As the global pandemic forced schools to remote instruction earlier this year, the pressure was on to make as many resources as possible available in digital form.
Evangelical Seminary moved its classes entirely online in March, closing most of its campus in Myerstown, Pennsylvania—including access to materials in the library. At the same time, the seminary was finalizing a partnership with three other higher education institutions that prompted a review of any resource duplication.
So, in July, Evangelical decided to transform its physical library collection into a digital library and donate more than 80,000 books to the Internet Archive.
“Faculty members love the feel of a hard copy book and taking a book off the shelf in the library,” says Anthony Blair, president of the seminary. “It was hard and we had to talk that through, but everybody agreed this was a smart thing to do and in the end, it was what’s best for students.”
Once scanned and digitized, students—and the public at large—will have free access to the books at any time from anywhere. Many of the volumes were out of print and fragile. The donation allows the seminary’s vast collection, with its specialities in biblical studies and Wesleyan theology, to be preserved.
“We took advantage of this opportunity. It’s a donation, but we still have access to all these books. They have better access than before—and so do people around the world,” Blair says. “It just made sense.”
At Evangelical, students were increasingly commuting to campus or taking online courses only; some living as far away as Singapore and Korea. The seminary sold its residential housing five years ago because of the shifting demographics.
Evangelical offers eight graduate degree programs including a doctorate of theology, master of divinity and master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. About 150 of its students are seeking a degree (about 90 on the PhD path) and another 50 are taking courses independently.
The seminary had recently begun serving a wider constituency and joined The Digital Theological Library (DTL) to give students easier access to resources. As usage grew with DTL, Blair says talk ramped up about moving to an all-digital library.
Also, Evangelical recently joined a seminary network, Kairos, headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is in the process of fully merging within the next few years. As the schools come together and combine resources, the timing was right to make the donation. This summer it took less than two weeks for the books to be packed, loaded into trucks and shipped for scanning—all paid for by the Internet Archive.
The seminary has shared news of its move to an all-digital library with alumni, donors and students, all of whom have been overwhelmingly positive, says Blair. As students wait for the collection to be moved online over the next two years, the seminary is partnering with two physical libraries for interlibrary loan services.Blair says he was pleased to have Evangelical’s collection join the Claremont School of Theology’s donation from earlier this year: “Between our donation and their donation, the theology collection at the Internet Archive will be enhanced quite a bit and our students will benefit.”