Online Research at the Boston Public Library

Are you studying in Massachusetts? Well, I’ve got some good news for you.

Students and residents in Massachusetts can sign up with the Boston Public Library for a library card. Besides allowing borrowing privileges, this card gives access to many of the electronic databases to which the BPL subscribes, including JSTOR, the ATLA Religion Database, PSYCinfo, and the full-text version of Dissertation Abstracts.

A potential patron does not need to be a resident of Boston, and the patron does not even have to be an official Massachusetts resident – they can be a student studying in Massachusetts with declared residency in another state.

Just to make things easier, the BPL also offers an “eCard” for those who do not intend to borrow books, but use the online resources. You do not have to travel to the BPL to obtain one of these cards, you can simply sign up at the library’s web site (see the “Register for a Library Card Online” link in the center column on their home page (

If you have any questions about this service, visit their F.A.Q. page.

It’s great to see our Massachusetts tax dollars at work on something useful!

Gordon-Conwell Christmas: Library Style

thumbnail of mosaicEach year the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary staff have a Christmas door decorating contest. This year, Goddard Library entered with a large, door-sized mosaic of theological book covers depicting Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The images of book covers were gleaned from my own library on LibraryThing.

The images were then compiled into a photo mosaic using the free program, AndreaMosaic.

The original artwork is titled “Prince of Peace (2)” by Hanna-Cheriyan Varghese, an artist in Malaysia (see thumbnail below).

Many thanks to Hanna for permission to use her artwork. I have enjoyed her work for some time, as she envisions the biblical text with a non-Western Christian’s imagination.

Update: The library’s door won third place (as judged by an independent panel of employees), but we won the all-seminary community vote. Because of this we get to pick the cookies of our choice to be baked for the library staff. Yum!

forgive me for not reading

I’m taking a course on theological librarianship through ATLA and University of Illinois Urbana/Champlain. I enjoyed the following snippet from a book on medieval libraries:

On the Monday after the first Sunday in Lent, before brethren come into the Chapter House, the librarian (custos librorum) shall have a carpet laid down, and all the books got together upon it, except those which the year previous had been assigned for reading. These the brethren are to bring with them, when they come into the chapter house, each his book in his hand….

Then the librarian shall read a statement as to the manner in which the brethren have had books during the past year. As each brother hears his name pronounced, he is to give back the book which had been entrusted to him for reading; and he whose conscience accuses him of not having read through the book which he had received, is to fall on his face, confess his fault, and entreat forgiveness.

The librarian shall make a fresh distribution of books, namely a different volume to each brother for his reading.

From Archbishop Lanfranc’s statute for English Benedictines, dated 1070; quoted on page 35 of Clark, J. W. Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods. The Rede Lecture, 1894. Chicago: Argonaut, Inc., 1968. (Google Books)

Imagine the difference such a practice would make in theological education today. While I know that to be competent in biblical studies or theology, one must be familiar with an array of books from multiple disciplines, imagine what it would be like to assign a single book by a master theologian to each individual student, who would then be responsible for reading the book–devouring it. I have so many books on my shelves that I have not yet even tasted, let alone devoured.

Another quote is worth noting. This one is from a letter written by Sidonius Apollinaris to Nymphidius (ca. ad 472):

It is high time for you to send the book back; if you liked it, you must have had enough of it by now; if you dislike it, more than enough. Whichever it be, you have now to clear your reputation. If you mean to delay the return of a volume for which I have to ask you, I shall think that you care more for the parchment than for the work. Farewell.

Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters. Tr. O.M. Dalton (1915) vol. 2. p. 51; Book V (

Part of this quote was printed on the overdue notices put out by the British library at some time or another (see p. 52 in John B. Trotti, “The Theological Library: In Touch With the Witnesses,” in Christian Librarianship: Essays On The Integration of Faith and Profession, Ed. Gregory A. Smith. Jefferson, N.C.: Macfarland, 2002, 48-54).

It seems that not much has changed over the years, when it comes to overdue books!

Do you use Google for research?

On ATLANTIS, a librarian asked for advice on instructing faculty on using Google Books and Google Scholar for research and other things academic.

So, here’s the question for the bibliobloggers. How do you use Google Scholar / Google Books? Have you come across any serendipitous discoveries in your field while using either service? What about using Amazon’s A9 or Microsoft’s Windows Live Search? How would you convince your colleagues to start using these resources?

See also David Instone-Brewer’s TyndaleTech January 2007 and March 2005, as well as Roy Ciampa’s list of books on Amazon & Google at

UPDATE (2 August 2007): I had forgotten about Danny Zacharias’ SBL Forum article, “The Wired Scholar.” There he highlights Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Notebook, Google Docs and LibraryThing. He also mentions in his comments to this post his Online Biblical Studies Journals Search.

Doing History in a Digital Age

While the journal Perspectives does not cover theology or biblical studies, the articles in its May 2007 issue may be of interest to bibliobloggers. The issue centers on the topic “History and the Changing Landscape of Information.” It may be worth taking a gander. For those who have decried the inaccuracies of Wikipedia, there’s an interesting article by a scholar who uses Wikipedia entries as a vehicle for teaching. See “Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia),” by Christopher Miller. The entire issue is available online.

also the books, and above all the parchments

C. H. SpurgeonHere’s a sermon to validate the bibliophiles:

C. H. Spurgeon, A Sermon (No. 542), delivered on Sunday Morning, November 29th, 1863, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

The text is 2 Timothy 4:13. Here’s an excerpt:

II. We will LOOK AT HIS BOOKS. We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains-oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”-join in the cry.

Our second remark is, that the apostle is not ashamed to confess that he does read. He is writing to his young son Timothy. Now, some old preachers never like to say a thing which will let the young ones into their secrets. They suppose they must put on a very dignified air, and make a mystery of their sermonizing; but all this is alien from the spirit of truthfulness. Paul wants books, and is not ashamed to tell Timothy that he does; and Timothy may go and tell Tychicus and Titus if he likes-Paul does not care.

Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: what will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gone out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class-if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry.

He says, “Especially the parchments.” I think the books were Latin and Greek works, but that the parchments were Oriental; and possibly they were the parchments of Holy Scripture; or as likely, they were his own parchments, on which were written the originals of his letters which stand in our Bible as the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and so on. Now, it must be “Especially the parchments” with all our reading; let it be especially the Bible. Do you attach no weight to this advice? This advice is more needed in England now than almost at any other time, for the number of persons who read the Bible, I believe, is becoming smaller every day. Persons read the views of their denominations as set forth in the periodicals; they read the views of their leader as set forth in his sermons or his works, but the Book, the good old Book, the divine fountain-head from which all revelation wells up-this is too often left. You may go to human puddles, until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the throne of God. Read the books, by all manner of means, but especially the parchments. Search human literature, if you will, but especially stand fast by that Book which is infallible, the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ancient Near Eastern Library Policies

If you thought modern library policies were still archaic, then you should read these:

  • He who fears Anu, Enlil, and Ea will return [this book] to the owner’s house the same day
  • He who fears Anu and Antu will return [this book] to the owner’s house the next day
  • He who fears Marduk and Sarpanitum will not entrust [this book] to [others’] hands
  • He who entrusts [this book] to [others’] hands, may all the gods who are found in Babylon curse him!
  • He who fears Anu and Antu will take care of [this book] and respect it
  • This book by order of Anu and Antu is to remain in good condition
  • In the name of Nabu and Marduk, do not rub out the text!
  • Who rubs out the text, Marduk will look upon him with anger
  • He who fears Anu and Antu will not carry [this book] off by theft
  • He who carries [this book] off, may Shamash carry off his eyes
  • He who carries [this book] off, may Adad and Shala carry him off!
  • He who breaks [this book] or puts it in water or rubs it until you cannot recognize it [and] cannot make it be understood, may Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Adad and Ishtar, Bel, Nergal, Ishtar of Nineveh, Ishtar of Arbela, Ishtar of Bit Kidmurri, the gods of heaven and earth and the gods of Assyria, may all these curse him with a curse which cannot be relieved, terrible and merciless, as long as he lives, may they let his name, his seed, be carried off from the land, may they put his flesh in a dog’s mouth.

From Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale, 2001), 13-14 (Amazon/

Converting Excess to Access… Theological Book Network

Did you get a bunch of books for Christmas? Are you wondering where you are going to put them all? Thinking about weeding out your library? Is that Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket? Do you care about the theological instruction of Christian leaders in the Majority World?

If you answered “Yes” to any two of the questions above, then you should consider donating either books or funds to the Theological Book Network.

Theological Book Network’s Mission:

To provide quality academic books and journals to the libraries of Majority World seminaries, colleges and universities that provide theological training toward the development of leaders, teachers and clergy in the Christian Church.

How Does it Work?

The Theological Book Network collects academic books and journals from Western theological libraries, publishers and scholars. All donations are brought to our warehouse where they are sorted and packed for shipment. TBN works with regional networks of institutions for efficiency and breadth of distribution. Recipient institutions share some financial, logistical and administrative responsibilities for the shipment.

If you attend or work at a school with a theological library (that is not listed here) then please let the library staff know about this service. Pass the word along to your professors, colleagues and classmates as well.

The headline of TBN’s site reads “Converting EXCESS in our world to ACCESS in the rest of the world.” Take a look. I know that I will.