Saints and Librarians

Today’s pop quiz: Who is the patron saint of librarians?

Answer:  St. Jerome.  And his feast day is this Wednesday, September 30th.

St. Jerome in the stained glass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco
St. Jerome in the stained glass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

Who was he? Jerome was born around 347 and died in 420. He was a priest, a noted scholar, historian, and translator. He wrote an important Latin translation of the bible (the “Vulgate”) and many bible commentaries. Here at Gleeson Library, we have many books by and about Jerome and the world he lived in. Other librarians have also written about Jerome. A retired librarian here at Gleeson wrote a series of letters about Jerome that we have added to our library’s collection. There’s even a good Wikipedia article about him.

Saint Jerome Extracting a Thorn from a Lion's Paw, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.
Saint Jerome Extracting a Thorn from a Lion’s Paw, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

There is a legend about Jerome: once a lion entered his monastery and most of the monks fled in terror. Jerome stayed and realized the lion had a thorn stuck in his paw. Jerome removed the thorn and the lion stayed with him gratefully for many years. Because of this legend, in art Jerome is often shown with a lion sitting at his feet. Personally I love this story as a librarian because it reminds me that often people come to librarians with a need but they can’t articulate exactly what they want and librarians help them figure out what they need. And hopefully they don’t roar at us while we help them.

So why does St. Jerome matter today? When the Church made Jerome a patron saint for libraries, it was saying that information and libraries are important. Libraries are a way to transmit knowledge from generation to generation and to help people discover new ways of thinking. We live in an age now where large corporations are gathering information all the time. We all use Google, Apple, Facebook, but keep in mind they are private businesses. Their goal is to make a profit. Libraries and librarians view information differently, not as something to get profits from but instead something that all of us can use to change the world from here.

So as you think about St. Jerome, think about the roles of libraries in our information age. The American Library Association has created a list of core values for librarians, including things like access, privacy, diversity, social responsibility, and the public good. As librarians, we see these values as important when we think about information and knowledge. Libraries are not trying to get you to buy something, think a certain way, or vote for someone, we are trying to inform you, educate you, and help you make choices in your lives. In his lifetime, Jerome often waged intellectual battles with people he disagreed with, but his love of scholarship and belief that we can all appreciate truth makes him a good patron saint for librarians.

Enjoy St. Jerome’s Day!

One thought on “Saints and Librarians”

  1. Love this post. St. Jerome’s contribution to the early development of manuscripts (hand written codices) is very significant as well. I’ve been studying medieval manuscripts, specifically paleography (the study of the scripts and writing systems), and St. Jerome is supposed to have blasted Uncial script by saying, “There are people who want old books, either in purple-coloured parchment with gold and silver letters, either in uncial, as it is vulgarly said; which are more burden than codices.” He may have been irritated with Roman Capital or Rustic Roman instead of Uncial (they are all majuscule scripts, in other words scripts that look like upper case letters), but in any case he was mostly pointing out how much space they waste. (More info here: In any case, he seems to have been a feisty dude and I like to consider librarians feisty as well… in the good, freedom-of-information way 🙂

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