Although averse to having electronic devices in their homes or businesses, the Amish do use their local libraries to send and receive e-mails, place online orders, use fax services, and check their business websites. They tend to be proficient in using library online public access catalogs, in placing holds for materials, and in checking their own library accounts. And they love to borrow books.
A recent journal article shows that the Amish—eager patrons of local public libraries and library bookmobiles—have reading tastes that are comparable to many other rural Americans. The librarian in Holmes County, Ohio, who handles bookmobiles and branch library services reports that the Amish in her county are responsible for about half of the annual circulation of materials.
Amish children in that county may avoid books that are too scary—such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are—but otherwise they borrow books like many other American children. A librarian from LaGrange County, Indiana, reported to the author that her Amish patrons borrow familiar children’s works such as Curious George, Cowboy Sam, the Berenstain Bears, and so on.
Amish youth may also sometimes borrow multimedia materials such as CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs. A staff member at a library in Geagua County, Ohio, speculated that movies borrowed by the Amish from her library may be viewed by teenage males who have not yet joined the church, so they are not yet restricted in the technologies they can use. While the Amish won’t borrow materials with violence or rough language, they do borrow works that are based on television spinoffs.
Amish young people may borrow classics and works from various children’s series such as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the American Girls series. They are also fond of books on horses. Borrowing by Amish children is typically monitored by the bishop of the local church district and by the teachers in the Amish schools where the bookmobiles stop. In LaGrange County, girls are not allowed to read romance novels and boys aren’t allowed to borrow westerns that feature gun violence. Library staff members report that older Amish men will often reread the novels they read as younger teenagers.
The author concludes from her investigation that Amish adults as well as children are fans of libraries, though they tend to have more time for library materials in the winter when farm work lessens. Adults in all locations prefer Christian fiction, but they also borrow books on history, September 11th, Islam, and other nonfiction subjects.
The librarians and library staff members are careful when they choose materials for the branches and the bookmobiles that serve the Amish communities to select works that reflect the tastes of their clientele. Bookmobile staff admit that they enjoy making stops in December since the Amish will frequently provide generous gifts of food and baked goods as Christmas presents.
A staff member in the library system for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, said that their library does not normally charge their patrons, such as the Amish, fines for overdue books in the belief that it is most important that people continue to enjoy reading. She indicated that once one of her Amish patrons reported a book couldn’t be returned because a horse ate it. Perhaps it too had an appetite for Christian fiction.
The Lancaster County library staffer observed that the Amish students positively buzz with excitement when they climb aboard the bookmobile at their schools. “When the Amish children are on, it can be packed like a sardine tin and there’s this excited chatter about the enjoyment of books. It’s a sound I love” (p.50). The Pennsylvania staff member explained that the library system is always willing to negotiate with the Amish about the locations of their stops and the nature of their services. “They are always courteous in their requests and often express gratitude for the bookmobile service,” she explained (p.51).
The anecdotes and stories of this article convey an impression of the Amish in four different rural counties who use their libraries to find entertainment, information, and useful services—just as other rural residents do. Other than avoiding nudity, sexuality, and edgy themes and sticking to fiction and non-fiction that does not threaten their conservative Christian beliefs, they approach their libraries with the same diversity of interests as other Americans.
St. Clair, Monica. 2005. “Recent Findings on Library Usage Among the Amish.” Rural Libraries 25(1): 43-55