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Wright Center Updates

What goes into clearing out a library?

Austin Seminary has a long-standing tradition to never begin a construction project until all funds are in hand or pledged. The renovation of Stitt Library into the Mary B. and Robert J. Wright Learning and Information Center is no exception. On the last working day of 2019, the final pledge of the required $16.5 million for the project was secured.

We cheered, gave thanks, quickly got out invitations to a groundbreaking celebration, and then promptly went on Christmas break.

Back in the office on January 6—with less than a month to the groundbreaking—the Stitt Library staff got, you might say, a little busy!

Because the renovated library will include more open group spaces and a greater emphasis on digital learning, staff has navigated an intentional process of culling materials. As of January 2020, the Stitt Collection contained 91,140 print books and journals with 112,084 physical items of all types (the Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, is one title but twenty-two items). After discussion with faculty, including an evaluation of projected course offerings and what has been placed on reserve over the past five years, the staff arranged to house what they considered the most essential resources in a “mini library” on campus.John Everett, director of the physical plant, hired the companies who dismantled the shelving and moved the books. All told, they disassembled and moved about 10 tons of steel shelving and filled just shy of 4900 boxes. “I’m sure when they heard more than 90,000 books needed to be packed up and moved there was probably a moment of panic,” says John. “It would give me pause for sure. Day one was all about moving furniture. Kristy [Sorensen]’s carefully plotted-out plan giving instructions on where each piece is and where it should go was exactly what was needed to make sure the day was a success. Days 2, 3, and 4 were all about boxing up books and taking them to their warehouse.”

Several rooms in the McMillan Building (leading us to colloquially refer to the space as the McLibrary) have been repurposed: the lower-level student lounge is now the reading room / reference collection with 705 volumes, computers for student use, tables for studying, and even a photocopier. The racquetball court now houses another 6347 books (and, eventually, the roughly 600 books that are currently checked out!). David Schmersal, access and instruction librarian, offices there and reports that the reference room was almost immediately being used by students taking ordination exams in January.

Also in McMillan are Mandy Deen, learning technologies librarian, and John Vinke, systems and metadata librarian, who are in two re-purposed classrooms they share with 14,089 DVDS, CDs, VHS and audio cassettes, and the microformat materials. Library Director Timothy Lincoln is ensconced with other faculty in McMillan (along with his treasured Where the Wild Things Are stuffed creatures and Nancy Pearl Librarian action figure). After Archivist Kristy Sorensen moved about 850 boxes of catalogued archival material to the records vault in the lower level of the McCord Center, she set up her office in the staff lounge on the lower level of Trull.

Through it all, the library staff took the move and relocation of resources in stride, pushing library carts across campus, almost never complaining. “As of today (if I don’t get too sidelined) we will have already added 82 new print books and 101 new ebooks to the library since we moved out,” says John.

David adds, “We are totally committed to providing students, faculty, and other researchers the sources they need to pursue excellence in theological scholarship, which means if we do not have something in the interim library collection, we will do all we can to provide it (within reason—someone might really need access to one of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls, and I fear that might be beyond our ability).”

Local patrons may borrow books at the McMillan library by sending a list of books to be placed on hold for pick up. More information on accessing the collection may be found here; if you want to communicate with the archivist, go here.

We may be on the lower level of McMillan, but our interim library offers a nice, cozy, well-lit space for studying, including a copier/printer, small computer lab (with Accordance), essential reference works, and comfortable seating.

interim library

Thanks to the gifts of many donors, including lead donors Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Mary Wright, Austin Seminary President Wardlaw announced in December 2019 that the school has successfully raised the funds needed to begin construction on the Wright Learning and Information Center.

The groundbreaking for the Center will take place on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at the end of the MidWinters Alumni/ae Banquet.

Effective January 6, 2020, library services are available in the McMillan Building, lower level. During January a carefully chosen selection of books from the Stitt Library Collection will be moved to McMillan to support teaching, learning, and research. The rest of the collection will be stored until the completion of the new Center.

To begin with, a confession: although I can often take you directly to a commentary on Mark or a Bible dictionary, I do not, in fact, know every single book we have in our collections. So, for example if you had asked me if we have a book devoted to donkeys in the Bible, I probably would have said something along the lines of “umm, I don’t think so, but I can look.” I might have even bet you $5 that we do not. I would have lost that bet:

Library book record Donkeys in the Biblical World

 As the description observes, this book “stands alone in providing a comprehensive examination of donkeys in ancient Near Eastern texts, the archaeological record, and the Hebrew Bible.” So my assumption was not unreasonable, just wrong.

Now, you might be thinking: “What does this have to do with library construction updates?” No, we are not going to be employing donkeys as a green, and biblical, alternative to diesel-powered construction equipment. We are, however, going to have limited space in the racquetball court while the library is being renovated/constructed, which means only a portion of our collection will be available during this time, which means we will have to be selective in the books we are able to make available. If this were a print book, I doubt it would make the cut (as interesting as it looks). However, because this is an e-book, and thus unaffected by restricted physical shelf space, you can rest assured that if you are writing an exegesis paper on Numbers 22, or Judges 15, or Matthew 21, or any of the 68 verses in which donkeys make an appearance (at least that’s what Accordance tells me) this book will be available for your use.

On a related note, if there are any print books that you use regularly and want to ensure that they are numbered among the elect, please let us know in person, or E-mail us at libraryiq@austinseminary.edu or call the Circulation Desk at 512-404-4879.

Many of us have go-to books on various topics. Maybe you have a book on preaching, or a resource on funerals that you have used so often that you don’t even have to look it up – you just know where it is. You stop by the library, go upstairs, get to the familiar aisle and find – nothing. The shelves are empty!

empty shelves

What has happened? Has there been some form of bibliographic plague? Did the roof leak? Did the staff succumb to some kind of mad impulse to discard thousands of books?

Fear not. We have not discarded thousands of your favorite books. There was no catastrophe. The books are safe; they are just in a different place in the library.

full shelves

Ok, they may be a bit more crowded, and some of them might be a little harder to reach (sorry about that – and please feel free to ask one of us to fetch hard-to-reach books for you), but rest assured: we are not planning on getting rid of them, and we are not trying to make them harder to find. Rather, this is the first step toward the promised land of a shiny new library.

Of course, as you may have guessed, to get to the promised land, one must first spend some time in the wilderness. Moving the books is part of preparing for our desert (or racquetball) sojourn. We have cleared off some of the tallest shelves we have in the 1978 portion of the library (the part that is doomed to destruction) in order to use them in the racquetball court and thus maximize the number of books we are able to make available in the temporary, miniature library (the library in exile).

If there are any go-to books that you want to make sure we include in the library in exile, please let us know. And if, in the meantime, you have any trouble finding any books, please ask – we’ll be glad to help you find them.

stacks of books

Have a favorite library book or go-to commentary? Help us make sure the mini-library we will have during construction includes the books you need. Email David Schmersal (dschmersal@austinseminary.edu) with the title, author, and call number of books you'd like to nominate to be numbered among the elect.

The Seminary is in the final stages of raising money to renovate the current library building, updating it into the Mary and Robert J. Wright Learning and Information Center.

We anticipate that, beginning with the spring 2020 term (February), library services will transfer to temporary spaces in the McMillan Building next to the exercise room (lower level). There will be a mini-library providing circulation and reference services, course reserves, a copier, and some reference books.  Several thousand books will be available for checkout, stored in the current racquetball court. Students requesting access to those books will ask staff to retrieve books as needed.

The archivist’s office will move temporarily to the Trull Building (lower level).

During construction, students will have uninterrupted access to the library’s databases and electronic resources.