, many college students are enthusiastic about their broadening knowledge, self-concerned with personal and intellectual growth, career oriented, and somewhat selfish about their own goals. College students find themselves discovering their own personal identity, moving toward a chosen vocation or career, expanding their experience in interpersonal relationships, and developing their own ideology in light of cultural issues in economics, human rights, sexuality, race, poverty, ethics, and morality.

Being away from home requires personhood separate from parents and family identification. The "Who am I?" issue can produce difficulties in the further defining of self-image. Development of self-concept can be challenged again and again by the student's growing emotional independence, as well as by opposing ideas from professors and fellow students. The ultimate need of the student, then, is to realize his identity as a person created and deeply loved by God.

Though college years are usually devoted to training for a specific aspiration, many students have difficulty with the need for narrowing vocation focus. This necessity may confuse and frustrate students who have no sense of calling to a vocation.

New friends bring new challenges in being accepted, being rejected, and maintaining good relationships without the support of the friends "back home." Relationships with the opposite gender can bring questions about healthy sexuality, understanding when one is "in love," and of God's plan for building Christian homes.

Significant issues concerning authority figures may arise from the student's response to faculty opinions and campus rules and procedures.

Focus on developing intellectual abilities and dealing with abstract concepts sometimes contradict those family and church-taught beliefs and attitudes and requires making considered decisions about "what I believe." The student's theology may expand, grow stronger, or be weakened by new ideas and proclamations from professors and/or fellow students. "Why am I here on earth?" "Can I really make a difference through my life?" and even "Will it matter what I do now if I settle down later?" can arise in the student's questioning search for real meaning in life. Even strong Christian training can be tested by coming against unchristian world views, the temptation of freedom in making your own choices, and peer pressure.

The student must decide on an adequate foundation for building a life, what living responsibly involves, and on what authority to base personal behavior. For the Christian student, a worthy life purpose is becoming a creative instrument of God's work on earth.

So...what can the library do to minister to these searching, learning, and growing students? Basically, strive to provide media and services to minister to their searching, learning, and spiritual growth; to facilitate the work of the students' teachers and leaders in your church, and to support the concerns of the students' parents.

Ministry to the students themselves

What is the expectation for collegiate students in our churches? What do we hope for them as they grow spiritually and prepare for life?

  • To learn through Bible study and accept as a guide biblical principles for life
  • To grow in worship, both corporate and personal
  • To become responsible church members, learning in both leadership and followship
  • To gain and use skills in sharing their faith
  • To discover and use their God-given gifts to minister to others
  • To value Christian fellowship both in and out of their church family
  • To chose to be a life learner in their personal Christian journey

A lot? Yes! How can the church library even begin to contribute toward this huge responsibility of the church? Whether you serve in the home church or the "away" church for college students, try to implement some of these strategies appropriately to your situation.

Develop mediagraphies and displays of media relating to students' life needs and college experience. Include Christian fiction, media about interpersonal relations, dating, preparing for marriage, etiquette, Bible study tools, devotional resources, and music. Then promote their availability.

In a college church situation, invite incoming students to the library. Provide special, individual invitations to the new students. Make it colorful, updated, and personally addressed to each student, if names can be obtained. Otherwise, create a generic "Welcome to the campus and to (name) Library." Include library hours and feature appropriate media on an annotated flyer.

In the home church, create a "Welcome back!" invitation, personally addressed and including information about new media, library services you'd love to share with them, and ideas for good summer use of media.

Recruit students to develop strategies for the library's promotion. Those who have discovered their gifts in areas of art, design, or marketing can make a great contribution and experience the joy of serving the Lord through the church library.

In light of suicides of young people, drug overdoses, and automobile accidents, develop materials and support for understanding and dealing with death. Sponsor a student group meeting at a funeral home. Have a speaker discuss life-styles, which bring people to funeral homes, the natural grieving process, and what Jesus can do in a person's life. This is especially effective and needed if there has been a tragedy in the community or church family. Younger students could be included if the college group is very small.

Sponsor an evening with a local Christian author who can offer suggestions for topic pertinent to students.

Ask for students' help in developing a Christian music library. Have a listening party or arrange to have a listening event at a local music store which also has Christian music.

Gather and maintain an up-to-date file of colleges, graduate schools, Bible schools, and seminaries. Writing for these will probably get your library on their mailing list for yearly updates and summer sessions promotion.

If space permits, develop a listening corner for students (and all ages) to enjoy CD's, cassettes, and videos.

As the library ministry in the students' home church, keep in touch by sending Christian literature to them when they are away from home. If the church sends material to them also, it may be possible to contribute devotional material, magazines, or notes to the mailing.

Ministry to teachers and leaders of college students

Those who work with college students can also benefit from their church library's efforts to team with them to shepherd the church's students. Discipling these students involves nurturing the students' spiritual growth and both factual and attitudinal changes as they explore more deeply foundational principles of church membership, church doctrine, church history, Christian theology, Christian ethics.

Goals of the adults who lead college students include developing in them ministry and witnessing skills, being role models for them, exploring the question areas of personal relationships, choosing a life mate, stewardship in time and resources, giving vocational and social guidance, and cultivating the gifts God has given them. Ministry with college students involves many of the activities the young persons enjoyed as youth in the "church back home" or on the campus, such as trips, retreats, indoor and outdoor games, church drama, discussion groups, and camping offer opportunities for Bible study, worship, sharing life goals and views, and enjoying Christian music. The library ministry can facilitate the plans of the leaders in the following ways.

  • Entertaining a time of sharing ideas with them and affirming their goals and plans.
  • Gathering media relating to the collegiate Sunday School curriculum. Use displays and mediagraphies to present their availability to teachers and leaders.
  • Provide library orientation for those who have not used this particular library space before. (Especially important for the "church away!")
  • Offer media training to the leadership to equip them to use formats and equipment in a productive learning atmosphere for their teaching times with the students. Include a bit of library orientation for them, also.
  • Supply a list of available Bible reference resources (with call numbers) for the teachers' preparation.
  • Ask for requests for materials leaders and teachers wish to use in the collegiate student ministry.
  • Provide catalogs from religious publishers such as LifeWay Church Resources, Broadman & Holman, Abingdon, Bethany House, and Focus on the Family for browsing by church leadership. Encourage "want lists" by supplying a quick-use form for their requests.
  • Prepare a display of achievements (clippings) and books about good deeds done by college students to support leader ideas for ministry or life activities, which can be done by the local group.
  • Offer media set up for college student training sessions. The students are usually savvy enough to do this for the leaders!
  • Plan and set up a training session on group dynamics for teachers and leaders. Invite a conference leader from outside the church and emphasize creative ways to present ideas, facts, and to influence spiritual decisions about life.
  • Provide media for retreats and mission trips-devotional materials, tapes and CD's, players, informal display elements, games, and whatever else you have to add to the fun. Don't forget the travel brochures for that long trip. Be willing to supply these for the leader and not expect to receive the glory for the "stuff." (They'll see the library name on the materials anyway, won't they?)
  • Look for opportunities to publicize their accomplishments.
  • Take time to find new tools for them and add those to your library treasures.
  • Enhance their promotion efforts with your good promotion training and ideas (and raw materials.)

The best help the library can give to those teachers and leaders who give so much to their ministry with the college students is to ask what they need and offer what you can.

Ministering to parents of college students

Families are the earliest child shapers. The student takes away to college much of that shaping as well as the influence of the home church. Parents have the tension between letting go and continuing to have the greatest influence on the person of the student. The dangers of the nights away-driving, drugs, alcohol and sex-and the unknown influences of teachers and peers often bring a fear of conflict with home and church-taught values. The library can support parents' in their tasks continuing to nurture the collegiate student while contributing to his independence and spiritual maturity.

  • Search for books and videos to bring understanding of the struggles of their college student. Create annotated mediagraphies of various concerns encountered by those entering and moving through college life. Book reviews may serve the same purpose.
  • Sponsor a parent group session with a speaker qualified to present student life on campus in a humorous, yet informative manner. Create a display of reading materials on the topic of choice for parents.
  • Gather parents whose children have graduated from college for a forum on how to survive the "awayness" of one's young-adult child.
  • Don't forget those students whose families are not Christians. The best for those parents is to find the joy of the Christian life to bring changes to that home. Support all church-wide witnessing efforts to reach them. Provide how to witness resources and life problem-solving books for those who visit them to take with them.

Work with college student leaders to offer a parent appreciation banquet. The library can help with the promotion, decoration, and feature helpful media.

Sometimes a friendly question or a listening ear can minister to the needs of the student's parents. Keep the library a place filled with the joy of your ministry and concern for the needs of those who visit.

The church library ministry can help to equip the college students in their growth toward Christian maturity. First, the library can provide a pivotal hub of an abundance of materials from which students can learn the essential basis for a Godly life. Second, the library can facilitate the students' church leaders in their ministry. And third, the library can support the collegiate students' parents concerns about their student. The church library can play an important role in the ministry with collegiate students.

Barbara Freese is assistant librarian and associate professor, American Baptist College, Nashville, Tennessee.

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