Westminster And Wikipedia: The Westminster Seminary Library In The Twenty-First Century -- By: Alexander Finlayson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 69:2 (Fall 2007)
Article: Westminster And Wikipedia: The Westminster Seminary Library In The Twenty-First Century
Author: Alexander Finlayson

Westminster And Wikipedia: The Westminster Seminary Library In The Twenty-First Century

Alexander Finlayson

Alexander (Sandy) Finlayson is Professor of Theological Bibliography and Director of Library Services at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. This article is a revised version of his inaugural lecture, which was delivered on 14 March 2007.

I would like to begin by asking the question, “What images come to your mind when you think of a library?” In a 1982 lecture John Boone Trotti described one vision of the library in this way:

Some view the library as a monument, a symbol of learning, almost a fortress.. .. Like the grand living room, it is to set a tone, show taste, perhaps flaunt wealth—but not to be lived in, perhaps even to intimidate persons from entering—or at least being comfortable therein.1

A much older vision is the one found in the statutes drawn up by Archbishop Lanfranc for the English Benedictines in a.d. 1070. There we read:

On the Monday after the first Sunday in Lent, before brethren come into the chapter house, the librarian 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 brethren have had books during the past year. As each brother hears his name pronounced, he is to give back the book which has 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 then make a fresh distribution of books, namely a different volume to each brother for his reading2

A slightly less intimidating vision is that conjured by the splendor of the reading rooms of one of the great libraries of the world like the Library of Congress in Washington, the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada, or the original “Round Reading Room” at the British Museum. All of these libraries

share a physical presence that promotes reflection and scholarship. Perhaps it was libraries like these that prompted Winston Churchill to write, “Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library.”3

People may increasingly think of a third and competing vision. In his book Patience and Fortitude Nicholas Basbanes descri...

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