- Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship
Librarians often refer to their profession as a "calling," an assessment that author Nancy Kalikow Maxwell ponders and analyzes in her book Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship. Maxwell, assistant director of Miami Dade College North Campus Library, explores the spiritual dimensions of librarianship by examining the personality of librarians and the functions of the library. She is careful in her discussion and definition of spirituality, not limiting it to one religious denomination or dimension. She includes historical, sociological, philosophical, and personal examples in her analysis of librarianship and libraries.
Maxwell asserts that she is answering Wayne Wiegand's (F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University) contention that librarians should be focusing on the "library in the life of the user," since she is writing about how librarians should focus on the "users' souls" (2). Throughout the text she addresses "the hidden religious aspects of the nonreligious use of secular libraries" (3). She accomplishes her goals in several ways.
Maxwell spends considerable time comparing aspects of the librarian's personality and work traits with those of members of the clergy. After moving through a point-by-point analysis of the functions of librarians and members of the clergy, she compares the Myers-Briggs profiles for both professions, finding almost exact matches. Her comparisons apply throughout history, including examples and anecdotes from the Medici in the fifteenth century to Habitat for Humanity in the twentieth century. Through her broad range of examples she makes her point that librarians are revered just as priests are, even if they do not have honored titles to go along with their roles.
In an era when electronic texts are replacing print volumes at a fast pace, print culture remains essential to Maxwell's vision of the library. Preservation of texts is the focus of an entire chapter, and organizing the chaos of the library is the focus of another. She contends that getting a book into a library allows the author's words to live forever. She refers to "immortal citations" as another aspect of perpetuating an author's work, calling it a "heavenly act" and discussing the librarian's role in making certain works are cited properly for eternity (55–58).
Following chapters on the religious nature of reference, cataloging, and preservation, Maxwell concentrates on the library as a place. Library as place has been a frequent point of discussion over the last four to five years as electronic resources have taken over and several people have taken the stance that the physical building may no longer be important. Maxwell, like many colleagues, asserts that the library remains an important physical space for people. Rather than focusing on [End Page 331] the library as a collaborative space and as a place to access a range of resources, Maxwell writes about the concept of a private public space. She briefly mentions the library as a "third place" in this day and age of coffeehouses, bookstores, and other public gathering places. She, like others, contends that in an age of the virtual community humans continue to need and long for a physical space to gather. Whether they are or are not speaking to one another, it is the presence of another human that is important. She notes that "[p]aradoxically, the library is a communal institution that promotes noncommunal activity. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the key purposes of the libraries is to encourage its members to separate themselves from each other to pursue their own private aims" (78). To me, this was the most fascinating section of the book.
Drawing on personal experience as well as the history of the institution and profession, Maxwell offers thoughtful commentary about the perceptions of libraries in our culture, from the outside and inside. Sacred Stacks provides many points to ponder and discuss about the role of librarianship and libraries in the twenty-first century...