“When administrators think of cooperation among seminaries, they inevitably turn to their libraries as the area most likely to be fruitful for resource sharing,” said Newland Smith, librarian for collection management at United Library in Evanston, Illinois. One might even argue that librarians, a unique breed of highly educated and devoted people who make it their mission to share information and words—in this case the Word—as widely as possible, have led the way in helping schools understand the power of cooperation. But, as Smith goes on to say in his essay, “Chicago Area Theological Libraries and the Elusive Goal of Regional Library Resource Sharing,” in The American Theological Library Association: Essays in Celebration of the First Fifty Years (Evanston, IL: The American Theological Library Association, 1996), developing an efficient, successful resource-sharing system is a complicated task, even for libraries as near each other as those in Chicago.

The schools developed an interlibrary sharing system that involved reciprocal borrowing privileges, common due dates, and a daily courier system.

The city and its outskirts are dotted with theological schools of different denominations and accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. Catholic Theological Union; Chicago Theological Seminary (United Church of Christ); Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; McCormick Theological Seminary (Presbyterian); and Meadville/Lombard Theological School (Unitarian Universalist) are nestled together in Hyde Park on the South Side. Just a mere twenty-five miles north, along scenic Lake Shore Drive, are Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (United Methodist) and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary (Episcopal), while North Park Theological Seminary (Evangelical Covenant) lies in northwest Chicago. Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (American Baptist); Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Evangelical Free Church); and Mundelein (Roman Catholic) are located in the nearby suburbs of Lombard, Deerfield, and Mundelein respectively.

Forming a Cluster
Together these schools form the Association of Chicago Theological Schools, which was incorporated in 1984 for the purpose of providing “means for cooperation among the member institutions in the areas of student cross-registration, library access and acquisitions, interchange among faculty members in the disciplines of theological education, and communication between the schools.”

Today ACTS schools serve nearly 3,000 students, comprise a faculty of over 350, and offer more than 1,000 courses annually, making the association one of the outstanding centers of theological education in the world. And the nine libraries that provided the impetus for and help fulfill the goals of ACTS together constitute the largest collection of theological materials in the Western Hemisphere, with over 1.6 million volumes, 5,000 currently received periodicals, electronic media equipment, and modern language laboratory facilities.

While not officially an ACTS member, the Divinity School at the University of Chicago has long had a special relationship with those schools on the South Side (together they form the Hyde Park Cluster) and, by extension, the other ACTS schools. Students can cross-register for classes (Divinity School students focusing on ministry, for example, can take up to four classes at the ACTS seminaries while ACTS students can arrange to take classes at the Divinity School) and choose professors from the various faculties to serve on dissertation committees. Likewise, the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago has special reciprocal borrowing arrangements with LSTC and McCormick on the South Side and with Northwestern University, which in turn includes Garrett-Evangelical and Seabury-Western on the North Side. Other schools in the Hyde Park cluster and individuals from any school can gain access to Regenstein by negotiating the terms and paying the appropriate fees. While the University of Chicago does not use the ACTS courier (see below) for interlibrary loans between the Chicago schools, such loans can be negotiated through the standard means of state, national, or international database systems.

So how does the resource sharing work? And what challenges lie ahead?

The Libraries In Depth
“We like to think of ourselves as one library under nine roofs,” said Kenneth O’Malley, the director of CTU’s library and a leader in the development of the interlibrary system from the start. O’Malley came to CTU in 1969; he joined the Librarians’ Council of the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools (CCTS), which included CTU, Chicago Theological Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Meadville/Lombard, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Chicago (which closed in 1981) in Hyde Park (all drawn to this location by the presence of the University of Chicago) and Bethany Theological Seminary and Northern Baptist in the western suburbs. Their goals then were to advance the ecumenical movement by developing a unified library system and encouraging other departments of the member schools to share their resources as well.

Under the leadership of Robert Flynn, SVD, then academic dean of Chicago Theological, and Al Hurd, librarian coordinator for CCTS, the libraries quickly made advances. From the beginning the Hyde Park schools developed an interlibrary sharing system that involved reciprocal borrowing privileges, common due dates, and a daily courier system whereby students from each of the libraries would rotate walking the mile-and-a-quarter route, delivering and picking up books. By 1974, the CCTS courier used a car to handle the load of books being shared and extended the service to the suburban schools twice a week. That same year McCormick moved from what is now DePaul University’s campus to Hyde Park and joined its library with those of the Jesuit School of Theology and LSTC to form the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library (JKM). In those days telecopying machines were used to transmit book requests, proposals for book orders, and requests for periodical articles among the libraries.

The genius of the courier system has stood the test of time. Nearly thirty years later it provides the backbone of the interlibrary loan system as well as delivers interschool mail between the ACTS schools and the associate members of Wheaton College and its Billy Graham Center, located in Wheaton, Illinois. These schools hire and share the yearly cost of the courier, who makes the rounds three times a week during fall, winter, and spring quarters and twice a week during quarter breaks and most of the summer. While the telecopying machines have been replaced by e-mail, a friendly phone call still gets the job done. And, of course, all students and faculty of the ACTS schools enjoy reciprocal borrowing privileges at each other’s libraries.

Another of the initial benefits of CCTS was the work of its Acquisitions and Collection Development Committee, which prepared a detailed analysis of each library’s holdings and met regularly to discuss how to limit duplicate acquisitions in the future. The benefits were threefold. First, each school divided its collection into categories and identified strengths and weaknesses in each grouping. Second, by nurturing the interlibrary loan system, each school was free to specialize in its respective areas without fear of neglecting others. Third, by regularly discussing future acquisitions, the schools reduced their duplication from 34 percent in 1972 to 17 percent in 1976, overlapping only when necessary. The estimated cost savings in the area of periodical subscriptions alone was $30,000 per year.

Funds for Technology
For nearly three decades the theology schools in Chicago have successfully pooled resources to better serve their students and faculty while saving money. But they know there is always room for improvement.

“Our current challenge is to take full advantage of technology while working within each of our budgets,” said Neil Gerdes, director of both the Chicago Theological and Meadville/Lombard libraries. “Our first step is to get all the ACTS schools’ holdings online by converting our card catalogues into machine-readable language. Because this is a very expensive process, we have hired a consultant through a Lilly Endowment grant to help us find the financial resources and best methods for getting the job done. Right now only a few schools have all their records online. The others are about 50 percent converted.”

Once the bibliographic records are online, the next goal for the ACTS schools is to develop a way of accessing each other’s holdings, including circulation information and in-process orders. According to Gerdes, the ACTS schools have long wanted to share a common database but they have been limited by the costs involved and the constantly changing nature of the associated technology. Mary Bischoff, director of McCormick/LSTC’s JKM library since 1989, said, “I look forward to the day when all the ACTS libraries will have direct Internet access to each other’s holdings, especially in-process records, so that the libraries can more effectively coordinate collection development and students and faculty can access our records from off-campus.”

For the time being the ACTS schools use the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) database—which serves more than 25,000 libraries in sixty-three countries and is the biggest and busiest system in the world—as their main tool for resource sharing. While some of the librarians feel it is less than user-friendly, they are able to see each other’s holdings and effectively monitor who subscribes to which periodicals through Serials of Illinois Online (SILO), which prints out the ACTS serial records from the OCLC system.

Since December 1994 the ACTS Online Project has focused on achieving the goals outlined above. If the past is any indication, ACTS will succeed.


A Guide to the Libraries of the
Association of Chicago Theological Schools

Catholic Theological Union

The Library

Chicago Theological Seminary

Hammond Library

Garrett-Evangelical Theological SeminarySeabury-Western Theological Seminary

The United Library

Lutheran School of Theology at ChicagoMcCormick Theological SeminarySociety of Jesus: Chicago Province

Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library (JKM)

Meadville/Lombard Theological School

The Library

Northern Baptist Theological Seminary

Brimson Grow Library

North Park University and Seminary

North Park University Library

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Rolfing Memorial Library

University of St. Mary of the LakeMundelein Seminary

Feehan Memorial Library

Associate Members

Wheaton College

Buswell Memorial Library

Graham Center Library


1997—Financial Data for Libraries of the
Association of Chicago Theological Schools
Lib. Exp.
Inst. Exp.
Chicago Theological
Garrett Evangelical-Seabury-Western
North Park
Northern Baptist
Trinity Evangelical


1997—Circulation Data for Libraries of the
Association of Chicago Theological Schools
Chicago Theological
Garrett Evangelical-Seabury
North Park
Northern Baptist
Trinity Evangelical


Librarian on a Mission
In 1989 Helen Kenik Mainelli became director of the library shared between the two adjacent campuses of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and Bethany Theological School. When faced five years later with the Bethany’s decision to move from Lombard, Illinois, to Richmond, Indiana—after twenty years with Northern Baptist—Mainelli decided to make the best of it.

First she set her sights on converting one of the existing buildings on the Northern Baptist campus into a state-of the-art library. Then she organized a liquidation sale of everything from the furniture to the 70,000 books neither library wanted out of their total collection of 150,000 volumes. Remarkably, the books were sold at an average of $6.00 each. Then Northern Baptist and Bethany split the remaining 80,000 volumes, with 50,000 going to the former and 30,000 going to the latter. The proceeds from the sale were also divided, with more of the money going to Bethany because Northern Baptist retained more of the original collection.

Soon thereafter Northern Baptist ran a capital campaign and raised $1.5 million for its library. It also received a Luce Foundation grant of $200,000 to fully automate the library once it was ready.

“We completed the renovation of the building and installed the technology within two years,” explains Mainelli. “But it was pretty hectic for a while there.”

From summer of 1995 until that fall, professional movers and library workers, including students, moved the shelving and holdings from the old library into the nearly completed new one through a hole in the wall on the ground level. During that time and into January 1996, the library set up its circulation desk in a classroom and when a student or faculty member needed a book, a student would run over to the new library and retrieve it.

“My favorite memory from that time happened the night before the dedication of the library in October 1995.” Mainell laughed. “The carpet had just been laid and the staff was racing to get the entire collection shelved and organized. Just then the fire code inspector showed up and scolded us for having set up the library before receiving clearance. The wall on the first level had already been sealed up, so I just looked at him and said, ‘Do you want me to move everything back to where it was?’ What could he say?”

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