Blessed James Alberione

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If the apostle wants to do good then the library is a wonderful venture.
Since he is always ready to direct his activity to all those areas where the need is greater and effectiveness more assured, then let him give this venture the place and importance it deserves; let him study how it works and foster it by establishing and organizing it on sound criteria.

Importance and effectiveness
The always considerable and at times decisive influence that books have in the task of formation and overall education speaks volumes on how important libraries are. At a time when there is such a glut of printed matter, combined with
an ever-increasing desire to read, a library is a must. Today it is no longer a luxury to look for the latest title! Reading, once the preserve of the few among the educated and well-off members of society, has become universal.
Therefore what we need is a widespread promotion of good books so as to counteract bad books or at least those which are useless.
Among the means of promoting books the library holds a very important place. It makes books available to all sections of people; it gives access to people who can't afford to buy books; it gives a book greater usefulness as a result of a more rapid and frequent turnover, thus providing every new reader with its benefits.
The library, moreover, integrates and develops religious instruction, promotes individual formation and the culture of society, blends the responsibility and the task of education and prevents readers from searching elsewhere for literature and study books that could be harmful. It thus carries out a role not only of preservation but also of development and apostolate.

Kinds of libraries
While a library is basically a collection of books and newspapers,
it can take on various forms depending on the type of people it is geared to.
Thus there are libraries for the school, the family, and the professions; mobile libraries; parish, municipal, town and even national libraries.
The press apostolate can, indeed must, concern itself - within the limits of possibility - with all these kinds of libraries, because in each of these it can effect the library's role of preservation and development. Still, it will direct its activity in particular to the family, the mobile and the parish library as those more apt to become centers of preservation and dissemination of truth and the Christian life.
Family libraries not only among well to do families, but also among ordinary folk, because now the general tendency of families is to have their children study and achieve a higher degree of education.
Even where this tendency is not so marked it is good to remind people of good family reading, particularly in order to promote the reading of the Gospel and the Bible.
Make sure the press apostolate gets into the family home in time. Tomorrow could be too late.
Mobile libraries that visit prisons, institutes, hospitals, convalescent homes, colleges, boarding houses,
confraternities, religious associations, Catholic Action associations.
For community groups the library is often a meeting place, healthy relaxation, a center of learning, a cenacle of spiritual life and of apostolic triumph. It is, in a word, indispensable.
School libraries for students and teachers of all levels (from kindergarten to university), to [help them] integrate their education and to train them for life and in virtue.
Parish or pastoral libraries, which help and round off the pastor's work in his priestly ministry.
An effort should be made to establish a library in every parish, even in the smallest and the most remote.

Establishing a library
It is not always easy to establish a library. But this is not a reason to list it among the most difficult or even impossible tasks.
Good will, courage, and at times even daring are needed.
To establish a family library you need grace and tact, so as to be able to enter the family home, get to know the demands and moral needs of the individual members, overcome
opposition, advise and sometimes even insist on the choice of books.
The same is to be said, in due proportion, for establishing mobile libraries. Community groups are large-size families, whose members are a make-up of the most diverse people. Here too it is a matter of setting foot inside, and getting to know, advise, convince and guide them.
The establishment of a school library requires a quite particular competence and ability.
A library for students aims to integrate their education and formation. A library for the teachers must round off their education and act as a resource for teaching.
A person thus needs competence and ability to choose and adapt books. Such choice and adaptation are to be based on school programming and in full agreement with the competent authority.
More important still is the setting up of the parish library.
While the particular rules that are set out here in this regard can act as a guide for the establishment of these libraries, they will throw light also on how to establish the other types as well.
To establish a parish library you need, first of all, to act in concert with the pastor; then you move on to the choice of books and, lastly, you resolve the question of funding.
For those priests, especially those pastors who have not
yet had to concern themselves with a library, you will have to make them understand the purpose and the necessity of a library in a charitable and prudent way.
Faced with this indifference and indolence of ours, our adversaries would have a field day!
True, what we have here is a new difficulty, a new work, and a new concern... as if pastors did not already have more than enough! Yet, if this work is neglected, there will be even far greater concerns in the future and an even more tiring and thankless task to undertake.
The parish library, and this is to be clearly understood, must be listed among the initiatives of the pastor.
The choice of books is not always an easy issue, but one that depends by right on the apostle himself.
It is axiomatic and unquestionable that the need is to choose good books, and that such books be read; otherwise you do not achieve your purpose. By books that meet the readers' tastes we mean ones that are wholesome and principled, ones that don't remain on the shelves to make a wonderful show of themselves or in catalogs to make the number of titles more impressive.
Choice will depend on the level of education, and on the social, moral and religious situation of the parish.
Depending on the situation, choice will be:
Mainly ascetic, if, for example, it aims mostly to round off the work of the confessor,
with books suitable to the spiritual needs of the faithful.
Mainly entertaining and instructional, if choice aims in particular to deter readers from bad books and to attract them to good books.
Mainly cultural, where, dealing with middle class people or a student body, the concern is more for literary, scientific and professional scholarship.
Mainly religious or pastoral, if the choice aims to consolidate the work of the pastor, by means of books on formation and religious culture. This last grouping, the ideal one, is in general to be preferred.
Here pride of place will be given to the holy books: the Bible, the works of the Fathers, the Doctors and Church writers, theology for lay people, catechism, ascetical works, liturgy, lives of the saints, edifying biographies, missionary reading, collections and annual illustrated religious periodicals...
Banish the thought that people do not enjoy spiritual works. They enjoy them, they want them and they understand them more than we give them credit for. What Cardinal Mercier said still holds true: "You need to stand up yourself in order to pull others up."
You will often notice that readers' tastes follow that of the librarian. When he or she knows how to recommend a book you can be sure that it will be enjoyed and will do good. Naturally there is no need to give up at the first difficulty... Many books of ascetics and learning
absorb the mind so much that they are read with real passion. What can we say then of certain lives of the saints and biographies that so stir up the imagination as to outstrip even the attraction of novels?
Besides mainly religious books, there is a need for light reading: novels, short stories, travel books. Sprightly and interesting books but, obviously, wholesome and upright ones.
Sometimes there will be books which have little that is positive or pastoral; but these will act, as it were, as an antidote and will open the way, little by little, to other more profitable and educational books. It is a good idea to add to light reading other books that will uplift the mind.
Caution is needed in the choice of novels. Harm can often be hidden in a few sentences, and that could be sufficient to upset a person's calm.
Books that can be the cause of evil and corruption are to be excluded at all costs. Novels which rely too much on fantasy and fill the soul with a sense of emptiness, discontent and an unfulfilled yearning for a life of pleasure and amusement should be excluded as should those which abstract from any idea of religion, or express ideals of earthly happiness alone, or in place of God substitute fate or destiny.
Books that castigate vices that young people are unaware of are to be put aside for adults.
When choosing titles use such practical evaluation criteria as the Index of Prohibited Books, Church endorsement, the guidance of Catholic magazines and reviews, common sense, the conditions of time and place, and the type of readers.
Funding is often an inevitable hurdle and in the face of this many people draw back, so that at times even the most wonderful initiatives falter.
A fund is a necessary and indispensable item for the organization and establishment of even a small library. Funds can be acquired by means of subscriptions, a lottery, a lucky dip, a concert, a small book exhibition, and offerings or by way of other initiatives.
Some help can come from the contributions for the distribution of the books. Although minimal in certain areas, it is a must. Experience teaches that if you do everything without charge or without demanding some sacrifice, the benefits are not appreciated as much.
Where it is possible arrangements could be made for a committee of supporters to make an annual contribution.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that once the library is established with a good selection of books that it can be left to its own devices.
The library is like a seed, like a living organism; it is not enough to plant a seed or wait for it to sprout. You have to watch over its development stage by stage. It would soon die were it not to develop in normal conditions!
Good library organization includes proper installation, the direction it is to take to provide the means of livelihood, the way it is to operate, and the training of the librarian.
Where the library is located is sometimes essential. Still, occasionally, at least initially, this can be remedied by way of a cupboard or a bookshelf with sliding partitions.
Procuring a livelihood could, at first glance, seem arduous. This need not be so, in practice, if there is the involvement of all the parishioners, authorities, teachers, parents, young people, and Catholic associations.
General interest and a sense of purpose will resolve all difficulties. In effect you can invite individuals or groups to make a gift of new books, to hold meetings and promotion days... and other means suggested for the initial outlay.
If the library is to have a life of its own and to prosper, it must not be seen as an activity that is detached from the others. It is to be viewed as an undertaking in its own right, which recruits its members and draws its resources from all the parish activities, both as regards readers and expenses.
The activity lives and thrives under the care of the
pastor. To him pertain "ex iustitia" both its responsibility and its management, as with all other parish works.
Many libraries, well off in the beginning, have failed in their task because they were too detached from the other parish activities and not dependent on the parish priest.
A library's life depends on how it operates. In effect, the library that is not operating properly is like a business on the verge of bankruptcy.
The organization of its operation depends on the kind of library, the premises, and the people who provide for it, the readers, and many other factors.
Still, a practical and simple solution can be put forward that can then be enlarged, altered, improved on, or even changed, depending on the various needs and circumstances.
What you will need to have first of all is:
- a register-catalog to record the books on hand and their price. This helps to keep a check on how the library is developing;
- an alphabetical index by author and title. This will list the topics of all the books and magazines;
- an index book to record books on loan with relative letters [with pointers and recommendations] for readers;
- a card to be put in the place of the book on loan, which details the collocation, the name, the author and title
of the book and the address of the person who has the book on loan;
- wear and tear-resistant paper to cover the books, so that they are kept neat and tidy;
- a notebook to write down books requested, and which acts as a guide when purchasing new books;
- fixed and compulsory rules for the distribution and return of books.
A smooth operation also requires a permanent and qualified librarian. If it is a question of parish libraries then the librarian could be the parish priest or a person of trust who is directly dependent on him.
For family libraries it will have to be the father or mother. For mobile libraries it will be a person of trust delegated by his or her superiors; for school libraries it will be the teacher.
Among their other duties librarians have an important and delicate role. This is the distribution of the books.
Besides having an accurate knowledge of all the material in the library, they must also know who their readers are. In this way they will be able to distribute books wisely and adapt them to the person's age, level of education, study, temperament and character.
The more a book responds to the needs of the individual reader, the more effective it will be.
A great step is taken with the establishment [of the library] and the necessary guidance for its organization. But [the apostle's] task is not yet complete.
He still needs to be in direct contact with the libraries and to visit them whenever he feels that it is necessary; to inform them of new initiatives, as well as to support and train them in the latest and most comprehensive forms of promotion.1

1 The pious Society of Saint Paul has set up a General Association of Libraries (A.G.B.). Its purpose is:
"To integrate the work of individual persons in order to develop more broad-based religious, educational, moral and scientific instruction among our people by means of the spread and circulation of good books suited to the capacity and various needs of readers by establishing family, school, and especially, parish libraries.
"To supply those libraries already established with the latest titles and all other necessary printed matter which they ask for.
"To set out rules and to give advice on the establishment, development, and running of the library. Such rules, while based on general principles, may vary depending on the kind of library and its needs.
"To set out sure guidelines concerning the doctrinal, moral and artistic merit of the publications of the Pious Society of Saint Paul and of the other publishing houses.
"To agree on discounts and special terms when acquiring books and magazines published by the Pious Society of Saint Paul and other publishing firms."