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The 2013 American Theological Library Association Conference is being held in Charlotte, and I have been on the local host committee, helping to prepare events and excursions for those who want some local color while they are here. We kicked things off on Wednesday night with a lovely reception at the Mint Museum, and then started our conference sessions early this morning.

The first session I attended was a conversation group on the topic of “Library Instruction and Advanced Researchers” and asked if there are differences between instruction sessions presented for doctoral students and masters students, and if so, what they might be. While our Divinity School does not offer a doctoral level program, it may in the future, and I thought this session might give me an idea of the support these more advanced students might need. The consensus in the room seemed to be the standard librarian answer of, “it depends!” It depends on whether your institution requires a master’s degree for admissions, or if a master’s is part of the doctoral program. It depends on whether your students are coming straight out of undergrad, or they have been out of academia for 20+ years. It depends on whether you are meeting them at the beginning of their studies, or at the point where they are having to make their dissertation topic proposal. It depends on whether the faculty make library sessions a priority or not. It also depends on the topics/degrees being covered (archaeology, exegesis, theology, church history and pastoral care are all vastly different areas of research and require different tools, D.Min., Ph.D., and Th.D. degrees also cover different areas)

In regards to specific content, these suggestions were made:

  • basic search strategies and religious studies databases
  • primary, secondary, tertiary sources
  • importance of archival sources/collections
  • importance of selecting a bibliographic management system at the start of their research
  • if faculty notice particular problems (lit reviews, bibliographies, level of research) you can adress those issues and possibly get faculty by-in
  • help prepare students for what their dissertation committees will want to see (lists of databases consulted, archival collections to investigate, LC subject headings and call numbers, etc…)

“Theological Libraries & the Theology of Hospitality” was a panel presentation of three reflections on the idea of hospitality in libraries. A few ideas that came up:

  • Definition: “Hospitality involves a space into which people are welcomed, a space into which they normally wouldn’t be allowed.” Do we think our libraries are hospitable because we are used to them ourselves (we have lost the outsider perspective”?
  • We see many of our patrons on a daily basis, or face to face, but what about those who never come into the building? How do we extend hospitality to them? On the website, on chat, email?
  • What do our patrons expect when they enter the library? Do they know what to expect before we show them what is possible (ala Steve Jobs)?
  • Different types of hospitality in a library environment: hospitality of resources (research resources and human resources-knowledge, assistance), hospitality of comfort (food/drinks, quiet space, temperature/light), hospitality of dialogue (library as a third space, interdisciplinary discourse), protective hospitality (safe space)
  • We practice hospitality in the context of our profession of furthering academic pursuits

“Support for Online Bible Studies” covered free and hosted tools to help students who might want to conduct or participate in online Bible studies as part of their course or ministerial work. Some of the tools were already familiar to me (Wabash Center Internet Guide to Religon, Princeton Theological Commons) but there were several that were new (Lectionary Greek, Working Preacher, Narrative Lectionary). There were a few questions suggested for students to think about as they start an online bible study program, especially because of the private and personal nature of the types of topics encountered in these discussions:

  • Will the group be open/public, or private only to members/registrants?
  • How will you create your online presence as a leader?
  • Do you need a covenant agreement between participants?
  • Is it better to meet via skype so there isn’t a record of the discussion?

One new aspect of this conference is that we are meeting in conjunction with annual conference of the Center for the Study of Information and Religion (CSIR). I attended one of their sessions today, “A Study on the Effects of Iranian Religions on Its House Architecture,” presented by Khosro Movahed of Shiraz Islamic Azad University. Movahed’s study compared the traditional house architecture of Islamic and Zoroastrian families by visiting 10 houses, looking at house plans, interviewing inhabitants and reviewing relevant scriptural passages with housing rules for both of the traditions. Traditional Zoroastrian houses were oriented on an east/west axis as sun/light worship was a significant part of their religious practice. They included a guest space that was set aside for visitors that were not of the Zoroastrian faith. The decor of the houses included symbolism taken from their scriptures, the Avesta (such as cedar trees), and construction followed prescriptions from the Vandidad portion of the Avesta. The plans of traditional Islamic houses were centered around the distinction of public and private spaces, who would be allowed to enter the private areas of the home (ie, the areas the women occupied), and signified the importance that Islam placed on hospitality. The entrance area of the house was set aside for guest rooms, and had no sightlines into the private area, and these areas were the most opulent and decorated in the home. The decorations were limited to geometric and floral patterns, as well as Qur’an verses. Muslim homes were oriented towards the southwest and Mecca, as are mosques. In cities and towns with multiple religions, there were specific quarters where each religious group lived, and these architectural types predominated in their respective quarters. In the last few decades, with population growth and socio-economic changes, these architectural patterns have been changing. New highrise apartments are western in style and don’t maintain these religious distinctions. Movahed suggested that it would be good for new construction and urban planning to re-incorporate some of these traditional ideas going forward.