An article about the “holy ordinary” of the library?
Impossible! Today’s seminary library is nothing less than extraordinary. You might think not much changes in the library world over time, but you are wrong about that. Long gone are the days of “Shh!” and “No food allowed.” Today’s seminary library is a gathering place—a gathering place with a purpose.
The first thing you notice, it’s no longer just a big room filled with row upon row of stacks. The main floor has been reconfigured. There are comfortable areas with couches and upholstered seating. Pull-up tables let you sit at a couch and work on a laptop in comfort. It’s like your den. But there are no afghans and throw pillows – we discourage napping (actually, napping is okay – we do discourage snoring, however). There are still individual carrels tucked into out-of-the-way places for those who want to study without distractions. And there are plenty of large tables where students can sit and spread out all their study materials or work on group projects together.
Students are not the only ones using the library. Professors meet here with students for advisor/advisee meetings, reviewing sermons, or maybe consulting with seniors on their theses. As the seminary faculty has skewed younger over the years, many professors have grade school children living at home. Home offices get configured for other uses and some professors are able to get more work done away from home. Our classroom building lacks space for faculty offices, so some have staked a claim to prime library real estate. We welcome that! And you always know where you’ll find Prof. Treptow.
The library isn’t just for the books and journals on the shelves. First-year students preach in class and lead worship in congregations. Second-year students need to preach their class sermons in congregations and bring a recording of the sermon back to class for evaluation. Where will they get an alb to wear and the camera for recording the sermon? Check them out from the library. We have a dozen albs in all sizes and video cameras with tripods. Need a projector for an off-campus presentation? Check one out from the library. The same goes for a laptop if yours is in for repair, presentation pointers, voice recorders, microphones, headphones, projector screens, video cameras. Check them all out from the library. The library is also the place to find good bargains on used books. There are always a couple of carts of used books for sale—books we have received as donations that are not needed for the collection, or books we are weeding out of the collection.
The seminary library is blessed with a very rich collection, especially considering our size. We have over 50,000 circulating items and another 2,000 items in our reference section that never leave the library. That’s an important distinction. Think of Bible commentaries, for example. When a class on the second half of the book of Romans is offered during Winterim or Summer Quarter, it’s more than likely that all the Romans commentaries in the circulating stacks will be checked out. But there will still be Romans commentaries in the non-circulating reference section available for use in the library.
We maintain subscriptions to over fifty periodicals—mostly academic journals, but also more popular publications from other denominations—so our patrons can stay abreast of the latest research and news from the theological world. A deep collection of runs from over 400 periodicals allows our patrons to have the historical record of many groups at hand. The collection of rare books gives access to the original writings of the age of Lutheran orthodoxy—theologians such as Gerhardt, Luther, Calov, Chemnitz, Hunnius, and Baier, for example, from the 16th-18th century. The oldest book in our collection is a commentary by Nicholas von Lyra, written in 1487.
There’s a lot in the library, yet the number of items is finite. Still our patrons have access to millions of scholarly articles through on-line databases. And our connection to the global library world allows us to access the circulating collections of most libraries in the United States through Inter-Library Loan (ILL). Seniors are the most prolific ILL users. Since 2012 a senior thesis has been a requirement for graduation. Each senior researches a topic of his own choosing and presents his results in a thesis. The library helps students obtain hundreds of items annually through ILL that are not available in our collection or on-line.
Behind the scenes, you might think the library is just an ordinary place, but we find the extraordinary there too. The amazing resources and programs of the library are managed by a surprisingly few number of people—Prof. Hartwig, Mrs. Dorcas Tackmier, Mrs. Brenda Tiefel, and an ever-changing stream of student library assistants. Mrs. Tackmier works full time, mostly at the circulation desk. She handles phone requests, helps students find items in the library, fills ILL requests, and recently jumped into cataloging with eagerness. Mrs. Tiefel manages the current periodicals and shelves the books, making sure they are in the right place. After all, if a book is misplaced on a shelf, it is lost.
Students vie for the coveted library assistant positions. They are the ones who keep the library open in the evenings and on weekends. Behind the scenes the students do mundane but important tasks like putting new essays into the essay file, digitizing documents (they are currently working on making the Gemeindeblatt available to the public online), scanning materials for professors, recording essays for the online essay file, and whatever tasks come up on a daily basis. They also often select materials to send out to pastors who have asked the library to help them with resources for their assigned conference papers. There is always something new.
Next time you are on campus, be sure to stop in the library. We will personally show you around the place where extraordinary things happen every day.
Prof. John Hartwig serves as the seminary’s library director and teaches homiletics.