Our Half-Millionth Book

With cake and champagne at Harvard Divinity School's weekly Community Tea on September 30, 2008, we celebrated receipt of the half-millionth volume in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Librarian Laura Wood announced the milestone and acknowledged the work of all the many people over many years that this acquisition represents. It is the half-millionth "volume" because the count includes books, journals, and pamphlets.

This may seem an old-fashioned milestone, since print copies of books and journals are so old-fashioned, right? While it is true that such a number does not measure quality of service or how much access is provided electronically, it does indicate a size that has been matched or exceeded by only a few other theological libraries in the United States: the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, now run by Columbia University; the Speer and Luce Libraries at Princeton Theological Seminary; the Yale Divinity School Library; and the Pitts Theology Library at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

As Laura Wood noted, this milestone marks the dedicated effort of many librarians over many years who selected, acquired, cataloged, and curated the volumes; and it marks the support and generosity of generations of deans, administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and donors. Of course, the library contains much more than just print volumes: there are manuscripts, microfilms, DVDs, and other kinds of materials, but by proportion, books and bound journals still predominate by far—and their circulation increases annually. So we celebrate our half-millionth volume.

Since the way statistics are kept does not allow us to know the exact half-millionth volume—only that we have reached that mark this year—we chose a representative book: Daniel O. Aleshire's Earthen Vessels: Hopeful Reflections on the Work and Future of Theological Schools (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008). Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, writes that theological schools are like "earthen vessels" in that they are durable, but fragile, and require our care and attention in order to last. "Theological libraries," he writes on page 88, "play a central role in the tasks of learning, teaching, and research. They have historically fulfilled this role by providing access to information that is reliable and trustworthy. Libraries provide the viewpoints that are not represented among the current faculty. If their collections have been carefully developed, they provide an exposure to the historical work of the church from centuries past as well as exposure to current work from a continent away. . . . Theological learning, teaching and research cannot occur in isolation of the things that the library 'knows.' "

Daniel Aleshire visited HDS on October 15 to deliver an address celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Boston Theological Institute, and a book signing  was held in the Rabinowitz Room of the library to further celebrate our half-millionth volume.

When the libraries of Harvard Divinity School and Andover Theological Seminary were brought together in 1910 to form the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, there were about 100,000 volumes (60 percent from Andover and 40 percent from Harvard). During the almost 100 years since, that number has quintupled. And, one hundred years from now? Who knows. Perhaps all materials will be electronic, save for the 30,000 rare books that are also valued as physical objects. Perhaps by then, all will be valued as physical objects. Those of us who are old-fashioned bibliophiles still hold on to the hope that our posterity will celebrate the millionth volume with cake and champagne.