“Does a library still need to have books?” goes the half-serious question. I’d say the answer is yes, but that there’s more to it. For one thing, publishing has changed dramatically in recent years. For example, you or I can go online to publish our own 144-page paperback via print-on-demand and have it a week later for $4 per copy plus shipping. It’s only slightly more expensive to make it available through an online bookseller like Amazon. As a result, a huge number of specialty titles are available to theological libraries. End users, of course, may find it more convenient to order these titles directly from booksellers or as e-books, and today’s seminary student also has access to reference volumes and study tools through the Logos Bible Software application and other electronic products.
All of those changes and options can be a bit confusing, which is why it may be helpful to view the role of our seminary library in more general terms. Library science today focuses on access to information and preservation of information. Students and faculty still need information, even though the ways of delivering information are changing. Print books are still part of the picture, but now there are multiple layers of electronic access that libraries must provide. These layers include subscriptions to electronic journals, databases, indexes, and other reference tools, and access to collections that exist in other libraries. Making our own library’s unique resources discoverable and available online is another important part of the exchange of information in today’s world. While a library’s books and print journals are what everyone sees first, much of the work of a library today goes on behind the scenes to make digital information resources accessible. In addition, part of our mission, in cooperation with WELS Archives, is to preserve information resources for future generations.
To prepare for my work as library director, I’ve enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at UW-Milwaukee, one of the leading US public university MLIS programs. The seminary provided me with a full year before the retirement of current Library Director John Hartwig to get a head start on the program, during which time I completed seventy percent of the credits required. It’s been an interesting year, with my family continuing to live in Oshkosh, Wis., where I previously served. I’m taking most of my UW-Milwaukee classes online and I commute to the seminary to become more familiar with the library’s collections and operations.
As for the MLIS program itself, the UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies is flexible in offering program options that students can customize to their interests and professional needs. Many students in the program already work in libraries. Required courses cover the historical principles and values of library science, such as patron privacy and intellectual freedom, and also the theory of information organization and retrieval, such as how materials are cataloged and discovered in both the print and digital worlds. Elective courses that I’ve chosen have focused on digital libraries, instructional technology, reference services, and collection management.
What’s in store for the seminary library? Further development of our essay file and other digital collections is key to providing students, faculty, and other members of our constituency with the resources they need. Student workers will continue to pursue digitization projects that make key print resources available online. Purchase-on-demand programs, which add print and electronic resources to the library based on user requests, may be worth exploring. We will continue to evaluate the costs and benefits of joining a consortium of private college libraries in the Milwaukee area. Inside the library, students have expressed an interest in having more collaborative spaces available for small groups. Whatever the future holds, our mission, “preach the gospel,” involves students having access to information resources that help them both comprehend the gospel for themselves and apply the gospel to our world.
Professor Nathan Ericson began his work as library director in summer 2020.
This article first appeared the 2020 issue of Preach the Gospel.