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Treasure chest of Christian thought available at Southwestern’s library

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Come sit near the warm oven in the cobbled classroom of the Black Cloister, and hunch forward to grasp every word flying from Martin Luther’s lips. March through the muddy, bloody battlefields beside Ulrich Zwingli. Crouch under Jonathan Edwards’ extended finger as he dangles your mind over imagery prone more to hell than heaven. Trek through tropical African underbrush in the boot steps of David Livingstone or stare into the hollow eyes of a Jivaro Indian shrunken head from South America. Stroll through ancient Timnah where Samson walked, never leaving Texas or wherever you call home.
It doesn’t cost a penny, or even a widow’s mite — which you’ll also find here — to explore the treasure buried on 11 miles of shelves weaving throughout the 100,000-square-foot A. Webb Roberts Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A library card will do. And if you’re not near Fort Worth, you don’t have to drive, fly or catch the Pony Express to town. Hop on the Internet and be here in seconds.
Maybe one of the best-kept secrets of Southwestern Seminary, and even the Southwestern United States, is Roberts Library. And one of the best-kept secrets about the library is that anyone in the United States can borrow books and tapes regardless of where you live.
But you have to visit the library to see artifacts like two Nestorian crosses from China, a portrait of Lottie Moon, blow guns complete with poison darts, letters of alleged correspondence between Martin Luther and Phillip Melanchthon, and original correspondence from B.B. McKinney’s global travels.
A proof copy of a Charles H. Spurgeon sermon shows his handwritten corrections made prior to its printing in London. A 2,000-year-old Egyptian papyri, donated by the first Baptist convert in Egypt, and a set of sketched scenes of the Holy Land and Egypt by David Roberts, “lithographer to the Queen,” are also here.
“We know Southwestern Seminary is the largest Protestant seminary in the United States,” said C. Berry Driver, Southwestern’s director of libraries. “We’re building a library to go along with it.”
Roberts’ collection of bound volumes now exceeds 350,000, with room for 350,000 more. Included are the complete works of Luther and John Bunyan, John Calvin’s commentaries, all Edwards’ printed works and a strong Patristic library with works of men like Augustine of Hippo and Origen of Alexandria.
“Roberts is an excellent place to study life in the second, third and fourth centuries A.D.,” Driver said. “Catholic scholars could come here and do research at this Protestant seminary.”
The 10,000-volume Breed collection, donated by Geoffrey Breed, a leading Baptist history scholar in the United Kingdom, includes an original letter by noted British theologian Andrew Fuller, 1858 editions of Spurgeon’s published sermons, four leather-bound volumes of Spurgeon’s “Illustrated Almanack” (the only other known copy is in the British Museum library) and the only known complete set of “The Biblical Magazine,” a Baptist journal series published from 1801-03.
First-edition books by Livingstone, African missionary pioneer and naturalist, compose part of the 3,000-volume Quillen collection. Donated by Lonnie and Patricia Quillen, former missionaries in Botswana and Malawi, the collection showcases rare, out-of-print, first-edition books from eastern, central and southern Africa.
Several rare Bibles, including a 1712 German edition, a 1790 family Bible and pages from an original issue of the 1611 King James Bible are in Roberts. So is the original “Trail of Blood” chart of J.M. Carroll, brother of Southwestern founder B.H. Carroll, which traces a once widely held belief that modern Baptists are organically connected to Jesus and John the Baptist.
While the printed word is primary to the library, the Internet “library without walls” is also at Southwestern.
“We are keeping up with technology and even being innovative,” Driver said. “It is a great day for libraries.”
Plans are pending to put many treasured holdings in digital format, making them available on the Internet. Rare, fading archived manuscripts will be digitized not only for preservation but also global dissemination.
Roberts Library also includes:
–recordings of sermons by legendary preachers like R.G. Lee, L.R. Scarborough, George Truett and Billy Graham and of most chapel services in recent years.
— one of the nation’s largest theological-journal collections.
— information on colleges and universities.
— Baptist resources, largely on microfiche and microfilm, from the 18th century to the present.
— 23 Internet-connected computers.
Roberts also includes the Charles D. Tandy Archaeological Museum with artifacts from Southwestern’s excavation of Tel Batash, Israel, the site of Timnah, where some of Samson’s most exciting exploits took place. Artifacts include pottery shards, restored storage jars and vessels, carbonized wheat, clay loom weights, an olive-crushing roller and royal seals, including King Agrippa’s. A coin collection of gold, silver and bronze pieces dating from the biblical era includes a widow’s mite and a denarius with Caesar’s image.
But Roberts’ greatest treasures and most valuable resource are the staff members who view their work not as a job, but a calling.
“We have a heavy ministry emphasis,” Driver said. “A calling to library work usually comes externally. We haven’t heard God saying, ‘Arise and go to Roberts and I will come to thee.’ Our calling comes from ministry experience and out of a love for the Lord, people and literature.”
“As ministers we may not be directly involved with people, but we prepare those who are,” said Mike Pullin, a special collections/archivist librarian.
“I feel like I’ve touched a lot of lives by making books available,” added Barbara Russell, Southwestern catalog librarian for 38 years.
“Our entire staff is full of encouragers who can relieve a lot of anxiety that accompanies research and study,” Driver said.
“When I help students prepare for classes, I’m helping future ministers go out and be effective for Christ,” added Amy Adams, A-V/computer systems librarian.
Southwestern’s library collection began with 3,000 volumes in 1910. Professors doubled as librarians for the collection housed in Fort Worth Hall. The collection grew and was moved to Barnard Hall in 1939 then to the Fleming wing of the B.H. Carroll Memorial Building in 1949.
The current facilities became fully operational by fall 1982. The $6.6-million structure was named for A. Webb Roberts, Dallas investor and philanthropist who made the seminary residual benefactor of his family trust.
Roberts Library, proclaimed a “lighthouse of knowledge” during its dedication service, has helped generations of Southwesterners expand their view of the world.
Ministry By Mail allows people in the United States to check out three books and three audio tapes for six-week increments for an $8 annual fee. If an item is not available at Roberts, staff will try to get it through interlibrary loan. Serials staff will photocopy requested articles and mail them upon request.
“I foresee people coming from all over the world to use the extensive and valuable resources here,” said Roberts at the 1982 library dedication.
They have come. And as cyberspace cancels distances that once separated the world from Roberts’ continually growing resources, they will continue to do so in ways never imagined by most people even a decade ago.

    About the Author

  • Cindy Kerr