Sunday, June 17, 2007

ATLA Day 4 -- Muslim Pastoral Training

Friday morning's plenary address was delivered by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the Director of Islamic Chaplaincy and a professor at the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, CT. Her address focused on issues of spiritual formation and preparation for ministry for Muslims, particularly in the United States. While at first glance this may not seem to be directly related to Christian theological librarianship, it was still an appropriate address for our group of theological librarians. As theological librarians, we often spend a good percentage of our time on faculty committees and are directly involved in the teaching mission of our schools. As someone who has spent a good part of my life assisting seminary students with research and contributing to their spiritual formation, albeit usually in indirect ways, I was interested, and troubled, by what Ingrid had to say.

Ingrid shared with us some of Hartford Seminary's journey to develop the only accredited program for the preparation of Muslim chaplains in North America. Hartford has had a historic role of preparing missionaries to work with Muslims in the Middle East. There has been a recent vision at Hartford to develop an interfaith program that invites Muslims to teach and to be actively involved in dialogue with the Christian community. At the same time, Hartford worked to reinvent their model for seminary training, dropping their M.Div. program altogether. Their vision was for training Christian leaders in practical ministry, especially in the exercise of religious leadership in non-traditional settings. Where faith communities were raising up leaders, whether lay or ordained, Hartford wanted to have a role in training them to do their ministry better.

When it came to the Muslim community, Hartford found their immediate candidates for seminary training working in correctional institutions. Muslim prison ministers were largely unrecognized in any official way, often suffering from a triple stigma in the correctional system: They usually have no degree or title, they are Muslim, and they are usually Black. A forth stigma was added for those who are female.

Ingrid shared that to develop a program for these Muslim chaplains, they had to build the field as they went. There is not a formalized seminary tradition in Islam. Most support and counseling in Islamic society usually takes place in the context of family. The practice of pastoral care is taught by mentoring with a strong oral tradition passed directly from imam to apprentice. Nor is there a large body of written literature to answer questions like, "Why am I sick? Why am I in pain?" In forming the Muslim chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, Ingrid indicated that she and her colleagues were working to regularize and institutionalize this variable and loosely defined oral curriculum.

Ingrid emphasized that Hartford was not creating a program to train imams. In light of the seminary's decision to drop their M.Div. program, it did not make sense to then establish a formalized degree and credentialing program for Muslims. Nor would their program be likely to be recognized by the Islamic community, especially since they are admitting women.

It was at this point that I had concerns over some of what Ingrid was sharing. Hartford's decision to abandon M.Div. training altogether troubles me. I know that many of our institutions are wrestling with declining enrollment and are raising similar questions to those asked at Hartford as how to best train Christian leaders in the 21st century. But I remain committed to the principle of seminary education and feel that it has something significant to contribute to the church of the 21st century. Rather than abandon the M.Div., I would still look for ways to make it effective in spiritual formation and pastoral training. (Something that I think we do well at Northern Seminary, if I can be allowed an immodest comment.)

Also, where there has been such a well-established tradition for training for functional leadership in Islam, I wonder at Hartford's decision to some extent place themselves outside that tradition. Within Protestant Christian seminaries, we know too well the delicacies of marketing ourselves to the kinds of students who will do well at our seminaries. In a time of political and theological polarization in American society, we know that our degrees can be a respected step toward credentials in some churches while at the same time they can be the kiss of death to a pastoral career in other churches, often of the same denominational tradition. While the decision at Hartford to not offer formal imam training to some extent side-steps this dilemma, it still runs the risk of leaving their graduates standing in a suspect place to traditional Islam. As they work to formalize and standardize what has naturally been happening in the Islamic community, will they also end up separating themselves from the vitality of that community?

One final note from Ingrid's presentation deserves to be emphasized as it touches on librarians everywhere and especially on theological librarians: A U.S. Senate task force has investigated what they believe to be an increasing radicalization of Islamic teaching in U.S. prisons. Ingrid shared with us that she has been given the difficult task by that taskforce of developing a "safe" bibliography of Islamic books that can be kept in U.S. prisons that will neither be extremist nor be capable of being used to justify extremist actions. In an era where some are arguing that all religious convictions are at the root of global strife, this was a troubling note. What percentage of our library collections offer "safe" teachings on Christianity that are neither extremist nor can be used to justify extremist actions? (Is "whoever loses his life for me will save it" a safe teaching?) What responsibility do we as theological librarians have to defend the access of others to the resources of their tradition, even faith traditions that are not our own?

Ingrid also recommended that people interested in learning more about the particular struggles of American Muslim leaders should read the Pulitzer Prize winning articles from the New York Times written by Andrea Elliott.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

ATLA Day 3 -- A Librarian's Calling

The Thursday morning plenary address was delivered by Joey Rodger, a long time Quaker who has been a director of both the Public Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council, and who has recently retired from the position of Executive Director of the Pendle Hill Peace Center in Wallingford Pennsylvania.

Joey's address was titled Keeping the Word: Reflections on Sacred and Secular Aspects of Librarianship. In her speech, she reflected on the experience of being called to a vocation of librarianship. "Calling" was defined as parallel to "invitation", and great invitations in our lives are manifest in a stream of small, daily invitations. Joey reminded us that when you do something that you are not called to, you usually get in the way of someone who is. Our sense of calling should come from an understanding of our gifts and dispositions -- there is a "sweet spot" where the world's needs intersect our gifts and calling. Joey twice emphasized that people are sacred, texts are not. Or if there is a sacredness in a text like the Bible, it is latent until a person reads it and is injected with that sacredness. Librarians work to join peoples' hearts and minds with the texts that they need. Joey quoted George Fox, "Walk cheerfully over the face of the earth answering that of God in every man."

She left the audience with several questions:

  • What was your most whole-hearted hope when you began your work as a librarian? Is that hope still alive?
  • How do you feel about the people you serve? That includes authors as well as patrons, staff, and administrators.
  • Do you love them enough to serve them?
  • What are you listening for? Where are you being led?
I was moved by Joey's words. A sense of vocation is important to my work as a theological librarian, and I thought she did a good job of fleshing out how that call is experienced by many librarians. I particularly liked her use of "skillful" as a criteria for how good or valuable something is. I have long loved the poem, The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by W.B. Yeats which talks about the "wrong of unshapely things". Part of my calling as a librarian is to do what I can to address the unshapely or unskillful things that I find around me.

At its best, librarianship is an anti-entropic endeavor that seeks to bring order out of chaos. Like washing dishes or dusting the house, it is an endeavor that must often be renewed as things do not stay in order unless we expend energy to keep them that way. I have found this struggle for order to be a rewarding part of being a theological librarian.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ATLA Day 2 -- Learning to Love RDA

This morning's preconference workshop was Changes in RDA, presented by Judy Knop from ATLA. The following is a summary of what was presented. You can read my complete notes here.

While RDA (Resource Description and Access) was supposed to be completed by now, the development process has been slowed down with a goal of completing the new cataloging rules sometime in 2009.

In her presentation, Judy emphasized that the Joint Steering Committee has four objectives for RDA:

  • Responsiveness to user needs
  • Cost efficiency
  • Flexibility
  • Continuity with existing cataloging practices
During the presentation, I was interested to note, however, how many times cost efficiency is winning out over the other considerations.

Consider a title page like:


RDA requires one to transcribe this title as: 245 $a Christ rucified. There is only one "C" so it only gets transcribed once. In our discussion it was pointed out that, while less likely, it would also be correct under RDA to transcribe the title as: 245 $a hrist Crucified, or, 245 $a Crucified hrist.

This kind of literal presentation of title page text is an example of how RDA is paving the way for automated transcription of bibliographic data by scanning processes. But it seems unlikely to me that any automated scanning process could actually convert the above title into any one of the three examples above. A human cataloger, however, is required to perform this transcription process in a literal-minded way that a machine would be incapable of duplicating.

RDA is also designed to bridge cataloging practices from the text-based to the non-text-based world. Thus the introduction of bibliographic elements such as media type and carrier type to allow for the cataloging of materials in a wide variety of formats. A corollary of this new emphasis on variety is that text-based monographic materials are no longer assumed to be the default. So now the term "unmediated" is going to be introduced as cataloger-speak for books and other print materials. "245 $a Gone with the wind $h [unmediated]" will be the correct way to differentiate Gone With the Wind, the book, from Gone With the Wind, the film [projected], or Gone With the Wind the DVD [video]. In a similar way, carrier types will allow differentiation between such types as audiocassette, online resource, microfiche, videodisc, and -- the new default for monographs -- volume. A 300 field for a typical book will look like:

300 $a 1 $f volume (24 pages, 12 pages of plates) : $b coloured illustrations ; $c 21 cm

The great debate over how to handle uniform titles for Bible books has been resolved: "O.T." and "N.T." are being dropped altogether in favor of directly subdividing by Bible book: Bible. Genesis; Bible. John. Where one is working with the entire old or new testament, it will always be spelled out in full: Bible. Old Testament; Bible. New Testament. And Jewish catalogers have decided not to fight for any distinction between the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. Jewish and Christian canons will be different, but both will use the simple term "Bible" subdivided by Bible book.

We are still at least two years away from the completion of RDA. How soon it will be implemented will depend on how soon ILS vendors are willing/able to accommodate its changes. Judy commented that she was not aware of any ILS vendors who are currently participating signficantly in the development of RDA. Learning to love RDA is going to be a process, and for many of us, it may be a very long process indeed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ATLA Day 1 -- Discussion With Tom Yee

My next several posts are all going to be coming from the American Theological Library Association's annual conference in Philadelphia. As a member of the Education Committee, I arrived in Philadelphia a day before the pre-conference workshops in order to participate in the final planning meeting before the conference starts. This evening I was also able to participate in a Technical Services Interest Group discussion with Tom Yee from Library of Congress. What follows is a summary of some of the items that we discussed with Tom. You can read my complete notes on the discussion here.

It is possible to view the overall tone of our discussion as depressing. MFC continues to be the prevalent pressure at LC: More, Faster, Cheaper. Retirements and early retirements (buyouts) have severely depleted the ranks of experienced catalogers -- much of the LC institutional memory has already been lost. The Cataloging and Acquisitions Department has lost over 50% of the total staff and cannot do any rehiring. At this point, over 50% of the call numbers and subject headings in LC records is coming from SACO participants.

LC is anticipating a significant restructuring in October 2007 or October 2008. Over 600 jobs will be affected as efforts are made to combine acquisitions and cataloging functions. Tom mentioned that one of the most hotly debated areas of the reorganization is who will end up with offices with windows.

On the positive side, though, Tom noted the continuing strong support of library organizations like ATLA for high standards of cataloging.

We also discussed trends in the future: The question was raised whether LC is going to abandon MARC 21 in favor of XML cataloging. LC is experimenting with XML, but it cannot make a large change like this until it is supported by ILS vendors. It is a bit of a chicken/egg scenario: Vendors are waiting to develop XML systems until they see more clear-cut rules for metadata/XML schemas; Librarians are waiting to develop more clear-cut rules until they see more evidence that they will be supported by ILS vendors.

Marketing and business models continue to set the agenda for changes at LC. In response to the question, "What can ATLA do to help improve the quality of religion cataloging?" Tom had several suggestions:

--Increase participation in funnel programs (NACO, SACO, etc.)
--Continue to create good local catalog records; they help everyone.
--Continue to raise consciousness about the importance of cataloging to the retrievability of data.