Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Theological Librarianship Within the Context of a Ministry

Andrew J. Keck, "Information or Divine Access: Theological Librarianship Within the Context of a Ministry," in The American Theological Library Association: Essays in Celebration of the First Fifty Years, ed. M. Patrick Graham, Valerie R. Hotchkiss, and Kathleen E. Rowe. (Evanston, ILL. : ATLA, 1996), 172-182.

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13, NRSV). Keck states, "From the beginnings of the church, the books and the people entrusted with them have a special role. Today theological librarians are unique providers of religious and theological information access to schools that have as their purpose the training and educating of people for the ministry" (172). Keck in this article summarizes his findings from a survey he mailed to 371 American members of the American Theological Library Association. His paper is an attempt to answer the question, "How do theological librarians perceive themselves as being involved in the ministry" (172)? He asserts that the theological librarian's "perception of ministry comes directly from his/her view of the nature and meaning of theological librarianship and how it relates to the nature and meaning of ministry" (172). According to the results, a majority of theological librarians saw themselves as doing a ministry. "On the other hand, a sizable minority viewed theological librarianship simply as an occupation (172) that occurs in a theological environment. The survey can be framed broadly as five basic questions. These questions related to five areas: its relation to theological education, relation with others, working with religious materials, calling and vocation, and its relationship to ministry in the church.

One of the questions the survey asked whether theological education should be mainly academic or mainly professional. The majority thought it should be a mixture. "Relatively few librarians advocated an exclusive focus academic education. Many saw theological education as a ministry and  "as the librarian enhances and adds to that education, he or she participates in that ministry" (173). Some believed theological librarianship was a ministry because it helped men and women to prepare for the ministry. Many saw their work as "parallel" to theology professors. Many saw the library as a "central teaching agency of the seminary rather than a mere warehouse for book storage" (174). Others saw the library had a role in the training of ministers. Many librarians found personal fulfillment "through their interactions that promoted the professional development of students" (174). Many of the librarians identified with the mission of their school and believed they were participating in the ministry through this identification.

The theological librarians saw their personal relations with the students as a ministry. A question was their work pastoral. Some agreed with this idea and it made others uncomfortable. Some saw the librarian as an important influence in the student's life. One stated, "Many graduate theological students have come to feel that the library is one of the most important partners in the persistent pursuit of knowledge" (176).

A third area of discussion was working with religious or theological materials. One of the questions asked, "How much does the religious or theological nature of the information you work with impact on how you view your involvement in ministry (176)?" This question seemed to confuse some of the participants. There were two affirmative type of answers that were given: "(1) that the religious information was only significant when received by a seeking patron and (2) that the religious information was significant" (176).  One participant wrote that he uses the theological literature "to minister to patron spiritual needs" (176-77). Some saw the librarian as a "spiritual director," using theological resources to meet spiritual needs. Another librarian wrote, "By providing books I in a sense provide communion of the saints between students/faculty and the Christians from diverse times/places" (177). One is reminded of how monks preserved manuscripts by copying them and preserving them for later generations. The monks were the first Christian librarians. Kleck writes, "Theological librarianship is an ancient vocation within the Christian community as Christians have long theorized that they can learn much from their brothers and sisters in Christ past and present. The theological librarian is and has been the intermediary in this conversation and thus has a unique ministry in the body of Christ" (177). The theological librarian today through collection development and cataloging creates the resources needed by present and future patrons. Others said that working with religious materials impacted their own spiritual life.

"Theological librarianship as a vocation" was another topic of concern. Many wrote about how their role as a theological librarian matched their gifts and talents. One librarian wrote, "This job is where my gifts, interests, needs converge as an opportunity for community and service" (178). Many thought their role as theological libarians was "a way of expressing their own call to ministry" (178). Others thought that theological librarianship was just a "professional career choice and not a calling" (178). Some thought their were multiple occupations which was equally fitting.

The last topic discussed was the relationship between the theological librarian and the church. Some churches ordain theological librarians into the ministry. Theological librarianship is seen as a ministry. Keck states that the theological librarian and the church "are also related through the service the theological library provides" (179). The theological librarian not only provides theological information but he is "an interpreter and promoter of that information" (179).

Are theological librarians ministers? Is theological librarianship a ministry? Many theological librarians see their work as a ministry for multiple reasons. Keck thinks "A librarian's view of theological education, personal relationships, religious materials, vocation, and ministry are all factors in how theological librarianship is understood as a ministry" (180). Raymond Morris thinks theological librarianship is a ministry. Morris writes, "I feel that anyone working in the library of a theological institution, other things being equal, will do better work and will be happier and more content in doing it if he feels a sense of commitment to the overall cause and purpose of the institution he serves" (180). As we have seen, some theological librarians see it as a job, not a ministry. What about "those who receive their services (180)?" Maybe these patrons see it as a ministry. Keck states, "When theological librarians perceive themselves as being in ministry, there is a theological and spiritual focus to their work that adds to their satisfaction and contentment in that they are engaged in both the ministry of their institution and the ministry of service possible through theological librarianship" (180-81).

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