by Shane Berg, Donald M. Vorp, John Andrew Newgren and Gregory Murray
Libraries, since their inception, have focused their efforts on two primary aims: preservation and access. Preservation is aimed at ensuring that knowledge is not lost to disasters or to cultural trends that could dampen intellectual pursuit. In fact, this concern to preserve knowledge led then president John A. Mackay to build what would become Speer Library. The other aim is access. Princeton University president Robert F. Goheen addressed this very point during Speer’s dedication in 1957 saying, “some of this continent’s most distinguished collections of theological literature and theological scholarship will be available, in these handsome surroundings and efficiently planned space, not only to members of the seminary but to all seekers after truth, regardless of institutional affiliation.”
Today, many of those handsome surroundings referenced by Goheen have found a second life in the seminary’s new library ranging from the icons above the entryway to marble insets in tables. More importantly, the new library ensures the continuation of available scholarship. The library’s doors have long been open to anyone looking to read and conduct research, and this idea has carried over to its digitization project enabling anyone with an Internet connection to access Princeton’s locally digitized content through the Theological Commons.
The Theological Commons (commons.ptsem.edu), which can aptly be called the Digital Public Library of Theology, is a developing online resource and education portal consisting in its first phase of a curated collection of books digitized from Princeton’s Library in partnership with the Internet Archive (archive.org). It can be said to represent a first expression of Princeton’s efforts to participate in the shaping of a digital collective that will serve the global community of those interested in religious life and thought.
Princeton’s digital efforts can be expected to evolve in at least three additional phases. The mandate of phase two is to adjust the scope of publicly available digital content to include journals; audio, visual and 3-D content; born-digital materials; and copyright content based on successful contractual partnerships with rights holders.
Simultaneously, phase three of Princeton’s digital effort is a collaborative Digital Humanities Initiative working across Information Technology Services, Library, Continuing Education and interested members of the faculty to address issues such as the flipped classroom, pre-enrollment course background presentations, online continuing education courses and digital critical editions.
The longer-term challenge of phase four will be to bring digital content and design into working relationship with high performance computing applications for text and data mining; advance mobile applications; and enable the contextualization of digital content within educational learning environments and curriculum.
The vision implicit in Princeton’s varied digital technology efforts recognizes that computation represents not only a paradigm shift in science but also in theology and that theology is on its way to becoming a computationally-intensive enterprise. Advancing the digital and computing infrastructure of the discipline may mean that theological institutions need partnerships with scientific domains in high-end computing, applications and tools development, and in visualization and other emerging technologies. This is the challenge of transformation that Princeton is seeking to address as it works to bring openness to the conduct of theological work and to the sources that nourish that work.
THE AUTHORS are staff members at Princeton Theological Seminary.