Pitts Archivist Brandon Wason and Betty Gage Holland Professor of Roman History Judith Evans Grubbs work with students on a project.For students interested in pursuing opportunities for original research, Candler’s Pitts Theology Library provides a plethora of possibilities. Widely seen as the premier theological library in the country, Pitts also boasts a friendly and qualified staff—many with PhDs in the field—who facilitate students’ access to and use of the (literally) thousands of resources the library has to offer.   

“One of our main goals is to connect students and faculty to the tools and sources they need to conduct their own theological research,” says Sarah Bogue, a reference and instruction librarian at Pitts. Some of those sources will be part of the library’s regular collection, some part of the 145,000-volume Special Collections, some from the 120,737 microforms, and some from the 763 periodical subscriptions, so you can see why it’s important to have a helpful and knowledgeable library staff!

Bogue gives the example of a recent MTS capstone course on the history of reading taught by Richard “Bo” Manly Adams Jr., director of Pitts Theology Library and Margaret A. Pitts Assistant Professor in the Practice of Theological Bibliography. One section of the course focused on how the form of texts can show the priorities of the reading communities that created and used them.

Each student chose a 16th or 17th century Bible from the Pitts Special Collections, including Greek and Hebrew editions, as well as Latin, English, and French translations. The students did background research on their selected Bible, with particular focus on specifics, such as its origin and binding, the form of the text, and indices. They then presented their findings, unpacking what these details might say about the text’s original community of readers. “It was a very popular portion of the class,” Adams says.

Along with the numerous research opportunities at Pitts itself, the theology library can serve as a jumping off point for interdisciplinary research throughout Emory University. “A major benefit of coming to Candler is that you are part of an R1 research institution in Emory,” says Bogue. “This means that you not only have Pitts, but you have four other libraries and two other sets of archives on campus, plus the Carlos Museum. There is original research to be done in all of these spaces.” The Pitts staff fosters relationships with other libraries and archivists on campus, and can assist in connecting students with additional possibilities for research at Emory.

Another way students can get involved in original research during their time at Candler is through the Pitts Library Scholars program, which offers exceptional doctoral and master’s students the opportunity to pursue library projects in the areas of research, pedagogy, and community engagement. “These projects reflect the students’ vocational aspirations, and also provide a way for them to demonstrate practical skills to future employers or graduate programs,” says Bogue.

Pitts Library Scholars also participate in monthly meetings with library staff to discuss programming and help guide the vision of the library. Kelsey Spinnato, a 2017 MTS graduate and a member of the first class of library scholars, says that the experience gave her a wider view into the “inner workings” of a theological library. “That’s not knowledge the average library user has, and it made my experience at Candler incredibly special. Pitts is one of Candler’s premier resources, and our reference librarians are gems, in both personality and intellect.”

That winning combination means that Pitts librarians are eager to assist students with projects related to academia, ministry—or both. Sarah Bogue recalls working with an MDiv student who was interested in race relations, particularly connected to the idea of shame. “In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was interested in restorative justice and using critical notions of atonement to help people work through and past ‘white guilt,’ into a space of productive and restorative activity,” she says. “By putting the theological work on atonement next to sociological and ethical works on race relations, we were able to create a project that this student could use in his church context and for his ethics paper.”

Bogue notes that the librarians support a great deal of exegetical work as well, helping students develop scholarly skills that contribute to the formation of thoughtful, reflective ministers. “We help future pastors use critical tools, empowering them to dig deeper into the historical and contextual issues presented by sermons or exegesis papers.”

In the end, the marriage of Pitts’ amazing collections and service-oriented professional librarians is a big feature that truly sets Candler apart. As Bogue says, “There is unique and original research to be done at Candler and Emory that cannot be done anywhere else, thanks to the superb resources—both literary and human—that support our students’ work.”