Having just graduated last week from my Masters program at Union Theological Seminary, I am finding myself in a reflective mode. I am reflecting back on the challenging classes I took, the professors who inspired me, the deep relationships I formed with my fellow students, and my work at the library. So much of what I encountered here at Union was unexpected and exciting, and working at the Burke Theological Library was no exception.
I didn’t expect to work in the library before I came here, but I was lucky enough during my first semester to get a work-study position as a circulation assistant. This was my first library job, and I was surprised to find how much I loved shelving books—I found peace and calm in the quiet stacks. I could lose myself in the rows of 19th century hymnals or the seemingly never ending shelves of liberation theologies. I loved the smell of the stacks and the feeling of being surrounded by so much deep wisdom.
Working with Eun Ja behind the circulation desk, I found joy in helping patrons find what they needed. It was remarkably satisfying to be able to direct students, professors, and researchers to the correct section of the stacks or to help them locate a particular periodical or journal article. There is a profound sense of discovery in the Burke Library, a hunger for knowledge that can be contagious. My own academic pursuits were inspired and expanded by interactions with library patrons. Being able to assist people for just a moment on their particular intellectual journey—even if it was simply by checking books out for them—greatly enriched my own studies here. More than once when someone returned a book I thought looked particularly interesting, I wrote down the title and checked it out later! I was exposed to several new authors that way.
I also had the privilege of working with Liz in the periodical collection for a summer, and later working with both Brigette and Ruth in the archives. Behind the scenes on the fourth and fifth floors, I got to see a completely different side to the Burke Library. A whole new world became available to me as I got to look through 200 year-old handwritten lecture notes from famous professors or barcode periodicals from the 1920s. I remember the excitement of discovering an article in a publication from the 1960s about a wilderness camp in Northern Minnesota that my father and his brothers used to go to as teenagers. I remember the time I was cataloguing and I found a book published in El Salvador in the midst of the civil war there about the church’s role in the political situation. Having worked in El Salvador and studied this period in the country’s history, I was amazed to be holding something that had been created in this context of conflict and survived.
Perhaps my most thrilling Burke moment was when I was going through the original manuscript and annotations for the Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament,by Brown, Driver, and Briggs (a.k.a. the “BDB”). This is the most widely used (and revered) lexicon in all of my Biblical Hebrew classes, and here I was touching with my own hands the original notes of one of the scholars who helped compile this amazing resource over 100 years ago. Looking at the beautiful penmanship and the edits done by hand, I suddenly had a sense of the sheer magnitude of this monumental linguistic project that allows biblical scholars today to do the work that they do.
More than anything, my time at the Burke Library has made history and theological scholarship come alive for me in a way I could have never anticipated before I started seminary. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have had here, and I will miss this place very much.