Suggesting Catholic books for your public library

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Neuhaus and National Catholic Register recommend this page.


Catholic books can more effectively evangelize, teach, and inspire in public libraries than parish libraries. I suggested six books for my local public library. When I checked I found that those six books were getting more circulation than the six hundred plus books in the parish library. Since then the circulation of those six books has tailed off some, but even if a Catholic book does not get a hundred times the attention in the public library it will almost certainly get at least ten times the attention, probably a lot more.


And what is more, a book in the public library can reach out to people who are away from the Catholic Church, while the parish library mostly serves the most committed members of the parish.

For example, one woman told me that reading Catholic books from the public library brought her back to the Catholic Church. She called it a conversion, but as her parents are very active members of the parish, she probably was raised Catholic. When I questioned her on which books were most essential it turned out they were exactly the books I had suggested, spiritual classics like Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, and Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila.

She became one of the most active members of the parish and has been actively involved in evangelizing other people. The local newspaper ran an article on her and other 3rd Order Carmelites and she mentioned that the public library and this apostolate had been important to her.

Some people might want to bug the librarians to get as many Catholic books on the shelves as possible. That is not my attitude. Others might want to simply see that the Catholic Church gets its fair share. That is not my attitude either.

My objective is to identify the "no-brainers," the classics that have been overwhelmingly popular for decades or even centuries and yet somehow the librarians have missed. There are other more efficient ways to evangelize than trying to get every last Catholic book you can on to a library shelf. Furthermore, the librarians want to balance their collections so if I get a loser on to the shelves that may stand in the way of a better Catholic book being put on the shelves.


People want to read the spiritual classics. Several of the important Catholic spiritual classics are listed in the top twenty or thirty thousand best sellers on Amazon.com, even though they are at least fifty years old and in many cases are several hundred years old. If your library has more than thirty thousand volumes you can make a strong case that they should be added to the collection. After all, most of the books in the top thirty thousand were published recently and will not interest people a few years from now, but these spiritual classics will always attract readers.


Librarians want to add books that circulate well and they like classics, so the spiritual classics are popular with them. When I gave my local librarians a letter asking that five books, including four spiritual classics, be included in the collection they put all five books in. You can read an edited version of the letter that I used to convince my local librarians include these Catholic spiritual classics and adapt it for your use.

Or you can evangelize by suggesting Catholic classics with a letter that I have written to be copied off this web page. It is really easy to put this in your word processor add your address and name and turn it into your library.

Or if that is to complicated you can simply suggest books to your public library. Librarians are usually fairly open to suggestions. Do not let all my carefully thought out plans scare you off you can always take the direct and simple approach.

Here is a list of spiritual classics that you might want to try to get into your library.

  1. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempas [This circulates well in libraries and has a high sales rank on Amazon.com. Also has great historical value as it may have been the most widely read Christian book after the Bible.]
  2. The Story of A Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux [This one is very strong on Amazon.com, its weaknesses are that there is no hardback version and it is a biography, people look for religion in the 200s, not biography.]
  3. Interior Castle by St. Therese of Avila
  4. Autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila
  5. Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
  6. Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis De Sales


More modern spiritual works, particularly Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton are also a good choice. Librarians like them, they are strong on Amazon.com and they circulate well. Henri Nouwen is particularly strong. The only difficulty is that his books may fade with time as they were published in the last few decades. But so far Nouwen's books have remained strong on Amazon.com even though they were published a few years ago. Thomas Merton has the advantage that he has stood the test of time. I would particularly recommend the classic Seven Story Mountain, if your library doesn't have it already.


The letter I sent to my library also suggested the Catechism. It was easy to convince the librarians to include the Catechism in the collection, in fact, they got two, one for reference, one for circulation, but it has not circulated well. In general Church documents and theological works do not circulate. The parish library should have these but I would recommend Catholics not push them on the public libraries. Though for some really strong ones like the Catechism it might be good to have them in the public library too. So far I have found that the spiritual classics work the best for the adult collection. Another reason to avoid Church documents is they are usually available on the Internet.


There are a number of popular books that defend the Catholic Church from the criticisms of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. These books often sell well on Amazon.com and they might circulate well, but librarians do not like them. Libraries generally do not have Protestant books that attack the Catholic Church and so it is fair that they do not want Catholic books that attack Protestants. These works should be saved for the parish library and the parish school library. It would be a good idea to push your local parish librarian or parish school librarian to add them.


On the other hand, apologetic works that deal with atheism are good. First, many libraries have atheist books that attempt to disprove religion in the 200's section, so we are simply countering their material. Secondly, I have found that librarians readily include works that defend Christianity and even Catholicism from atheist attack.

One good title is Chesterton's, Everlasting Man. This is high on Amazon.com and I have noted that it circulates well. A friend of mine said it was the best thing a Catholic did in the 20th century. Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity might be another decent choice, it has good numbers on Amazon.com. Peter Kreeft's Handbook of Christian Apologetics is also strong on Amazon.com, and I think it is a good one to suggest. I recently gave a copy to a local librarian and she readily accepted it and promised to include it into the collection.


If you are willing to go beyond Catholic books you might ask your librarian to add Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. It has very high numbers on Amazon.com, last I checked in the top 500. It circulates very well. Furthermore, it actually convinces people to become Christian. I have been told that this is the most powerful evangelical book from the 20th century. My experience is that it really works.

There are advantages to pushing some books that are not Catholic. First, it makes you look less biased to the librarians. Second, librarians try to keep their collections balanced, so we may want them to balance the collection with books that help spread the Christian faith without being anti-Catholic.

There are also disadvantages, it takes time, you may want to simply concentrate on adding Catholic books to the collection.

The position of the Catholic Church is that it is better to be a Christian even if you are not Catholic. It is also better to be Catholic than it is to be merely Christian. The suggestions given here follow these Catholic teaching.


In the children's section I have found The Picture Bible by Iva Hoth circulates well. This is a children's Bible in comic book form, with word balloons. I like it because it may pull in children, particularly boys, who think they have outgrown children's Bibles but do not think they are ready for the real thing. It is also pretty easy to convince librarians to include it in the collection. I wrote a letter to the Sacramento library system suggesting it and nine branches, about half, included an English language version in their collection, one letter, nine books not bad. These are the letters I used to get The Picture Bible into the Sacramento library and my local library. Note that a successful letter may get more than one book in the library.

If you want to check the current success here is a link to the Sacramento Library web page on which copies of The Picture Bible are currently checked out or on the shelf.

The Picture Bible is published by Protestants but has almost nothing that is objectionable in it.


There are many award winning Catholic movies. I find it very easy to convince the librarians to include these in the collection if I am willing to pay for them. Circulation is very good, perhaps as good as once a week. I figure you might get a hundred hours of viewing a year. Some people who check these out will not actually watch them, but in some cases more than one person will. But with a book you can not figure on more than one reader, and in many cases you will not get that. If the movie survives one year and you paid twenty dollars I estimate the cost would be twenty cents per viewer hour, not too bad. If it survives longer, and it probably will, then the price could go lower. I concentrate on those movies that won or were at least nominated for a big Oscar: best picture, best actor, or best actress. I am starting a web page on giving Catholic Movies to Public Libraries. I also have a page on Oscar nominated Christian movies.


I have mentioned a number of books to suggest to your local librarian. These books are winners, but you should know how to pick your own winners. So let me give you some clues about what librarians want.

Librarians are looking for books that will be checked out frequently, or as librarians would say, they want books that circulate. Librarians are supposed to serve the public and circulation is one of the chief measures of public service.

Librarians also like good reviews. A good review from the New York Times can really help.


Davis librarians told me that religious books have poor circulation. Actually compared to most of the other adult non-fiction the religion section has above average circulation.

I found this out by counting the number of religion books on the refile shelves and comparing that with the total number of books on the refile shelves. Then I compared the number of shelves dedicated to religion and all of adult non-fiction.

An easier way might be to sample the 200 section on the computer catalogue for your library and compare the portion of religious books checked out with the over all check out rate. In a normal library about one in ten books will be checked out at any one time. The average for adult non-fiction maybe a little less than that.


Be patient with librarians. I submitted a list of books. First, they said they would get a couple, but eventually they got most or all the books. Then they bought other similar books I did not even suggest. Patience pays off with librarians, and do not set your heart on any one book being in any one library. Send your letters, make your requests, and then go on to another project. Some of the seed will come up. You have to check back sometimes to see the growth, they did not tell me they bought the Picture Bible I just checked their catalogue the net and there they were.


Sometimes I give the materials to the library, sometimes I just suggest. The library system often respects books more if they buy. I have had donations sit around for a year while they waited to process them. They told me that gift books are their lowest priority. So your first move maybe to suggest rather than offering to give them the book. On the other hand your library maybe different

At my library giving videos has worked very well for me. They do not buy many videos, but are very willing to put gifts in. But each library is different. The neighboring town, Woodland, does not take movies on video tape because their policy is to leave that to the video stores. As mentioned above, I am starting a web page on giving Catholic Movies to Public Libraries.

If you are giving you should make sure that they do not simply sell the books at the library book sale. At least in my public library you can submit books for their consideration, with the condition that they return them to you if they are not to be included in the collection. Perhaps the parish library will include the book in its collection even if the public library does not.

But note, that it usually best to start with the public library if you believe the book or video will circulate well. I find that the first reaction of many Catholics is to contribute books to the parish library. That is probably a very good second option, but if we really want to spread the Catholic faith and build up the faith of people who are already Catholic the public library should be our first option because the book or video will probably recieve ten to a hundred times as much attention at the public library and because some of that attention will come from people who are outside or away from the Catholic Church.


One reason public libraries get better circulation is that the public library provides better access. Our public library is open seven days a week. Access to the parish library is much more limited. Another reason is that people are just a little more comfortable checking books out of the public library. I have noted that most of the books checked out of the church library are checked out by the most active members who probably feel more comfortable using church resources.

If the idea of giving something to the public library bothers you consider that if the public library includes our books in their collection they are making a major contribution. They provide the space. They provide the labor to check books in and out. They provide the labor to catalog the books. This is not just a matter of us giving them something. Rather it is a cooperative activity in which both sides benefit.

But, we should remember is that their objectives are not identical to ours on this page we will be examining how both the public libraries and the Catholic Church can respect and foster the objectives of the other.


I would suggest you avoid trying to empty your book shelves on to the library shelves. We do not want to fill the libraries quota of Catholic books with books that do not circulate, or build up the faith. As mentioned above church documents and theology are better for the church library. I would check Amazon.com to help figure out which books are likely to be winners. Or ask me a question in my guest book.


I have moved beyond just putting religious materials in my public library to encouraging people to check them out, specifically by giving them lists of material that is available. These are not lists of the books that are in the 200s, the religious section, rather they are lists of movies, TV shows, and graphic novels (comics). These are harder to find as they are mixed in with secular materials. Here is a link to what I am doing to inform people of religious resources in libraries in my area. Here are links to lists of religious movies and religious comics in my local public library.


The February 2002 issue of First Things recommended this web page in Richard Neuhaus's column "The Public Square." on page 89. Neuhaus wrote, "There are as many apostolates as there are Christians. Richard Bruce ..., has taken on the responsibility of getting Catholic books and periodicals into libraries and bookstores."

A recent issue of The National Catholic Register also recommended this page in an editorial comment on the letters page.

This comment was also recently received. "Richard, I read your article, and am Impressed by the results that you are claiming. I'd like to add that as a person discerning a religious vocation, I've read a few of these books, and I am meaning to read most of the ones on your classics list."


A man sent me an e-mail saying that this web page inspired his parish to contribute one thousand dollars worth of religious materials to two public libraries and they might contribute another thousand dollars worth of material if the materials contributed resulted in enough circulation.
Here is his e-mail with his name and the name of his organization removed to protect anonymity


If you have a Catholic web page consider linking to this one. I think I have invented a better mousetrap, but I need you to beat the path to the door and that is done with links. This is particularly important for this type of page because many people who might be interesting in doing something to evangelize would not think of suggesting Catholic books to public libraries, so they would not think to search for this page.

Three groups should be particularly interested in linking to this web page: The Knights of Columbus, the Legion of Mary, and the Carmelites. Getting Catholic books in public libraries is an old Knights of Columbus tradition. The Legion of Mary has long been involved in evangelization, and this is sure a lot easier than knocking on doors. The Carmelites should be interested in this page because it recommends the books of three Carmelite hheroes St. Therese of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Therese of Lisieux. As mentioned above one of our local Third Order Carmelites became interested in the Carmelites because of the books I suggested.

Web sites concerned with Catholic evangelization should be particularly interested, because putting Catholic books in public libraries is a good way to evangelize.

If you know a librarian who is interested in including Catholic books in public libraries please tell them about my web page. I would like to get more information on the topic.

I also want to work with a librarian to publish an article on popular Catholic classics that librarians should include in their collections in a library journal. It is difficult to publish in those journals if you are not a librarian.

I am looking for an organization to finance an advertising campaign in professional library journals encouraging librarians to add Catholic classics. One large Catholic organization has expressed some interest in the idea.

I would like to communicate with people who are trying to get Catholic books into public libraries. So far in my own parish I have found a priest and several members of the Legion of Mary. I have recently communicated with one person and two groups from around the nation who are actively suggesting Catholic books to public libraries. But if you are involved in this area of evangelization please contact me. We might learn something from each other. See my guest book below.

There is now a Yahoo group dedicated to getting Catholic books into public libraries. It has just gotten started. Check it out at Pope Saint Nicolas V

I have covered the topic of getting books into public libraries. There are several related topics that might be covered. It would be nice to have a page on putting Catholic books into prison libraries, and public school libraries. The public library is no doubt a much better target than public school libraries because their circulation per book is so much higher, but still it would be an interesting topic. One could also do more than I have on videos, and what about music cd's.

Here are several other couple of evangelical projects you can work on. You can evangelize by encouraging local book stores to carry more Catholic books, here is how I do it.

Amazon Prime offers many free Christian and more specifically Catholic videos. Other subscription services no doubt do this too. I am investigating the Amazon Prime videos now, you can do this too, and also spread the word.

I also have a page where I suggest ideas for advertising in Catholic periodicals, read and join the discussion.

Finally, young people are worried about avoiding divorce so I have found interest in these stories about how people who meet in religious singles groups avoid divorce. A friend actually started going to church on the basis of this.

Here are the key pages on suggesting books to libraries again,

  1. Two successful letters that evangelize by getting Catholic classics into public libraries.
  2. A letter for your librarian you can copy and customize to get Catholic literature in libraries.
  3. A page on suggesting Carmelite classics to public libraries.
  4. Suggesting Catholic books to public libraries is a evangelical tradition of the Knights of Columbus.

You can leave a message in my

guest book.

Geocities will e-mail me to inform me of your message, only I will be able to read it, so this is like e-mail.

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Page last updated November 15, 2005