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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive The Biblical Scholar in Librarianship

The library is the radiant core of scholarship, the central resource that serves the advancement of learning. Preservation of the intellectual history of a discipline and acquisition and collection of emerging research, both the old in scholarly thinking and the new, is the business of the library and the responsibility of a librarian. Thus, the library is both place and people. It is an information network comprised of printed, digitized, and human information resources.

The notion of network, while not a new term, has emerged over the past couple of decades as a paradigm for connectedness. Colleges and universities may be thought of as a network of distinct, yet wholly interrelated elements. For example, the task of teaching is strongest when firmly linked to the scholarly information network which includes the library. Students learn the importance of scholarly treatments through a process of dishabituation from personal opinion or local custom (in themselves powerful networks) to an appreciation for systematic, logical, rational, or at least 'informed' approaches to problems.

The creation of new knowledge is the business of the academy: scholarly books and papers from faculty researchers, theses and dissertations required for completion of degree programs from graduate students. New knowledge is also created in the complex workings of learned societies like the Society of Biblical Literature, a voluntary organization that serves a variety of areas of interest and specialties in biblical studies, religious studies, and related disciplines. Other networks that serve the academic endeavor include affiliated learned societies, accrediting bodies, publishing houses, and the academic institutions themselves (composed of a network of administrators, trustees, support staff, alumni/ae, etc.).

The scholarly discourse that emerges from these disparate yet interconnected networks keeps the intellectual energy alive and delivers value to the intellectual, social, and human networks outside academic institutions. It is the task of the librarian to acquire, collect, and share this knowledge, and to educate information seekers in the use of scholarly resources. Hence the library is both radiant core and contributor to the field of biblical studies.

By understanding the library as an information network that links to other parts of the academic network, one sees that the parts become more robust in an environment whose dominant ethos is relationality, cooperation, and partnering. Libraries co-produce new learning; they are central to integrating the work of the academy, the learned society, publishing houses, and other information resources. Network theory explicitly recognizes the social dimensions of information and the nonlinear processes of knowledge creation through formal and informal information and communication networks within and between institutions. [1]

The knowledge and skills required for biblical scholarship are extensive. One enters the field with a commitment to a particular body of literature in order to develop an understanding of its antiquity and find ways to articulate its multiple messages in contemporary culture. The business of interpreting biblical texts is nearly as old as the texts themselves; those who undertake the intellectual preparation for biblical studies must tackle over two thousand years of prior interpretation plus nearly two centuries of scholarly discourse rooted in the application of emerging linguistic, historical, philological, literary, and social-scientific theory and practice.

The specialist and the generalist in the biblical field needs to learn multiple languages, understand a variety of ancient cultures, be cognizant of a host of literary and oral genres, and master the contributions of the scholarly discourse in their areas of interest. Biblical scholarship demands rigor in the application of sound methodologies and care in the expression of the interpretive outcomes those methodologies bring one to advance. Biblical scholarship is science and art, mindfulness and manners.

In short, graduate work in biblical studies is excellent preparation for a career in librarianship! Many librarians possess graduate degrees in other fields in addition to a graduate degree in library and information science and this is one of the many reasons the librarian may be the best information resource in the library.

Scholarly discourse is produced in a variety of languages, is published in an array of genres, is time-sensitive and timeless, and gives voice to both established and yet to be discovered methodologies. The academic library in general, and the theological library in particular, are learning spaces where the information professional facilitates the cultivation of new learners and supports the scholarly discourse of seasoned educators.

There are a variety of opportunities for service in theological libraries, academic libraries, and even public libraries. Like biblical scholarship, librarianship keeps the intellectual energy alive and makes the field valuable in intellectual, social, and human networks inside and outside the academy.

David Suiter is Director of the Ira J. Taylor Library and Associate Professor of Theological Bibliography at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. He has held positions as Information Services Librarian and Acting Dean of Libraries at Regis University and served as Public Services Librarian at Boston University's School of Theology Library.

[1] John Sealy Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning Meaning and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Citation: David Suiter, " The Biblical Scholar in Librarianship," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Aug 2004]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=303

 
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