When my wife saw the title of this blog, she commented, “How typical for you” – and she was quite right. It is typical for me to develop intensive and intimate relationships with inanimate things and to give them names as a sign of this relationship. For example, my pipes have female names, my laptop and my pans also, and I greet the apartment every evening when I arrive home. Yes, first I gently and polite greet the apartment, and only then I greet and kiss my wife. Taking the above into account, it is not unusual at all (at least for me) to talk about ‘Lady Library’ (see capital ‘L’s) and to perceive it not as a collection of dead things, but as a living organism, even as an existence – dynamic, changing and progressive. Writing about this Lady for me involves a certain element of self-disclosure, but I assume that is a part of blog-writing. Now, what is happening with this lady? What is going on in the Library?
The expected move to Amsterdam does not really help to keep things in order. Not enough square meters, not enough shelves, not enough money, and these are some of the reasons why the collection counting 70,000 books has been downsized to 40,000 items as the main task in my revised work agenda. At the beginning I had a fear that the Lady will disappear in front of my eyes. Do you remember the ending scene from the movie Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), when Cate Blanchett holds small Brad Pit in her arms, until he disappears? This illustrates my feelings at the beginning of downsizing process. My colleagues librarians pitied me, one of them called my new work as an “assistance at the suicide of the Library”. Someone could correct him that I am not assisting, but holding a sword, and it was not the suicide, but the directional murder.
Did I attract your attention so far? Now I can tell you that most of the things I said are false and words about murder, suicide or the end of the Library are not appropriate at all. The message for my colleagues is that you should envy me rather than pity me. Who of you has ever had a chance to fulfil and complete your vision about the future of the library, to get rid of incomplete sets of unimportant newsletters (a nightmare of all librarians) and books which no one touched for more than forty years (except when cleaning dust)? I will tell you the secret. If you were in our Library two years ago and would come again now, you would not notice much difference since the books you need will be in the Library, now as they were two years ago. At the same time you would be pleasantly surprised that the whole research runs much smoother and everything is easier and faster.
Let me be more serious. The IBTS Library has always been a very important research centre in the Central Europe, and the Library of IBTS has a possibility to continue, and even improve, this tradition. What are the characteristics of an excellent research Library? Qualified librarians, quiet study area, long opening hours, accessible open stacks, WiFi connection, databases with e-books and e-journals? Certainly. A huge amount of books? Wrong. Quantity was never more important than quality, at least not in the humanities; it is more important which books we have than how many do we have. First of all, a good theological research library purchases the best current books in the area. Theological books published in year 2013? We already have them to provide the best learning resources to our patrons. In the long term this means that all the books in the Library either are or once were (and still are) important for quality theological research. Good research Library should not be an archive where the books are stored because maybe someone, once, will need them. This is called a cellar or an attic, not the Library, at least not the research Library (in the past the libraries served to preserve the memory of nation and society, nowadays only the national libraries and university libraries fulfill this role). Why keep the books that were not important for a quality theological research even in the time of their publishing? Why keep the books in a popular theology donated to IBTS as an inheritance from pastor’s libraries? Books in Christian ethics from seventies? Psychology and biblical archaeology books from sixties? Outdated biblical commentaries and introductions to Bible? Old copies of books in Dutch, Norwegian or Spanish? Non-theological bulletins and newsletters? Believe me, as a Head Librarian I am delighted for receiving the green light to dispose all these from the Library; books that were not used for number of years (for a reason) and certainly will not be used in the future, not even as research materials.
At the same time I am glad that we managed to find a proper home for these books and give them to loving and caring hands. The metaphor I often use, and here I return to the title of this blog, is that IBTS Library was like an older plump lady, good standing, elegant, honoured and noble, but still a rather plump one. She had a restricted range of movement because she carried many kilos of weight, more than she needed, which limited her moves and her relationships with the other people. Currently, IBTS Library lost the weight and now is like a young, fit girl, dynamic, flexible, open-minded, fast and full of energy, and she does not need face lifting or liposuction. A girl with all the prospects for a rich life and future.
Paradoxically, downsizing of the IBTS Library brought (for many people) unexpected results. The Lady Library lost obstructive ballast and has enabled easier and more effective research for all patrons. It is better to have one hundred books, and all one hundred to be good ones and the ones people will use, rather than to have one hundred books out of which only sixty are used and the other forty are only in the way. Someone could wrongly name the current situation as the death of the library or a step back, but it is actually a long jump forward, a boost and life-giving injection.