November 17, 1997
Volume 50, No. 13
Pitts Library Director GrahamBRbrings minds to the table
Some people might think directing a major theological library is akin to archeology, or perhaps administering a religious organization or church. But to Pat Graham, it's like throwing a dinner party.
"As librarian, my job is not to make people read books, but to invite guests and introduce them to one another," said Graham, now going into his fourth year as director of the Pitts Theology Library. "Here in our collection we have records of the thought, the exploration, the reflection of the greatest minds who have ever lived, not only here in Georgia or the United States but in Europe, Africa, Asia and everywhere."
And it's Graham's job, along with the rest of his staff, to keep an eye out anywhere and everywhere for opportunities to add to that collection. This year the total holdings in Pitts exceeded 480,000 items, with 90,000 of those being rare books. As Graham points out, many libraries of accredited theological institutions around the country don't have 90,000 pieces in their whole collection, much less in just rare books. In all, Pitts Library is the continent's second largest theological library behind only The Burke Library of Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Graham has been familiar with Pitts for a long time; he first came to Emory as a doctoral student in 1976 after completing master's degrees in Old Testament and divinity at Abilene Christian University. He finished his dissertation at Emory in 1983, spent five years teaching in Oregon and Texas, then returned in 1988 as a cataloguer in the theology library.
Graham has held his current post as director since the retirement of Channing Jeschke in 1994, and he's done his best to try to continue his predecessor's work. It used to be, Graham said, that theology libraries could define their mission broadly and go after anything and everything that had to do with theological study. No more. Nowadays, like other institutions, libraries must deal with limited resources, and they must select certain areas of focus.
During his tenure, Jeschke made a choice to concentrate on sub-Saharan Africa and religion, especially those materials dealing with the history of Christianity. With other major theological libraries focusing on other regions-Duke and Princeton on Latin America and Yale on Asia, for example-this method allowed the libraries to share each other's collections and develop world-class holdings in their own specialties.
Graham has carried on Jeschke's vision. "One of the important things in theological education and research today is the sense of its globalization, that we shouldn't have a narrow view.
"A common tendency with many people, perhaps all people, is to only want to talk with people who are like you, who are the same age as you, who have the same skin color, the same background, the same social/educational experience. But if allowed to do that, we will become narrow, parochial, ill-informed and unable to cope and live in this world."
So Graham works to bring together materials from Africa and around the world. And he doesn't want these materials to sit locked up in a basement closet, secure for the eyes of people who could benefit from their influence. Indeed, one of the major projects the library is conducting is the methodical cataloguing of stacks and stacks of old books, none of which have been entered into Pitts' electronic database. Roughly 10,000 centuries-old texts sit waiting to be added to the EUCLID catalogue and "rediscovered" by new generations of researchers and students.
There are books small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and massive folio volumes weighing some 20 or 30 pounds, all bound in various degrees of cracked and dusty leather, gilded gold letters shining under the flourescent lights. "Look at this one," Graham said as he picked up one slightly smaller than a paperback novel. Inscribed inside the front cover is the name "Isaac Hall," a price (£1.10) and the date. It is one of the books that came with Emory's purchase of the Hartford Seminary Foundation's 220,000-volume library in 1975.
"I'm sure this book is worth more than three or four dollars now," Graham said, chuckling at the price. "These are all friends, all of these books here." Pasted inside the cover is a line from a book catalogue, put there by a librarian many years ago. "That's not accepted practice nowadays, to say the least," Graham said
Graham knows the proper way to handle and store a rare book, as that is a large part of what he does. He develops relationships with dealers all around the world, sometimes visiting their shops and explaining to them Pitts' direction and the materials the library seeks. Oftentimes dealers will send Graham advance copies of their catalogues or otherwise give him a chance to look over their wares before other libraries have a crack at them.
"Our aim is to persuade these dealers that we are serious customers, that it can be to their advantage to do business with us," he said.
Ultimately, of course, this all accrues to the advantage of the students and researchers who have a resource like Pitts at their fingertips. "We want to build these collections and encourage their use," Graham said. "Our hope is that in the future we will be able to say, without any fear of debate or question, that students can come to Emory, and because of the collections we offer for research and teaching, they will receive an education of such quality that it cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the country."