Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Libraries & Good Students

Having just returned from the better part of a week in beautiful Ottawa, Ontario at the annual American Theological Library Association Conference, I find myself re-energized for the daily work of being a theological librarian, serving as a steward for the collected resources of the theological disciplines. I was interested, then, to see the following report in The Chronicle this morning: "More Top Students Answer the Ministry's Call.

According to The Chronicle, from 2000 - 2007, the Lilly Endowment's Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation gave $176.2 million to 88 church-related colleges in order "to help students explore the relationship between faith and work, to encourage talented students to consider entering Christian ministry, and to prepare the faculty and staff members to help students think about work in new ways."

While The Chronicle does not provide statistical evidence of the Program's impact, it does offer anecdotal evidence from two of the institutions who participated. Russell K. Osgood, president of Grinnell College, states, "we have seen an uplift, not a huge increase, but an uplift, both in the quality and in the quantity of students who consider ministry and do it." And Hastings College, in Nebraska reported, "In 2001, the 1,100-student college had only one undergraduate majoring in religion . . . By 2007, that number had climbed to 42. In the same time period, the college saw 12 of its students go into seminaries."

Our own seminary benefits greatly from the charitable work of The Kern Family Foundation whose Kern Scholars Initiative funds the seminary education of students 27 years of age or younger with cumulative GPAs of 3.25 or more. Initiatives like Lilly's Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation and the Kern Scholars Initiative are designed to attract top students to consider full time ministry as their first career choice.

Which brings me back to the role of theological libraries in stewarding the collected resources of the theological disciplines. I am not trying to say that older or second-career students are not excellent scholars or are not interested in a life of learning. But I am saying that if our seminaries want to see programs like the ones mentioned above bear fruit, they need to invest in top faculties and excellent libraries. Organizations like the Lilly Endowment and the Kern Family Foundation believe these goals are worth significant investment; I believe our institutions, which benefit from these investments, should follow suit.

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