Doing research

Every year or two I make a special trip to a well-endowed library in order to gather hard-to-find reading material for the next twelve months. One might think I’m in the boondocks but, actually, the local library here in Eugene, Oregon is not at all shabby. After all, the University of Oregon library has an exceptionally large religious studies collection—which is surprising, since the U of O doesn’t even offer an advanced degree in the field. Nonetheless, each month there are generally a couple of books or articles which I really need and which the U of O lacks. So, over the course of the year I compile a list of those sources and, when the list gets to a respectable length—say, a couple dozen items—then I start planning my “vacation” trip to a real library.

I always look forward to that trip, which is usually in the Spring. Last year, I spent a week in Berkeley, California, visiting the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) library. I was at the photocopy machine for hours, and spent more than $100 just in copies over the course of four days.

What a fantastic library it is! Actually, the library is not huge—about the size of an ordinary college library. But appearances are deceiving, for it’s only theology. That makes GTU by far the biggest library for religion in the western United States, and probably one of the biggest in the world. It’s quite rare that the GTU library doesn’t have exactly what I’m looking for—which can be pretty esoteric, after all… It’s official name is the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, and it has more than 440,000 volumes, 1500 periodical subscriptions, and 292,000 non-book holdings. 6,000-7,000 new titles are added annually. The reason it’s so big is that the GTU library does not serve one institution, but is the “common library” for nine religious colleges in the San Francisco Bay area.

Berkeley is also a wonderful place to visit, especially in the Spring when the weather is balmy and flowers are everywhere. It’s coffee shops are famous, it’s bookstores world-renowned. Last year I stayed at the inexpensive Berkeley Youth Hostel, which is about a fifteen minute walk from the GTU library and is right next to the University of California.

The best libraries for theology on the West Coast are the GTU, the Univ. of Washington library in Seattle, and the Univ. of British Columbia library in Vancouver, Canada. Of the three, I’ve only been to the GTU library, but I’ll wager that it’s by far the best.


About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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