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placeholder February 3, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
St. Isidore library offers a model for other parishes

Every parish needs a library, says Bonnie McNamara.

Back in 1990, when she was new to the parish council at St. Isidore Church in Danville, she thought so, too.

"I blurted out, 'We should have a parish library,'" she recalled.

She received support from her then-pastor, Msgr. Daniel Cardelli. McNamara, who reads only non-fiction and is a great book lover, set about the task of starting one.

She was not a librarian, but she was, in her words, "a go-getter."

With a surprise $2,000 gift from the Knights of Columbus — she had been considering a $300 budget — and donations of books from parishioners, she turned a room off the vestibule into a library.

If your parish doesn't have a library, she'd like to encourage you to start one. More than that, she has some books you can have. McNamara said she is also willing to share her system of setting up and running a parish library.

The St. Isidore library is so successful, in fact, that McNamara has duplicates of many materials, including books and DVDs, and is offering them to other parishes that would like to start a library.

"We have so many doubles," she said, noting her garage is filling up with books and materials she'd rather see on shelves of other parish libraries. Better yet, they would be in the hands of their parishioners.

What will a parish need? A room, McNamara said. "It blossoms," she said.

She has provided books to one fledgling library in the diocese already, and has sent Catholic materials to a new state prison that opened in California.

Once the library is set up, and volunteers trained in simple methods, running the library needn't be daunting.

"I worked out the bugs since 1990," she said.

McNamara vets every item that goes onto the library to ensure that it is in keeping with Catholic teaching.

The St. Isidore library is open on the first, third and fifth Sundays, after the 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses.

In a large parish like St. Isidore, with 7,000 parishioners and 80 ministries, the library is also a place of hospitality. In a parish that size, a visitor's only contact with an individual might come while browsing in the library. "We might be the first contact they have with parishioners," she said.

Each time the library is open, one person is a designated greeter. Another handles the checkout stand, while another staffs the DVD closet. To check out an item, parishioners just write their names.

Volunteers serve for half an hour every couple of months, McNamara said. "When people join the parish library staff, they stay at it for years," she said.

Each time the library is open, she writes a blurb for the bulletin, perhaps introducing a new book, a season selection or an old favorite.

Among the things she's learned in the parish library: Early on, she culled out the fictional books. Out went the tapes, as people weren't taking them out. She found that she did not need to cover each book in plastic. And the shelves of revered people and saints grew heavy during the time of Pope John Paul II. ("He made so many saints," she said.)

It's a wealth of information she's willing to share. "I'm passionate about forming a library in other parishes," McNamara said.

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