The Library as the Center for Theological Engagement – The Next 50 Years

Half a century has passed since Pittsburgh Theological Seminary dedicated The Clifford E. Barbour Library—a building that houses a unique and invaluable collection of theological resources gathered over the Seminary’s more than 220-year history. The library has served the Seminary well by supporting the research and learning of faculty, students, and many others. At the same time, the last 50 years have seen changes that have greatly influenced the role libraries must play. Indeed, as we move into the future, libraries will have to adapt to such changes in order to meet the needs of researchers, students, and other more diverse community populations whose missions and ministries depend on the library’s resources to thrive.

The Barbour Library sits squarely at this juncture. The Library’s contemporary relevance as a vibrant theological resource will hinge on its adapting to the ways that modern-day patrons make use of library collections and interact personally within a library’s walls. Transforming the Barbour Library for such service will involve the first-ever, comprehensive updating of the Library facility—its interior design, furnishings, systems, and spaces.

Toward seizing the opportunity for such far-reaching transformation, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has raised the funds for a complete, $12 million modernization of the Barbour Library. This project addresses the full range of renovation needs to establish creative, new spaces that will inspire people to engage with theological ideas and each other in community and collaboration; to incorporate innovation that supports theological reflection, inquiry, and research; and to preserve our invaluable collection purposefully.

Interior Renovation and Preservation of Collections

This plan will not expand the Library’s footprint or replace its exterior masonry. However, in its interior, only the existing walls and concrete floors will remain. All the mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing, windows, floor coverings, stacks, and other furnishings will be updated to current, high standards. The Library’s redesigned floor plan will, in addition, accommodate a collection culled to provide ready access to resources that are in high demand by users, while storing and preserving less frequently used items in accessible though more peripheral areas. This renovation work will also preserve a number of special collections unique to the Barbour Library and important to the theological world at large.

Theological Reflection, Inquiry, and Research

The faculty members at Pittsburgh Seminary engage in ongoing theological reflection in their research, teaching, and mentoring of students. They work out theological concepts in practical ways to adapt them to Christian life, the church, and the surrounding culture. To do this work faithfully and to teach our students to do the same, they rely on the resources of the Barbour Library to gain a greater understanding of theological history—the Bible, and the biblical world. And the extensive research collection of Barbour Library is an especially rich resource for that work.

But grappling with theological ideas is not, and should not be, limited to the realm of the research scholar. Indeed, the Church and the world are best served when all of us are engaging in the conversation and growing in our knowledge and love of God. At Pittsburgh Seminary, we are committed to making Barbour Library a place where not only our students and faculty but also the broader community come together to participate in theological learning and reflection, with the ultimate goal of energizing the Church for the work of the Kingdom of God.

Our renovation plan for the Barbour Library, therefore, enacts our vision to preserve the research core of the Library while also providing “outer rings” that give lay-students ample opportunity to explore their theological interests—and quite possibly to discover deeper discussions that are new to them. To support this vision the Library will accelerate its work to provide seamless electronic access to theological resources through, for example, the digitization of important materials.

Inspiration and Collaborative Community

Opening new audiences to the resources housed in Barbour Library will involve further developing its collection to reflect the current needs of those around us—the needs not only of scholars but also of pastors and lay people engaged in vocations such as counseling/psychology, education, and para-church work. Opening conversations between those audiences and the scholars and students on campus will involve developing spaces where inspired discussion and dialogue can happen casually and spontaneously—for example, in a Library café, in “conversation corners” with comfortable furniture, and in collaborative learning spaces that accommodate small groups. These areas are the kinds of spaces being developed by the most forward-moving libraries of today.

To position Barbour Library as a future-oriented center for theological engagement, Pittsburgh Seminary has been working with Perry Dean Rogers, a Boston-based architectural firm with extensive experience designing progressive library facilities. Embedded in the plan we have developed for renovating Barbour Library is the recognition that, especially to younger populations, physical spaces matter a great deal. So the transformed Barbour Library will offer both quiet and “noise-friendly” spaces, collaborative-learning spaces, and flexible spaces. It will offer ample and easy access both to electrical outlets and wireless connections for mobile and computer use. And the building itself will address modern sustainability concerns by pursuing a responsible level of LEED certification.

A Bold and Exciting Opportunity

The world is moving forward. Libraries are moving forward. And Pittsburgh Seminary is moving theological education forward through the transformation of The Clifford E. Barbour Library into a resource embedded in the life of the Seminary and the surrounding community—a forward-oriented system of integrated facilities and services that meets the needs of contemporary students, scholars, Christian leaders, and community members. As a result, Library users over the next 50 years will not only grow in numbers, but also grow from a richer learning environment, a deeper understanding of God and each other, and a more faithful living out of the Christian life. For decades to come, the renovated Clifford E. Barbour Library will truly serve as the region’s heart for transformative theological engagement.