BUILDING A LASTING AND SECURE RESOURCE FOR CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

BY BARBARA A. CHAAPEL

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After more than a decade of study and planning, Princeton Seminary’s new library is becoming a reality. Braving the cold and snow on January’s final day, trustees gathered with President Torrance and faculty and staff for the ceremonial groundbreaking, with the few remaining stones of Speer Library in the background.

Speaking of the vision for the library, Torrance cited the words of Peter and Barnabas in Acts 13:47: “The Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the nations, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’”

Just back on campus after teaching at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo and with Egypt’s streets in the turmoil of political change as he spoke, Torrance recalled a century ago when American missionaries flowed out from Princeton Seminary to Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, and to Korea, China, and Africa. “With our new library, we hope here to build a lasting and secure resource for Christian scholarship, records, and history that will support Christians in the Middle East through the turmoil ahead, and that will help transmit the strength of the burgeoning churches in Asia and Africa to Christians in the global north and west.”

In this global context, Princeton’s new library will indeed be a library in service to the church in the world. Mary Mikhael, president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon, says it will be “a helping hand stretched out for scholars and researchers, especially in seminaries far away from the sources of Christian literature.” She affirms that “Princeton and the resources available in its library are always sought by our students; but also pastors who come to use our library here in Beirut are always looking for something that comes out of Princeton, as a Reformed institution with a great reputation.”

Yet the new library will serve the church in the world in an even more foundational way through the Seminary’s core mission: educating women and men for ministry in the church of Jesus Christ as pastors, chaplains, and teachers. Every student who earns a degree from Princeton Seminary and follows a call to ministry will be enriched, challenged, and given the skills for theological thinking and leadership through their engagement with the texts and treasures of the library. In fact, in a recent Association of Theological Schools survey of graduating seniors, the students attributed the highest degree of satisfaction with their seminary experience to the library.

“I count heavily on the library’s resources to help me think about how to preach yesterday’s Bible to today’s audience,” says middler M.Div. student Krista Forbes. “It’s fascinating to know I can check out books that were published in the early 1900s; we have some real treasures you can’t touch in other libraries.”

Fellow student and M.Div. senior Andrew Hudson agrees. He gained a greater appreciation for the library when he studied at the University of Birmingham in England last summer. “Even though I was at a great school, I used Princeton’s library resources on an almost daily basis. I found many of my primary resources were here and I could access them digitally. We really do have some of the best resources anywhere.”

To date, more than 22,000 titles of out-of-copyright books in Princeton’s library have been digitized as library-quality, searchable images through Internet Archive, which has a scanning center in the library, and they are accessible by anyone anywhere free of charge. These digitized materials will be available on e-book readers, iPads, and stand-alone hard drives for those without reliable Internet access.

Print will not be left behind. Princeton Seminary’s library is one of the major theological libraries in the world, with more than 1,100,000 catalogued items, about 550,000 of which are books. Books, and long and deep runs of journals and microforms, have been collected at Princeton Seminary for nearly 200 years; as a result, the library is recognized by researchers in theology for the rare depth and accessibility of the collection. The new library will be able to hold a million books and a million microforms, according to Stephen Crocco, the Seminary’s James Lenox Librarian.

Princeton’s valued Special Collections (rare books, artifacts, manuscripts, and photographs) will also have a secure home in the new library. Students matriculating on campus as well as scholars the world over will be able to use the Benson Collection of Hymnology, the Abraham Kuyper Collection, the Karl Barth Collection, the T.F. Torrance Collection, or the Moffett Collection of Korean Presbyterianism. For Luis Rivera-Pagán, PTS’s emeritus professor of ecumenics, it is the Latin American Collection that shines. “Since the presidency of John Alexander Mackay, Princeton’s library has been a repository of a splendid diversity of Latin American ecclesiastical and theological materials,” he says. “In this specific academic area, it is unique in the entire community of American theological libraries, an exceptional source for scholarly explorations in the field.”

Stewardship is at the heart of the new library project. The new building will replace Speer’s outworn structure, crowded shelves, and leaking pipes with a light-filled, environmentally sound, technologically state-of-the-art facility that will preserve the collections safely for future generations of students and scholars. Andrew Hudson looks forward to the new space and the teaching and learning it will support. “I welcome the more open space being planned,” he says. “Open space will support us well since most of our study is group-focused.”

At a minimum the new building will be LEED-certified at the silver level (LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system to improve energy savings, environmental quality, and the stewardship of resources).

Stewardship of the library’s treasures. Stewardship of the environment. Yet also and as importantly, stewardship represented by the financial gifts of all who support Princeton Seminary’s mission and want to be part of its global vision. In the long tradition of generosity that has supported the Seminary’s earlier libraries, and its mission to educate the church’s leaders, the Seminary has undertaken a $100,000,000 Bicentennial Campaign, of which 20 percent has been raised to date through the generous gifts of trustees and others.
The new library is due to be commissioned in December 2012, the end of the Seminary’s Bicentennial year. Books will be put on the shelves that month and in January 2013, and the new library will open for use. The full new library complex, including the refitting and fine-tuning of Luce Library, will be dedicated in October 2013.

Students like Andrew Hudson and Krista Forbes will have graduated and begun their ministries by then. But now, as the backhoes continue work on-site and foundations begin to rise this spring, a new community will arise. A community of students, scholars, alumni/ae, pastors, church leaders, donors—around the nation and the world. A community committed to the vision inscribed on the plaque at the doorway to Speer Library when it was dedicated “to the hope that within its walls, the light of learning may illumine the life of piety, in the service of Jesus Christ, the Truth.”