News Articles

She imparts purpose, vibrance to neglected church libraries

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–When Wilma Preissler enters an Indianapolis church carrying her little black bag, she’s not responding to a medical emergency. After 35 years as a registered nurse, Preissler is pursuing a new calling — one that led to a key award from the 2,000-member National Church and Synagogue Library Association last year.

The association’s Pat Tabler Memorial Award is given annually to a person who has done an outstanding job starting or reviving a church library. Preissler has done that for 11 libraries in Southern Baptist churches in the greater Indianapolis area.

Lillian Koppin, who served as the association’s awards chairman for four years, said of Preissler, “She’s a very original gal, marvelous at library work.”

That’s today. Prior to 1993, however, Preissler knew nothing about library work. She and her husband, Sam, had belonged to Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis only a year when the pastor, Duane Floro, called her into his study and asked her to serve as church librarian. Her hand to her face, Preissler exclaimed, “Pastor, I do not even know what the Dewey System is!”

On her way out of the church, Preissler checked out the library. Immediately, she knew why no one had checked out a book for three years. The books were old. They smelled. The card catalog didn’t exist. The room was dark and uninviting, and it was in the wrong location.

“The church library needs to be between the pulpit and parking lot,” she pointed out.

Since her retirement from nursing in 1986, Preissler has discipled women in her home. Standing in that musty, unused library she thought of all the books and tapes she had used as tools to help people grow spiritually.

Driving the four blocks home, she “had a million ideas” for creating an attractive, workable and well-located library. She pulled into her garage, put her head on the steering wheel and prayed, “Lord, I’m available. I want to be obedient.”

“From that moment on, I knew God was opening a door.”

The Preisslers emptied the church library of its 1,000 books and carried the books in shopping bags and armfuls to their home. Six months later, the library reopened in a small, cheerful room just off the main church lobby.

With a computer from her son, Preissler designed an innovative, economical card system that requires “any old paper, any old printer,” a pair of scissors and acetate sleeves.

“Three years ago, I couldn’t even turn on the computer,” she recounted. “Now I’m running a computer resource center. Only God could have done that through me.”

And God’s done something else: Since April 1995, Preissler has served as associational media library ministry director, helping 10 other churches start or renew their libraries. Visiting those churches, she carries a black bag containing master copies of the forms she’s created, as well as other helpful start-up resources.

“Nobody wants to start a library,” she said. “They don’t want to sit in a corner typing cards.” Further, pastors and staff may see little value in enlisting someone to organize a roomful of books. But Preissler sees great value in library ministry, as does Pat Brown, consultant with the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church media program.

Both women noted libraries today contain cassette tapes and videotapes, as well as books. Both see the church media library as a way to help people. The word, “media,” indicates the books and tapes aren’t an end in themselves, Brown said, but rather “a means for getting across a message.”

“We put a tremendous amount of emphasis on ministry,” added David Tiller, director of the BSSB church media program.

Brown believes a library ministry should have a two-pronged mission: to provide religious education resources for church teachers and leaders and to provide quality materials for individuals for growth. “Anything that touches life as God intended it to be lived, there can be a resource in the church library,” she said.

Further, “media goes where we can’t go. It’s an opportunity, not only for training, also for evangelism,” Brown said.

Preissler and Brown insist support from church staff is essential to building a library ministry. It’s also important to have enough committed laypeople to make the ministry work. “We suggest that no church of any size start a media ministry with fewer than three people,” Brown said, “because it will quickly lead to frustration and burnout if too few people try to do such a big task.”

As Preissler’s experience shows, a person doesn’t have to be a trained librarian to become involved in library ministry. “If your heart is willing and you’re obedient, I believe God can use you,” she said.

Yet, once the commitment is made, training is essential. Initially, Preissler sought help from a professional librarian friend. Then, learning of the church media program, she attended its training conferences in Nashville, Tenn., and at the Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. She also asked many questions by phone of Brown and her fellow consultants.

The church media program exists to help those involved in a church library ministry or interested in starting one. It sponsors four national training events annually and offers numerous resources. For more information, call (615) 251-2744.

    About the Author

  • Deborah P. Brunt