Friday, September 21, 2007

The Calling, Part 1

When I began this blog, I posted The Calling, Part 2 which was about the second thing that had attracted me to a career in theological librarianship. In this post, I want to write about the first thing that attracted me: The service that I can offer to students who are preparing for a vocation of Christian ministry.

As caretakers of theological collections, we gain a kinesthetic appreciation for the collocation of theological knowledge. By this, I mean that we gain an instinctive understanding of how the materials in our collections are actually used in the process of conducting research. The circulation librarian who manages course reserves year in and year out gains a good understanding of the scope of the curriculum even if he or she never attends a faculty meeting. The acquisitions librarian who sees a trend over the years from ordering a lot of church management materials to ordering more materials on spirituality and worship renewal knows something about the forces shaping course content. We walk students to sections in our reference collections where language tools or denominational dictionaries or Bible encyclopedias or New Testament bibliographies can be found, often without even thinking about the call numbers for these materials.

The end result is an ability to assist students in ways that can't be mimicked by keyword searching in a database. One of the best examples of this is the time-honored reference interview. Whether conducted in person, over the phone, or via a chat session, it is one of the ways that we bring our knowledge of our collections to bear on the questions being raised by the researcher. There is a give and take--an information exchange--between researcher and librarian that clarifies the question being asked in the process of identifying resources that can answer it. I have found that helping students to ask better questions can in itself be a rewarding profession.

In a theological setting, this can require students to lower a few barriers. Theological education often is a delicate process of getting seminarians to open their minds to a breadth and depth of theological reflection greater than that of just their home denominational backgrounds. (Here my Protestant bias shows; I wonder if this dynamic is different in Catholic or Orthodox seminaries?) As a librarian, when I participate in this process, I bring to it that kinesthetic knowledge of available resources that results from having devoted a lot of time to collecting and organizing them. I'm enthusiastic about the resources that my library has to offer in response to a research question, and sometimes that enthusiasm rubs off.

And then there are the times when we get to participate in something more formal than a reference interview. At Northern Seminary, my chance to engage in information literacy training comes as part of our Formation for Christian Ministry course, usually taken by students as one of their first classes at seminary. I have one class session to make the case to our new students that doing research well should be formational to their future careers as ministers regardless of whether or not they are planning to pursue ordination. Seminary training is not about learning all the correct answers; it is about learning to ask better questions, for oneself and for those who will bring their own questions in the future. As a theological librarian, I treasure the role that I have in assisting students with forming better questions, and then opening their eyes to the vast wisdom that is available to help them answer those questions.

1 comment:

Elizabeth M. said...

You posted this a long time ago, but I feel relieved and happy to have found it. I'm considering whether my own vocational call is toward theological librarianship. Thank you for sharing both Parts 2 and 1 of your call, as each resonates with me.

I'll be meditating on this as I keep discerning. Thanks for providing some on-the-ground experiences and their religious and spiritual meanings for you.