What Makes Catholic School Libraries Different?

Adapted from Literature, Library, and Media Guide for Catholic Educators
By Denise Donohue Ed.D. and Dan Guernsey Ed.D.


As Catholic education’s mission is different, a Catholic school library is also different since all elements within an institution—including its library—should adhere to its mission. Catholic school libraries don’t have to abide by secular association’s book lists. As a matter of mission, and religious freedom, they should look nothing like public school libraries. 

The mission of Catholic education is to form students in sanctity in this life for salvation in the next. Providing students with wholesome literature that satisfies the moral imagination and assists in the formation of virtue and full human flourishing are the prescription for this, not writings that denigrate the human person or leave students with sinful thoughts or feelings of shame or despair. This follows a catechetical best practice of not leaving students without the hope of the resurrection and God’s eternal love when talking about Jesus’ death on the cross. When we allow young people to read literature that is sorrowful or confusing, especially about the unique nature of the human person, without countering these messages with the Good News of Jesus Christ, we do both them and us a disservice.


A Catholic school library does not seek to provide access to “all kinds of books,” but rather the best and most meaningful books aligned with the school’s mission. Even books that appear to have nothing harmful in them may not make sense to include in the library’s collection if it is unduly attracting students away from the best readings. For example, the cartoon-enhanced book, Ellie McDougal, may be more attractive and less work than Little Women, and the book Captain Underpants may be more enticing than Captains Courageous. But there is no doubt which books are better for our children. When the “harmless” gets in the way of the excellent, it’s not as harmless as first thought.

Efforts should be made to steer youth to lasting and meaningful works that have high quality writing and artistry and ideals of enduring value. There are plenty of other options outside of the school and the school library for trite and frivolous reading.

For the youngest readers, it’s important to be aware of impure archetypes that might mislead or confuse them about real hostile forces, both human and demonic, and young adult selections should avoid novels that center on suicide, death, extreme alienation, sexuality, or modern broken families or which present parents as enemies and obstacles to “freedom.” These should be replaced by books promoting exploration, courage, loyalty, and nobility when students are working through sometimes difficult developmental changes.

Individuals working in the library should accept their responsibility as curators of formative material, taking seriously their task of acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents), and support Catholic parents in their desire for faithful Catholic education. The Catholic school does not intend to censor books out of the public domain, but, within its own private domain and targeted audience, the school must be faithful to its mission of human formation for this life and the next.


Copyright © 2024 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.