75th Anniversary: The Future of Theological Librarianship/
August 09, 2021
We began this year with the theme, Legacy: Celebrating the Past and Looking to the Future. As an association, we recognize that those active in Atla now only play a small part in the considerable legacy of theological librarianship. So, we spent this year sharing stories from our members and staff in honor of our 75th Anniversary.
Q: We’ve celebrated our 75th anniversary this year. In the next 25 years, leading to our 100th anniversary, what do you hope the future of theological librarianship will be?
Director of Library Services, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
I am catching up on my reading this summer and recently read this thought-provoking article: “Re-Localizing the Library: Considerations for the Anthropocene” by Amy Brunvand (Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, v. 3, no. 1, 2020, https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v3i1.94). Brunvand’s concept of re-localizing the library of the future, by paying attention to our immediate surroundings and adapting our collections and services to our location, makes me think about the uniqueness of theological libraries and the ways our libraries have collected and preserved materials based on their traditions and places of origin. I hope that in the next 25 years, theological libraries can continue to reflect their local character and be more than just gatekeepers to an infrastructure of licensed, closed-access content. I also hope that we can share this uniqueness with each other so that we can be enriched by our diversity.
Director of Lineberger Library, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
I see a lot more engagement with online resources and taking theological resources more online than they have been. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very, very bookish librarian. I love books – my personal collection is very big. But I also feel we need to be able to reach more people. We can reach people all over the world by digitizing more resources. I’m looking forward to seeing institutions engage with institutional repositories and online archives so that we can see the unique things that each institution has to offer. But making things available online that previously have only been in print, I think, is an exciting opportunity for people all over the world. Because a lot of people are pursuing theological education online. I also look forward to seeing what some of these things look like when more Gen X-ers and Millennials become the library directors at Atla institutions. I’m excited to see what they have to bring to theological libraries.
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I’m looking forward to seeing institutions engage with institutional repositories and online archives so that we can see the unique things that each institution has to offer.
Head of Continuing Resources and Acquisitions, University of Mississippi
In the next 25 years, I think we will see increased globalization of the profession, with more international collaboration and even stronger leadership from outside of North America. I believe the improvement in scanning technologies will further encourage more digitization of unique collections and more specialized research methods for exploring those collections. Research will become a more democratic and collaborative project. As the Christian denominations Atla has historically supported change their approaches to pastoral training, I believe the models of theological education will change with new programs and a stronger focus on global interfaith ministry, and theological libraries will adapt to support those new models. Many Atla members are already experimenting and embracing these trends.
Director of Pitts Theology Library, Emory University
In the next 25 years, librarians will witness more change than in the first 75 years of Atla. I hope theological librarians approach this change not as a threat but as an opportunity, as the chance to work together to promote access to quality theological resources, to teach critical information literacy in an age of misinformation, and to preserve the growing output of theological and religious studies research. For me, the greatest opportunity is to expand our notion of the “patron,” to take our expertise beyond institutional walls, and to invite more people to learn from our resources, bibliographic and human!
Former Library Director, Singapore Bible College
The pandemic has played a great role in pushing the whole of library services and study to digital librarianship. I think it’s very helpful for the future direction and development of library services. Especially for the underground seminary libraries in China. A few days ago, I visited some students from China; they mentioned to me that in China, they need not only qualified faculty members who are currently trained at seminaries in the States or in the UK, they also need a lot of resources, because there’s information inequality. They cannot have access to the same theological resources as their counterparts in the official theological seminaries in China. So I think in the future, digital scholarship, scholarly communication, and digital religion will be a mega-trend. It will be a very important task for theological librarians at Atla to collaborate.
Did you know that schools and libraries in eligible developing countries can receive a subscription sponsorship to our full-text collections of religion and theology journals?Read
When I went back to assume my position as the Library Director at Singapore Bible College, the DMin students and some local scholars would come to the library and ask for journals or a book chapter that they could not find in Singapore. I remembered Atla offered a program for bigger theological libraries in the States to buy a copy of AtlaSerials® (Atlas®) to send to smaller libraries in developing countries. I asked Princeton Theological Seminary whether the library would be willing to sponsor Singapore Bible College. They were very generous and agreed, so Singapore Bible College Library ended up becoming the first library in Singapore to have the full-text database of Atlas. Even scholars and theological students from Malaysia would come to ask for the resources. I think collaboration in developing and sharing resources is very important for the future.
So I think in the future, digital scholarship, scholarly communication, and digital religion will be a mega-trend.
Director of Library, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
I hope that the future of theological librarianship continues three features that theological librarians do well now. First, we curate collections that fit the needs of particular sets of students and faculty. Second, we provide timely assistance to our users to help them flourish academically. Finally, we leverage expertise to help our schools in ways that are not, narrowly speaking, librarianship. I am thinking of the good work done by librarians who manage learning management systems, participate in spiritual formation groups with students, or work with the evaluation of seminary programs. This is all good stuff! I also hope that the future has three new elements. First, I would like to see increased diversity and full inclusion of people who do not come from the dominant North American culture. Demographers know that in the future, North America will be “less white” than it used to be. Librarianship needs to become a good career for all sorts of people. Second, I hope that theological librarians can create livelier collaborative relationships with professors than we often do. Librarians should not be special guests for a course; they can be co-teachers. Finally, I hope that we become more articulate advocates for the role that our collections and expertise play to further the missions of our schools. To put it in investment language, there is a great return on investment for having a library staff and collection. I hope that we get better at telling that story.
Public Services Assistant, University of California, Los Angeles
From the trends that I notice, librarianship, especially academic librarianship, will continue its collaborative role in the institution. I feel like those co-curricular roles and librarians working with faculty to figure out how best to service the journey of the learner or the researcher will become more prominent in the years to come. It is my hope that in 25 years, theological librarianship is catching up with the unfolding traditions and schools of practice in the digital humanities. I think there’s so much there and I’ve been so appreciative of the research guide that Atla has put out on digital research and digital humanities and theological studies. There’s so much need for that and there are so many interesting projects that could be explored there. In general, I see in the future a larger engagement with and support for digital research and using those digital tools that are more common in the digital humanities.
View our LibGuide on Digital Humanities by the Scholarly Communication & Digital Initiatives Committee.Read
I think there’s so much there and I’ve been so appreciative of the research guide that Atla has put out on digital research and digital humanities and theological studies.
Head Librarian, Virginia Theological Seminary
I hope that education, encounter, and engagement will be the hallmarks for theological librarianship of the future. The library will need to be both a physical place and a virtual space for engaging our students. Theological librarians will educate and equip our users to assess and apply research resources for a new generation and new ministries. We’re facing new challenges of equity of access to collections and services for various student modalities. I hope that librarians will partner more deeply with teaching faculty, the writing center, instructional technologists, and the computer center to provide students with a coherent and cohesive educational experience.
Theological collection curation will be customized to the context, curriculum, and constituency of each institution, supplemented by collaborative resource sharing across Atla. Collection development will balance ownership and access, maximizing reciprocity and resource sharing. I hope that we’ll foster global awareness and ensure theological and cultural diversity in the resources we provide and the ecosystems we nurture in our institutions. Special collections and archives will document the distinctive attributes of each institution’s mission.
Our future will hopefully be collaborative and cooperative with creativity and flexibility – we will need to function more strategically. Effectiveness in theological librarianship will require thoughtful and systematic evaluation and assessment. The future will probably bring new possibilities with artificial intelligence that we can’t yet parse. Yet, as theological librarians and educators, I hope we’ll continue to do what we do best: resource our institutions to celebrate our heritage and confront the hard truths of the past, educate our students to be informed practitioners, and provision the sustainability of scholarship for the theological education of tomorrow.
Are you looking for more thoughts on the future of theological librarianship? We recommend reading our open access publications, Shifting Stacks: A Look at the Future of Theological Libraries in Celebration of Atla’s 75th Anniversary and Preserving the Past & Engaging the Future: Theology & Religion in American Special Collections.
If you attended Atla Annual 2021 Online, we recommend viewing these sessions On Demand or wait for the Summary of Proceedings later this year:
- Well Done is Better than Well Said: Benjamin Franklin as a DEIA Model for Higher Education by Alexia Hudson-Ward
- Curating and Resourcing for Change in a Post-Pandemic World by Dr. Elías Ortega
- A Collaborative Future within Atla: How Theological Libraries Must Work Together in the Digital Age by Bo Adams
And if you want to rewind to the first fifty years of Atla, we recommend reading the open access edition of The American Theological Library Association: Essays in Celebration of the First Fifty Years, edited by M. Patrick Graham.
We’d love to hear your thoughts! What is the future of theological librarianship? Tweet at us or email. We may feature your response in our annual report.
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