How to Expand Your Research Materials with Libraries

Researchers need materials.1 For biblical scholars, this most often means books and journals.

We’re responsible for interacting with relevant literature largely irrespective of how easy it is to access. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise some research savvy to access what you need more easily and cost effectively. After all, you didn’t get into biblical scholarship because it has the same upside potential as venture capital investing. 🙂

Current technology means that libraries aren’t the only places where you can expand your research materials. But libraries do have a wealth of materials that might not otherwise be at your disposal. Or you might not be able to access these materials as easily as you can through a library.

So, as you think broaden the research materials you have access to, your libraries are good places to begin. And depending on your situation, you might find yourself with access to several different kinds of libraries.

Your School’s Library

If you’re already at an academic institution, this suggestion might seem overly obvious. You’re likely familiar with your school’s library and, at least generally, its holdings.

As the saying goes though, sometimes “familiarity breeds contempt.” That’s not to say you don’t like your library. But you might not think to look there for a given resource because “of course, it won’t have something like that.”

Still, you should check. You might be surprised by what you have access to either by searching the catalog or browsing the stacks.

This has happened to me more than once, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what my institution’s library happened to have.

For instance, in working on the land(s) promised to Abraham, I almost assumed my institution’s library wouldn’t have W. D. Davies’s The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974). But thankfully I looked in the catalog and happily found that it was actually already on there on the shelves.

Your Public Library

Even more likely to be overlooked is your local public library. It’s certainly true that public libraries cater to quite a general clientele. So, in principle, they’ll be less likely to have significant holdings of scholarly sources pertinent to biblical studies.

As with your institution’s library, however, it’s possible that you might be surprised by what’s on the shelves at your local public library. But your local public library is more likely to have holdings of interest in its own extended materials that are available either electronically or via interlibrary loan.

Other School’s Libraries

Even if you’re not a student, if you live near a theological library, you can almost always simply walk in and use materials in that library.

You can start finding them simply by searching Google Maps for “library,” perhaps along with the “near:[your address].” In addition to walking in and using materials at a library, you can often apply for checkout privileges at that library.

For instance, if you weren’t a Faulkner student but wanted to use Faulkner’s library, you could gain check out privileges for $25 per year. Though, in our case, a number of biblical studies-related resources are also held in the Kearley special collection, which doesn’t normally circulate. So, you’ll also need to learn the particular policies and processes of whatever local library you might find helpful to use.

Before paying even a nominal additional fee for check out privileges at a library, however, it’s worth looking into what reciprocal arrangements your school’s library may have with others that you might want to visit.

For example, if you attend a school that’s a member of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA), you already have check out privileges at all other libraries at all other ATLA institutions (non-circulating collections and other specific policies excepted). To look for what other ATLA libraries might be near you, you can start with this Google Map that ATLA has prepared to show all their participating libraries.

If you need a specific resource, you can also search for that source in WorldCat to see libraries near you that may have this resource.

Your Libraries’ Extended Collections

Aside from what you’ll find if you walk into a physical library, any given library where you have check out privileges likely also has access to ways of extending its own collection. Two primary ways of doing so are electronic collections and interlibrary loan.

Electronic Collections

For various combinations of reasons, your libraries likely have access to substantive collections of electronic journals and books. Such resources have come a long way in recent decades.

More often than not, you’ll probably find that a given book or journal, if it’s held electronically, is held in the form of high-quality PDF files. These files mean that, when you look at the electronic holding, you’re seeing on the screen exactly what you’d see in a hard copy of the text.

Of course, onscreen reading has its downsides. But if it comes down to trying to find a hard copy or using an electronic version to which you have instant access, you might well find that you often prefer the electronic text, all things considered.

Your libraries’ electronic collections may also well surprise you with what they contain. For instance, for the same project I mentioned earlier, I needed to get a copy of Jacques T. A. G. M. van Ruiten, “Land and Covenant in Jubilees 14,” in The Land of Israel in Bible, History, and Theology: Studies in Honour of Ed Noort, ed. Jacques T. A. G. M. van Ruiten and J. Cornelis de Vos, VTSup 124 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 259–76.

Besides me for this project, interest in this title might be quite low among current Faulkner library users. So, for all its wonderful scholarship, it might not be the best use of limited shelving space. Even so, our library had it available as an ebook that proved entirely adequate for what I needed from that essay for the project I was working on.

Interlibrary Loan

“Interlibrary loan” (ILL) is a service in which libraries cooperate to loan resources to each other’s patrons. No library is going to have everything. You can request an ILL through your institution’s library or another theological library where you have check out privileges.

But your local public library should also be able to provide some amount of ILL access. And you might be quite surprised at what you can borrow through the mail via ILL from a local public library—and the public librarians might be quite interested to see your ILL requests for what are, for their normal audience, some very obscure titles.

Continually requesting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has to get old. Surely a good request for Richard Bauckham’s The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses would help spice things up, right? Or, maybe a good scholarly French or German title? 🙂

So, if you have access to ILL services at a theological library, you can certainly use those. But don’t discount you can access via ILL at your local public library either.


So, for students and faculty, the moral of the story is: Your library is a gem for you—don’t let it be a hidden one. Even if you doubt there is anything helpful, still look.

Think about what libraries you have access to—theological and otherwise. Go by, browse the shelves, and talk to the librarians to ensure you’re not overlooking a bank of helpful resources just because something’s accessible to you in a bit different place than you thought to look. And while you’re at it, explore what you may have access to through your libraries’ electronic holdings or ILL.

Doing so can save you valuable time and effort in the research process, as well as expand the range of materials you have readily at your disposal.

  1. Header image provided by Jonathan Simcoe

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