So Great a Cloud of Witnesses: Libraries & Theologies
The year that this Festscrift was published is now seen as a time of great sea change, from a library world based firmly on the book to a world of almost infinite resource variety. Librarians were caught right in the middle. The signs of this change had been coming for some time, engendered by technology’s genius for new forms of information storage and retrieval. The change did not make the book outmoded, despite the many fears expressed at the time in the form of Gutenberg elegies. Rather, the sea change brought new formats, rich and strange, and with them the challenge to find our own imaginative responses. Belonging to an association of like minds, albeit not all of them digitally native, was a blessing as we progressed from our card-carrying card catalogue days into a time of diversification and information overload.
From its inception, the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association thrived, based on meeting the professional needs of its members. Sensitivity to presenting issues has always happened in an environment where the value and meaning of our collective inheritances have been upheld. The necessarily ecumenical nature of the Association has been a main cause of its success. The sharing of different traditions, with their varying purposes and styles, has been educational for all librarians who have encountered it; they have joined in with the possibilities. A creative exchange has been established and maintained. The consequent creation of quality products with the ANZTLA brand has been one practical and fruitful outcome.
The Association was never going to fit into the special interest group categories of a national library association: our numbers were always too large, our needs multiple and complex. Nor would it fit in as an adjunct to any theological association, something satisfactorily explained in the existing histories: theologians were never going to fully understand or appreciate the expectations of their librarians, or give them the indefinite time and attention required adequately to address those expectations. The Association came into being by launching itself free of any parental body, making its own way and developing its own character.
Browsing through the Festschrift today one is sensitive to the great achievements made by the Association in that short space of time since the landmark consultation of 1983. Raised consciousness about collection development, special collections, specialist religious issues in acquisition, cataloguing, reference and so forth had been reached quickly by close collaboration and a growing trust in our mutual endeavours. The Association has always had the knack of identifying the main issues at stake in our work, then acting to solve them within its limited means. This talent emerged early.
One also notices more work to be done. Trevor Zweck’s admirable history of ANZTLA describes how several people seemed to have the idea for ANZTLA, or at least saw the need, at about the same time. However, subsequent research has revealed that different cities of mainland Australia now lay claim to the genesis moment, with agreement nowhere in sight. Cards may see this as a typical symptom of Australian life, an opportunity for argument deep into the night in defence of local claims. More than likely though, as with most things, it was a New Zealander who actually first had the idea.
The Festschrift contains useful histories of theological libraries. It reminds us there is still much work to be done too on the history of the book in the Antipodes and its relation both to religious learning and theological education. There is still much work to be done on the history of religious publishing in this part of the world and how it expresses the life of nations with sometimes ambivalent attitudes about religion in public life. Patterns of educational reform across church traditions and their meaning in regard to faith life is another subject for our consideration.
One is amazed all over again at the work of researchers like Coralie Jenkin, who put together directories of theological and religious libraries with meticulous attention to detail. Detail, indeed, that one sometimes wonders is there online, now that library directories rely on the individual input of the institutions themselves. Her lists include records of private collections of scholars, clergy and enthusiasts that were a decisive subject guide for individual researchers. The concrete nature of the Book made such lists possible, they were locatable in time and space. One wonders if the same can be said for the mercurial nature of online directories and repositories.
The Association thrives today because of the willingness of its members to ask the hard questions about their work needs and demands in the reality of a changing resource environment. Also, their ready willingness to work together and serve each other in the interests of common objectives, which continues due to the enabling existence of an energetic and committed Association. The friendly annual conference is where so much of this is recognised and the tasks addressed. The lively sharing of information on the e-list ANZTLA-Forum and at chapters meetings is essential to our forward purpose. This Festschrift is one basic resource for anyone wanting to know about ANZTLA. It is good news, and we are grateful indeed, that the American Theological Library Association sees fit to make it available here as well.
--- Philip Harvey