Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie BETH

In: Theological Libraries and Library Associations in Europe
Open Access

‘Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie’ (BETH) is a federation of theological library associations and individual libraries. The federation was officially founded in 1973 in the Netherlands. However, its roots go back to 1961 to Germany when the Dutch, French, and German theological library associations created the ‘International Committee for the Coordination of the Associations of Libraries of Catholic Theology’ (CIC). Originally founded by the Catholic associations of libraries, CIC began after the Second Vatican Council to expand more into the ecumenical sphere and in 1973 changed its name to International Council of Theological Library Associations (‘Le Conseil international des associations de bibliothèques de théologie’), and finally, in 1999, to ‘Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie’ – BETH.

Today, BETH is an ecumenical federation bringing together around 1,500 libraries across Europe with an estimated stock of more than 60 million volumes and an important collection of ancient manuscripts. The purpose of BETH is to promote cooperation and development among the theological, ecclesiastical, and religious libraries on the European continent and serve their interests in the scientific and academic sphere on both the European and international levels. Ever since its beginning, BETH had an international and serving focus. The founding associations recognised that mutual collaboration is necessary not only for the advancement of their interests but to improve the professional quality of all theological libraries, especially those which are underprivileged and operating in a difficult situation.

The membership of BETH is divided into three categories: ordinary, extraordinary, and special members. Ordinary or institutional members are different European national theological library associations that are themselves composed of individual libraries or librarians; extraordinary members are individual theological libraries; special members are individuals who have served the international theological library system. Membership is approved by the General Meeting, after a written request of the candidate(s) and is taken by a two-thirds majority. The number of members in BETH grew gradually, from the initial three ordinary members in the 1970´s to today’s 15. In the 1990s there were three extraordinary members, and today there are 14. Both ordinary and extraordinary members of BETH cannot be described in one identical way. The membership of BETH is as diverse and heterogeneous as the entire branch of theological librarianship. Some associations are related to a particular church denomination (Roman Catholic, Lutheran), while others are ecumenical, interreligious, and open to all types of libraries. Extraordinary members are sometimes private stand-alone theological libraries, and sometimes parts of state-owned institutions, such as the national, public, and university libraries. Overall, BETH members come from 19 European countries. Since its beginning, BETH was always open and looking to spread its members’ network in Europe and internationally. In countries where there is at the moment no theological library association or network, BETH nurtures contacts with these colleagues, and they are often regular participants in the annual conferences.

From an informal and friendly committee, BETH grew over the decades into an entity with two governance bodies: the General Meeting and the Board. (1) The General Meeting is held once a year during the annual conference and is structured in such a way that each ordinary member is represented by two delegates and extraordinary member(s) by one delegate. All the major decisions for the work of the association such as financial budgeting, admission of new members, affiliations, and contracts are made at this meeting. The General Meeting does not interfere in the private affairs of its members but respects their autonomy. (2) The Board is elected by the General Meeting for a period of five years. It consists of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and one or more members. The Board is responsible for all the daily management of the association and its tasks. Both the General Meeting and the Board frequently appoint various working groups and committees to lead special projects. In the last 50 years, numerous librarians from all over Europe have voluntarily served for decades and sacrificed their time and energy to advance the work of the association. The names of all the presidents, vice-presidents, and secretaries can be seen in the Appendix to this book.

The official languages of BETH are English, French, and German. In the first 40 years, the main working language was French. After 2010, the main working language became English. To financially support common projects and activities, each member of the Association contributes a membership fee to the common budget. BETH also receives funds for its work from Atla through a partnership agreement. BETH and its members agreed to provide publicity and support for sales of certain Atla products in return for financial considerations from Atla.

Once a year, BETH organises an annual conference in one of the European countries on topics relevant to theological librarianship. In the last 50 years, the meetings have been held in 36 cities and 15 countries. In the first couple of years, most of the meetings took place in the founding countries of France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Then during the 1980s and 1990s, the meetings took place in France every second year in conjunction with the annual meeting of the French association. In 1999, the meetings again began to be held in a different country every year, following the invitations of the member associations. Until 2010, the delegates of mostly member groups visited the conferences and the focus of the meeting was to share news about activities and projects from national associations and libraries. During this period, the General Meeting of the members and the conference were not separated but completely intertwined. After the 2010s, this approach was changed, and the annual conferences always had a specific topic in focus and were open for all those interested in theological and religious librarianship. This has increased the number of conference attendees, especially from 2020 and onwards when the meetings began to be held online as well. Also moving the conference from one country to the other has led to a better understanding of the various settings and contexts in which European libraries function and serve, the riches of the collections they protect, and increased the appreciation of diversity and common bonds.1

During the year, the communication among BETH members evolves through two listservs, one specifically for the members and another for general theological librarianship topics. The BETH website that is hosted by the Catholic University of Leuven also serves as the main communication and archive tool both for BETH and its members. In the early years of the association, a circular letter was sent to all the theological libraries whose addresses could be obtained, listing all the services and projects, which were operated within the community and associations that established them. Later member associations started regularly exchanging their bulletins and newsletter for the mutual benefit of all.

In the last 50 years, BETH has been involved in various projects,2 which were predominantly started and run by different national associations. The reasons for this lie in the early history of BETH, where the aim of the founding associations was not to focus on starting new projects on behalf of BETH, but to coordinate projects and services that were already established by other associations, to develop them and increase their use on the European and international level. The only exception to this is the European Thesaurus for Indexing in Religious Libraries project (ETHERELI), which was started in the early 1990s on behalf of BETH and was led by Brother Ferdinand Poswick, of the ‘Centre Informatique et Bible’ in Maredsous. The pilot of the project was supported by the European Union, but unfortunately, the continuation never received the needed funding.

Cooperation and an international focus have always been at the heart of BETH. Over the decades’ BETH has partnered, supported, and cooperated with different European and international organisations in the fields of librarianship, religion, and theology. From 1971 to 1986, the association was a member of IFLA. In 2009, a special interest group within IFLA called Religions in Dialogue (Relindial), was started by the president of BETH, Odile Dupont. BETH and Relindial enjoy to this day a very close relationship and regularly report and promote their activities at their annual meetings. In the 1990s, a closer relationship was established with the American Theological Library Association, Atla. In 1998, a formal agreement was reached in which Atla agreed to share a portion of the royalties from the sale of their products to the European theological libraries with BETH and with the various national associations to which the subscribing libraries belong. This agreement continues today and through it, BETH has been able to increase its available operational funds and support the work of its members. Agreements have also been made with the two EU funded projects called Research Infrastructure on Religious Studies (ReIReS) and Resilience, whose aim is to build a research infrastructure on religious studies, by offering various research activities, transnational and virtual access to the most significant tools, and sources in the field of religious studies. On an international level, BETH has also had contacts and visits from the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association and Forum for Asian Theological Libraries (ForAtl). In 2015 in cooperation with Atla and all the above-mentioned associations, BETH has participated in the start of the International Theological Education Task Force, which has launched several projects, including the Theological Librarian’s Handbook and Institute for International Theological Librarians.

What are the results of these efforts, pursued with perseverance, in various forms, for 50 years? And what lies ahead as the biggest task for BETH in the future? BETH has continuously nurtured connections, a conviction that librarians in Europe and worldwide should know and help each other do their job well, even across borders and denominations. It has provided a joint space and platform for communication, dialogue, and collaboration amid many obstacles and the diversity of the contexts in which the European libraries are found. One of the biggest obstacles to the coordination of efforts in Europe is the diversity of culture and language, in addition to the variety of ecclesiastical structures, library techniques, and methods. BETH has succeeded in surmounting these on the pure goodwill of many librarian volunteers who believe such a space is necessary and worth working for. In the future, other challenges surface as the digital shift and divide between big universities and small ecclesiastical libraries grows. Neither has a monopoly position in Europe now. BETH has much to do to foster stronger cooperation between libraries regardless of their size, affiliation, and the type and nature of spiritual resources they are committed to protecting.

BETH website:

Matina Ćurić


Wikipedia articles: BETH – European Theological Libraries (available in Dutch, English, German, Finnish, French, Polish and Spanish languages).

Cervelló-Margalef, Juan Antonio, ed. Conseil International des Associations de Bibliothèques de Théologie 1961–1981. Cologne: Secrétariat du Conseil, 1982.

Geuns, André Jozef and Penelope R. Hall. “Partners with Europe.” ATLA Summary of Proceedings 52 (1998): 237–242.

Geuns, Andre Jozef and Barbara Wolf-Dahm. “Theological Libraries: An Overview on History and Present Activities of the International Council of Associations of Theological Libraries.” INSPEL: International Journal of Special Libraries – IFLA 32, no. 3 (1998): 139–158.

Geuns, Andre Jozef. “Past, Present, and Future of International Theological Librar­ianship: The European Experience.” American Theological Library Association: Summary of Proceedings 53 (1999): 247–252.

Geuns, Andre Jozef. “From Ecclesiastic to Theological Libraries: How Religious Libraries Cope with Diversity in Europe.” American Theological Library Association: Summary of Proceedings 54 (2000): 229–242.

Geuns, André Jozef. “BETH: European Theological Libraries.” Presentation, IFLA Offsite Session Religious Libraries, Milan, 24th August 2009.

Gilmont, Jean-François and Thomas P. Osborne. “Les associations de bibliothèques de théologie: Un service pour la recherché.” Revue théologique de Louvain, 15, no. 1 (1984): 73–85.

Hall, Penelope R. “The International Council of Theological Library Associations: Past Foundation, Present Form and Plans for the Future.” ATLA Summary of Proceedings 51 (1997): 243–251.

Hall, Penelope R. “International Librarianship and the Advance of Global Communication.” ATLA Summary of Proceedings 53 (1999): 253–255.

Hall, Penelope R. “International Librarianship.” In Omnia autem probate, quod bonum est tenete: Opstellen aangeboden aan Etienne D’hondt, bibliothecaris van de Maurits Sabbebibliotheek, edited by Mathijs Lamberigts and Leo Kenis, 129–140. Leuven: Maurits Sabbebibliotheek Faculteit Godgeleerdheid – Uitgeverij Peeters, 2010.

Mech, Paul. “Le C.I.C.” La Croix, 30 September 1964.

Mech, Paul and Herman Morlion. “Le Conseil International des Associations de Bibliothèques de Théologie.” In Conseil International des Associations de Bibliothèques de Théologie: 1961–1990, 1–6. Leuven: Bibliotheek van de Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid van de K.U. Leuven, 1990.

Mech, Paul and Herman Morlion, André J. Geuns. “Le Conseil International des Associations de Bibliothèques de Théologie.” In Conseil international des Associ­ations de Bibliothèques de Théologie. Internationaler Rat der Vereinigungen theologischer Bibliotheken. International Council of Theological Library Associations 1961–1996, edited by Godelieve Ginneberge, Instrumenta Theologica 17, 1–7. Leuven: Bibliotheek van de Faculteit Godgeleerdheid van de K.U. Leuven, 1996.

Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie: Extraordinary Members

According to its first statutes, the Conseil had two types of members: ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary members were (and are) the national associations of theological libraries. “To the extraordinary membership may be admitted natural persons and legal entities, significantly serving the international theological librarianship” (Statutes art. 5.2). In the most recent amendment to the statutes of BETH, the latter category was split. The association now has three types of members: (1) ordinary members: library associations; (2) extraordinary members: libraries and legal entities that perform significant service to the international theological library system are eligible for extraordinary membership; (3) special members: individuals who have served the international theological library system.

This article gives an overview of the extraordinary members (according to the latest statutory definition) of the Conseil/BETH. The three published overviews of the Conseil from 1982, 1990, and 1996 contain lists of ordinary and extraordinary members.3

In 1982, there was only one extraordinary member: the ‘Centre de recherche et de documentation des institutions chrétiennes’ (CERDIC) located at the ‘Université Marc Bloch’ in Strasbourg.

This Centre no longer appears on the 1990 list of members. Instead, there are two new members: the ‘Centre Informatique et Bible, Maredsous’ (Belgium), a research institute in the field of Bible and computer science,4 and the World Council of Churches’ Library, Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1996, there were three extraordinary members, Maredsous and Geneva, and the ‘Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire’ (BNU) from Strasbourg. The BNU is the university library for the Strasbourg universities but is also the national deposit library (‘Centre d’acquisition et de diffusion de l’information scientifique et technique’, CADIST) for religious studies in France. The BNU library holds among others the collection of the CERDIC. The BNU was admitted as an extraordinary member in 1993.

Starting in the second half of the 1990s, many more libraries were admitted. There are two reasons for this: more members give more income in membership fees and with more members more work can be done. BETH had plans for some projects but that required money and people to run the projects.

In 1997, the theology department of the ‘Deutsche Bibliothek’ became an extraordinary member. This was in the context of the ETHERELI project in which, among other things, connection to the German ‘Schlagwortnormdatei’ (Subject heading catalogue) was investigated. When the project ultimately proved unviable, relations with the ‘Deutsche Bibliothek’ also came to an end.

Also in 1997, the Maurits Sabbe Library, the library of the theological faculty of the ‘Katholieke Universiteit Leuven’, the most important academic theological library in Belgium and one of the biggest theological libraries in the world, was admitted as an extraordinary member. In the same year the journal Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique (RHE) became a member of BETH. It is not a library but a journal, published under the responsibility of the ‘Katholieke Universiteit Leuven’ (now KU Leuven) and the ‘Université Catholique de Louvain’ (now UCL, located in Louvain-la-Neuve). The publishers thus underlined the importance of international cooperation between theological libraries. RHE was not actively involved in BETH and over time the contacts were weakened.

In 1998, the University Library of Tübingen became a member. Among the German university libraries, Tübingen has had theology and religious studies as ‘Sondersammelgebiet’ since 1949. From 2014, the old ‘Sondersammelgebiete’ were converted to ‘Fachinformationsdienste für die Wissenschaft’, again assigning Tübingen the responsibility for theology. The library has a long tradition in the field of theological bibliography. It began with the paper review Zeitschrifteninhaltsdienst Theologie. Today this service is available fully online and in Open Access through the site and also provides access to many full-text materials.

Three new extraordinary members were admitted to BETH in 2000: KADOC (‘Katholiek Documentatie- en Onderzoekscentrum’, now KADOC-KU Leuven); the Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek’ (JALB) in Emden, an international scientific institute (with extensive library) for research into Reformed Protestantism in the early modern period; the library of the ‘Theologische Faculteit Tilburg’, which became a member because the national association VThB in the Netherlands had been inactive for some years. Tilburg (whose former librarian at that time was the president of BETH) therefore missed the connection with its European colleagues and sought direct affiliation with BETH. When the VThB became active again after a few years, Tilburg decided to withdraw its separate status from BETH.

In 2003 the Randal Riede Library of the Pontifical North American College, the “finest English library in all of Rome,” joined BETH. The College is aimed at students from America. Contact with institutions outside Rome and Italy was important for this library, its librarian became an active member of the association.

One year later, two libraries joined BETH: the ‘Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek Köln mit Bibliothek St. Albertus Magnus’, one of the oldest and largest theological libraries in Germany, and the Library of the Reformed College Debrecen, one of the oldest and largest theological libraries in Hungary.

The year 2006 brought a new member from Prague: The International Baptist Theological Study Centre, the main centre and library for Baptist studies in Europe. In 2014 the Centre moved to Amsterdam, but it remained an active member of BETH.

In 2010 the library of the ‘Université Catholique de Louvain’ (UCL), the most important academic theological library in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) was admitted as an extraordinary member. Wallonia has had a thriving theological library association for a number of years, the ‘Association des Bibliothèques de Théologie et d’Information Religieuses’ (ABTIR), founded in 1983. But at the turn of the century, this association became quiet and showed no sign of life. UCL therefore decided to become an extraordinary member of BETH.

Two more libraries must have been admitted during this period, but data on the exact admission cannot be found. It concerns these libraries: the ‘Institut Catholique de Paris’ (ICP), the most important Catholic scientific educational institution in France, and the University Library of Helsinki. The subject librarian visited the BETH conference, after which his library decided to register as an extraordinary member. Not for long, however, because in 2017 the extraordinary membership could be converted into a regular membership of the newly founded Finnish association.

In 2012 the ‘Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon’ joined BETH for its large collection of Jesuitica. Between 1998 and 1999, the collections of the Jesuit library of Chantilly (over 500,000 items) were transferred to the Lyon Municipal Library.

In 2013 the ‘Bibliothèque de Port-Royal de Paris’, another special library from France, specialising in the history of Jansenism, joined BETH.

In recent years, BETH has been expanding eastwards, especially in countries where theological library associations are not yet active. The Theological Pentecostal Institute in Bucharest was admitted as a member in 2013 and the ‘Biblijski Institut’ in Zagreb in 2016. Both institutions were admitted as members not because of the importance of their collections but because of their role as pioneers for European cooperation in their countries. The librarians of both institutions played an important role in establishing contacts with other institutions in Southeast Europe.

To avoid proliferation of the number of extraordinary members and to limit the influence of this category of members on the General meeting of the association, criteria for admission were included in BETH’s by-laws in 2014:

Bylaw 3. Application for Extraordinary membership

  • 3.1. In countries with an association of theological libraries the association must confirm that the library collection of the proposed new member is not only of national importance but also of international importance. This recommendation should be endorsed by at least two members of BETH from a different country or countries.

  • 3.2. In countries without an association of theological libraries at least two members of BETH from a different country or countries should endorse the application. The Board will encourage these new members to form a national association. There will be a limit of two extraordinary members per country unless there are very good reasons for increasing the limit. This decision will be undertaken by the Board.

The involvement of the associate members in the association is very different. Some of them were and are very active within the Association. The World Council of Churches’ Library even provided one of the BETH presidents. Others showed little interest and rarely or never came to the annual conferences. Some stopped to pay the membership fee after some years, so that the conclusion had to be drawn that membership was apparently no longer of interest to the library concerned. The above list does not even include those libraries that did sign up for membership but never paid their dues or only paid them once when signing up.

But sometimes, after a few years, a representative of an already written-off library unexpectedly reappeared at a conference. This makes it difficult to draw up an accurate list of extraordinary members.

One reason for this unstable relationship with the European parent association may be that, more so than with ordinary members, the relationship between BETH and the extraordinary members is dependent on one person, usually the head of the library or the subject librarian for theology. If a new person comes into this office, he or she can easily change the emphasis of his or her work.

Geert Harmanny

Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie: 50 Years of Presidents

During the half century of its existence, BETH has been managed by six presidents. In particular, the first presidents of BETH all had a long experience of international work and cooperation. Such international background, reflected, e.g., in the knowledge of multiple languages, was a necessity for guiding an international association consisting of members from many different countries. These presidents were forced to combine their work for BETH with the often-numerous assignments within their own organisation. Such kind of multitasking was only possible thanks to the continuous assistance, within the Board, of dedicated vice-presidents, competent secretaries, cautious treasurers (their names can be found in the appendix), and other members of the Board, such as Dr. Heinz Finger, who in the early 2000s played a role in special circumstances.

Another characteristic of BETH is found in the fact that, even though it had always worked together in an ecumenical way, its first five presidents were all of Catholic origin. With the advent of more religiously mixed societies, a movement of religiously – or at least Christian – pluralism was also carried through into the Board. Finally, next to the first laymen, smoothly but irresistibly, a growing number of women entered the Board also.

In what follows we give an overview of the six presidents of BETH in brief sketches of their professional career and their contribution to the development of BETH.

Herwig (Jan Frans) Ooms, OFM, 1972–1977

Herwig Ooms was born in Turnhout (Belgium) in 1914. In 1936 he joined the Franciscan order at Tielt. Thereafter, he was active in almost all monasteries of the order in Flanders. In 1948–49 he went to the Belgian Congo as assistant to a Franciscan missionary bishop, and later he worked at the mission procuratorate in Brussels. He became a librarian in Ghent and, in 1951, a professor at the order’s seminary in Sint-Truiden. From 1968 he was librarian at the Limburg College in Hasselt and in 1973 head librarian at the newly founded University Centre Limburg.

Through his contacts with his Dutch confreres, Herwig Ooms got to know, among others, Fr. J.D. Bakker, SSS, from Nijmegen, and the Dutch Association of Seminary and Monastery Libraries (VSKB). Feeling the need to meet the insufficiently recognised concerns of religious libraries in Belgium, Fr. Ooms founded, in 1965, VRB, the Association of Religious Studies Librarians. Experience taught him that he should go further internationally, and in 1972, together with the associations from neighbouring countries, he started the ‘Conseil international des associations de bibliothèques de théologie’, of which he became the first president. In the meantime, he published a great deal on Franciscan bibliography, and monastic and Franciscan library history. In 1946 he had started the journal Franciscana.

In the 1970s, Herwig Ooms was involved in advising the establishment of the new theological library (now Maurits Sabbe library) of the Faculty of Theology of KU Leuven, and of KADOC, the ‘Catholic Documentation and Research Centre’ at the same KU Leuven. He died in Sint-Truiden in 2010.

Herman Morlion, SJ, 1977–1988

Herman Morlion was born in 1925 in Ghent. In 1943 he entered the Society of Jesus. He concluded his philosophical studies at the Gregoriana in Rome. In 1962, he became a professor of philosophy at the Philosophical-Theological Faculty of the Jesuits at Heverlee near Leuven. His real biotope was its ‘Great Library of the Flemish Jesuits’, where he served as librarian from 1967 on. He developed the library into an exceptional collection and must have suffered from having to prepare its move to the new Library of the Faculty of Theology of KU Leuven (1974 and 1998). Meanwhile, through the international connections of the Jesuits, he remained in contact with libraries in Japan, Taiwan, India, Congo, the USA, Latin America, Australia, and all of Europe.

From 1977 until 1989, Herman Morlion was the president of VRB, the Association of Religious Science Librarians in Belgium, as well as president of the ‘Conseil international des associations de bibliothèques de théologie’ (later BETH). Thanks to his international experience, he managed to attract new members to BETH. Thus, during a meeting at the WCC in Geneva, the British association ABTAPL joined BETH as a new member. Herman Morlion also began to send Etienne D’hondt, as vice-president, representing le Conseil to the annual meetings of the Dutch, English, French, and German associations. He made sure that the board meetings became more international with meetings in Paris, Strasbourg, Königstein, Darmstadt, Lyon, Cologne, Maredsous, Geneva, and of course, also at his home in Heverlee-Leuven. Under his direction, Willem Audenaert worked on the Clavis foliorum periodicorum theologicorum Benelux and on the same initiative in Germany and France. Herman Morlion died in Heverlee-Leuven in 2008.

André Geuns, 1989–2002

With André Geuns, born in 1936 in Mol (Belgium), BETH had a third Belgian as president. After his studies in Strasbourg, he was active for some time in Africa studying and publishing, e.g., on Kimbanguism. Following his time in Africa, in 1973 he was appointed librarian to organise the library at the newly founded Theological Faculty in Tilburg (The Netherlands). He succeeded in integrating important heritage collections and published several exhibition catalogues. In 1987, just before the beginning of the computer age, he managed to finish a Cartotheca alphabetica atque systematica Patrologiae graecae. Seeing the damage to some precious pieces, he took the initiative to start a restoration studio in Tilburg. Meanwhile he had become president of VThB, the Dutch Association for Theological Librarianship. In 1996 he was able to have the multilingual brochure Conseil intranational des associations de bibliothèques de théologie published.

Towards the end of his career, André Geuns moved with his Roman wife Anna Paola to Cerveteri near Rome. This was an opportunity for him to establish contacts with the Italian Association of Theological Librarians (ABEI) and with the group of Roman Pontifical Universities (URBE). They both became members of the Conseil/BETH. He then invited BETH to a successful general meeting in Rome. He also started orienting BETH toward Eastern Europe, first to Vienna, then further to Pannonhalma in Hungary and Krakow in Poland. He established contacts with Dennis Norlin, the executive director of Atla, the American Theological Library Association, and then participated in the annual meetings of this sister association that would later sponsor BETH handsomely. André Geuns died in Rome in 2013.

Pierre Beffa, 2002–2007

Pierre Beffa was born in 1943, in Geneva, Switzerland, where in 1965 he started his career as librarian of the World Council of Churches and, as successor to Ans Joachim van der Bent, took care of the library and archives of the WCC. Early on he was computerising his collections with McDonnell-Douglas software. In the meantime, he tried to organise a Swiss association of theological libraries – but this remained an annual meeting without a fixed structure. Still, the WCC was admitted to the Conseil/BETH as an extraordinary member during a meeting in Geneva with Herman Morlion, Etienne D’hondt and Patrick Lambe from ABTAPL. At this meeting, Pierre Beffa was elected as president of BETH, succeeding André Geuns.

As president, Pierre Beffa insisted on regularly attending the annual meetings of the national associations. He ensured a strengthening of relations with Atla by participating in its annual meeting and through an exchange programme between BETH and Atla. As a collaborator with the WCC, he participated in many international ecumenical meetings. He published numerous articles on libraries and ecumenism and on theological literature of the Third World in The Ecumenical Review, the WCC’s journal. He was the editor of the Index to the WCC’s official statements and reports from 1948 to 1994. Together with IDC (Inter Documentation Company), he microfilmed the General Correspondence from the WCC archives. Yet he always remained anxious about the future of his collections because of the many reorganisations at the WCC. Pierre Beffa retired in 2002.

Odile Dupont, 2007–2012

Odile Dupont was the first woman elected president of BETH. After a scientific education and a position in Lebanon, she returned to France, where, eventually, she became librarian of the ‘Institut Catholique de Paris’ (ICP). There she managed the important ‘Bibliothèque de Fels’ and the new subterranean library which also brought together other libraries from ICP, such as BOSEB (Bible) and IFEB.

Thanks to her scientific background in documentation, Odile Dupont was always an advocate for the training of users in online research and so the 39th General Assembly of BETH in Nice had as its theme: “Searching and Researching Scripture: Biblical Study in the 21st Century.” Together with the other French Catholic universities, she succeeded in setting up the common catalogue ORIGENE, and also collaborated on SUDOC, the French central catalogue.

Given her knowledge of libraries networking and her position in BETH, thanks to the collaboration with Atla, she was also able to collaborate on interreligious dialogue and the importance of libraries in this endeavour. This resulted in opening a new IFLA Special Interest Group: Relindial (on this, see her chapter in this book). She was also the editor of an important book on the subject: Libraries Serving Dialogue (2014).

Thanks to her knowledge of the French library world, new members were registered with BETH: The ‘Bibliothèque de Port-Royal’, the ‘Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon’, and a representation of the ‘Bibliothèque nationale de France’. Since 2013 Odile Dupont has retired, but she is still active in ABCF and the Relindial IFLA SIG.

Geert Harmanny, 2012–2022

Geert Harmanny, born in 1959, was elected president of BETH, in absentia, in Belfast in 2012. An almost whole new board started with him: Carol Reekie, Marek Rostkowski, Matti Myllykoski, Svein Helge Birkeflet, Marian Papavoine (webmaster). Veronique Verspeurt stayed on as Treasurer. After studying history at the University of Groningen, Geert soon got a job in the library of the Theological University Kampen. In 1996, he became librarian. He not only developed his library considerably, but also intensified cooperation with other libraries, such as that of the Protestant Theological University (also located in Kampen until 2012). For years he has been active on the Board of VThB, the Dutch association of theological libraries, of which he has been the chairman since 2006.

Convinced that professional knowledge must be shared, also as chair of BETH he attached great importance to cooperation. He strived to give the lectures at the annual BETH conferences more substantive weight. On his initiative, it has become customary to grant scholarships to employees of institutions for whom travel and conference costs are too high. Under his leadership, the Board of BETH has strengthened ties with Eastern Europe, by organising congresses in Wroclaw (2014), Zagreb (2017) and Lviv (2020/2021 – only online, both in 2020 and 2021, due to the Covid pandemic). He renewed the connections and contract with Atla and strengthened contacts with different publishers and database vendors by inviting them to BETH meetings to give presentations and hold relevant discussions.

Geert Harmanny pushed for the temporary hiring of a paid person for the BETH secretariat, in the person of Matina Ćurić, also secretary of BETH. At his encouragement, the national associations of Switzerland, Finland and Sweden were welcomed as new ordinary members. In 2022, he will step down as president after 10 years, with many thanks from all involved.

On the history of BETH:

Marian Papavoine and Etienne D’hondt5

Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie: Member Associations

Arbeitsgemeinschaft Katholisch-Theologischer Bibliotheken AKThB

After the Second World War, the library system in Germany had to be restructured. Losses to its collections – also in ecclesiastical libraries – forced libraries into finding new forms of cooperation. Thus, among other things, the idea of connecting academic Catholic libraries and ecclesiastic libraries emerged. The aim was to form a community of libraries of non-governmental universities, seminaries, abbeys, Christian institutions founded by donors, larger religious institutes, and ecclesiastical associations to jointly articulate their interests. In addition to frequent exchange of information between library directors on specialist issues, the project aimed at facilitating and promoting academic work. Due to this emerging collaboration, a constant professionalisation of library staff had begun during this time.

The foundation of the Association of Catholic Theological Libraries (AKThB) on 11 August 1947 at the University of Philosophy and Theology Sankt Georgen, Frankfurt, marked the start of this cooperation. The AKThB was designed to bundle all matters relevant for the German Catholic libraries. The association invited all ecclesiastical Catholic libraries to join the collaborative association.

The association ‘Buchhilfe Deutscher Ordensbibliotheken’ (Book-Aid: Association of German Libraries of Religious Orders, 1937–1941) served as a basis. An advisory board was appointed to assist the executive committee, which represented the AKThB externally on a political level. The committee tries to maintain a presence of library-related issues on public agendas. The general assembly has to decide on the topics the AKThB will act and focus on. While the general assembly meets once a year, the executive committee and the advisory board meet at least once or twice more. Fortunately, the number of library members rose from 39 to 156 by 1999. Since then, the number has been steadily decreasing. This trend can mainly be explained by the dissolution of many monasteries. It raises the question of what will happen to the libraries of those monasteries, some of which are highly valuable. This is one of the most pressing questions concerning the AKThB today!

As early as 1970, the German Bishops’ Conference recognised the AKThB as a competent body regarding questions concerning the academic ecclesiastical library system of the Catholic Church. Doing this estimation justice, the AKThB has repeatedly questioned decisions made by church leaders.

In 1994, an impulse by the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church triggered a sustained discussion, which in 2009 the AKThB finally put into writing in the Guidelines for the Preservation of Endangered Ecclesiastical Library Collections. This document was recognised by the German Bishops’ Conference.

The Roman document Ecclesiastical Libraries in the Mission of the Church published in 1994 placed cultural assets of ecclesiastical libraries under special protection, which had already been realised by comparable writings regarding church archives and museums. Against the background of endangered ecclesiastical cultural assets because of the dissolution and merging of monastic libraries, this document formed the starting point for further writings and activities. Examples are the founding of the Interdenominational Commission on Old Library Collections in 1995 and the Naurode Declaration of the AKThB, a declaration of protection for endangered cultural assets, in 2002. In 2005, the association published a handout to reach a wider public. Finally, the Guidelines for the Preservation of Endangered Ecclesiastical Library Collections were recommended to respective libraries by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2009. They functioned as a framework of recommendations for diocesan libraries and were distributed via official gazettes of individual dioceses. One of the core ideas is that ecclesiastical book collections are primarily the responsibility of ecclesiastical libraries; in the event of dissolution, transfer to a diocesan library has priority. Specialised librarians have to examine the case in the event of dissolution. Finally, in the event of dissolution, ideational values are to be preserved, especially regarding library collections originating from before 1800. The respective institutions should respect and implement these regulations. However, often the consideration of economic questions is the key element deciding on the dissolution of libraries.

The specific tasks of libraries demand special answers. Thus, in the late 1980s, the development of IT became one of the most pressing questions in ecclesiastical libraries. For this reason, we set up a joint IT committee with the Association of Ecclesiastical Academic Libraries (VkwB) in the working group of Archives and Libraries of the Protestant Church. The committee’s main purpose was to assist libraries in the selection of library systems. Launched in 1994, the joint virtual library catalogue, the ‘Virtual Catalogue Theology and Church’ (VThK), is one of its most ambitious and successful projects so far. The continuous enlargement of this catalogue ultimately led to its wide recognition. Today, the VThK can be consulted on the landing page of the ‘Karlsruher Verbundkatalog’ (Union Catalogue of Karlsruhe)!

Old collections are abundantly available in ecclesiastical libraries. This is why the AKThB and the VkwB set up their own Committee for Old Collections, which offers specialist advice on questions concerning old collections. Furthermore, all mediaeval manuscripts and the incunabula of the Catholic and Protestant libraries are to be recorded and indexed. In 2006, the committee listed its goals in a paper entitled “Brief Rules for Dealing with Old Library Collections.” The Committee for Old Collections carefully observes all book movements that may be related to library changes.

Catholic ecclesiastical libraries of the AKThB can be found throughout the German-speaking countries. Federal states, ‘Bundesländer’, almost exclusively decide on specialist issues concerning libraries. It was therefore logical that the libraries meet in regional Länder-groups in addition to the general annual meeting, partly in consultation with Protestant libraries. They discuss specific regional problems, e. g. the participation in library networks.

Since 2000, Christian universities of both denominations have formed their own group to have a space for exchange on their specific tasks and experiences. They want to maintain contact with their respective research institutions and faculties and guide students through the vast and confusing field of disjointed information.

Monastery libraries and their issues form another section of the AKThB. The guidelines developed by the AKThB aim at providing assistance for their special needs. In addition to maintaining the historically grown collections, librarians responsible for monastic libraries must, above all, ensure the supply of literature in the present. On the one hand, the vitality of a library depends on the abilities of the library director. On the other hand, however, it is central that the monastery direction and all monks and nuns identify with their library.

Currently, monastic libraries probably face the greatest problems. Due to the aggregation processes within the monastic landscapes of the various religious orders, many monasteries experience dissolution. Whenever possible, the libraries of such dissolved monasteries should be integrated into other ecclesiastical libraries, for example diocesan libraries. They are, however, unable to accommodate the great quantity of books.

Lastly, diocesan libraries need to be mentioned. They are large regional libraries, which are sometimes understaffed. Often, they have the status of a small library of a federal state but specifically catering to the Catholic population of a federal state. They provide information on church communities, but also on countless ecclesiastical institutions, foundations, and associations. Life of religious communities takes place in political, social and cultural areas. Diocesan libraries allow their visitors to trace ruptures and transformations as well as the lines between winners and losers of the past and present, that are given a voice there.

Ecclesiastical libraries support scholars and interested non-academic individuals with their research. They open up paths towards interpreting historical processes. They show how history could have possibly taken alternative turns, or what we could learn from the past for the future. Catalogues have to be designed in such ways that they arouse the curiosity in the user. In order to do this, ecclesiastical catalogues must constantly enrich state catalogues with new corporate bodies, authors, and, above all, media of all types (books, journals, regional and local newspapers, grey literature, electronic platforms). Church issues relevant beyond academic theological circles need to be brought into current public discourse.

People are situated within webs of relationships and publish their ideas in a wide variety of printed and digital media. They are connected in their desire to let as many people as possible engage with their works, follow them and value them. Libraries show the public the diverse facets of the church, or indeed of life.

AKThB website:

Georg Ott-Stelzner

Asociación de Bibliotecarios de la Iglesia en España ABIE

Libraries and Bibliographic Heritage of the Church in Spain

The Church has played, and plays, throughout the history of Spain, a fundamental role in the creation, conservation and dissemination of culture in general, and of books and its libraries in particular. During the 19th century, the State confiscation processes, among others, resulted in the suppression of religious orders and the seizure of their properties. In the chaos of this management, in the best of cases, some bibliographic collections were integrated into university libraries, on other occasions they remained in oblivion when not destroyed or sold. The bibliographic heritage that disappeared at that time is incalculable, not only for the Church, but also for Spain. According to some authors, this was the moment when Spain left the intellectual rhythm of Europe. It was not until after the Spanish Civil War that the Church libraries began to solve their problems. The Second Vatican Council represented a bibliographic renewal in a time of loss of religious vocations. It is in this context of maximum bibliographic production and low vocations where ABIE arises.

The Association of Church Librarians in Spain (ABIE)

Creation. After the birth in 1969 of the sister organisation Association of Church Archivists in Spain, there were several attempts (in 1969, 1972 and 1985) to create a Spanish association of Church librarians. The final germ occurred in 1991 when José María Martí Bonet, president of the Association of Church Archivists at that time, managed to bring together 15 directors of ecclesiastical libraries who formed a Management Commission to shape the Association. This Commission drew up the statutes, which were approved in November 1993 by the Episcopal Conference and the Constituent Assembly was held in April 1994, attended by 27 library directors and where the first board of directors came.

According to the Statutes (article 1), the ABIE is constituted as a national, non-profit canonical public association, set up by the Spanish Episcopal Conference at the request and by agreement of the librarians. The ABIE for its operation is governed by its Statutes and outside of these, by Canon Law. The relationship with the Episcopal Conference occurs through the Episcopal Commission for Cultural Heritage. Its Board of Directors is made up of a president, a vice president, a secretary, a treasurer and three members.

It is necessary to specify that from the beginning, the ABIE is an association formed by professionals (librarians) and not by institutions (libraries). The reason was to prevent large ecclesial libraries, such as university libraries, from having a determining role in the course of the ABIE.

Aims and objectives. Article 4 of the Statutes contains the fundamental purposes of the ABIE:

  • promote the defence, conservation and dissemination of the Catholic religious doctrine and culture and the pastoral action of the Catholic Church through the service of its libraries;

  • collaborate with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to adequately put its bibliographic heritage at the service of society.

To achieve these purposes, the ABIE outlines the following objectives in its Statutes:

  • provide historical, bibliographic and documentary support to the various institutions of the Catholic Church that are dedicated to the religious and moral formation of the faithful;

  • contribute to the good conservation, organisation and cataloguing of the ecclesiastical libraries of Spain;

  • promote the preparation of inventories and catalogues of the ecclesiastical bibliographic heritage of Spain;

  • assist in the training of its members in library matters;

  • encourage collaboration among its members to facilitate their work and better solve common problems;

  • promote the holding of national meetings for the study and development of its activities and encourage the participation of its members in national or international meetings related to libraries; at this point, it is worth highlighting the integration of ABIE into BETH, on behalf of the Spanish ecclesiastical libraries, as well as the incorporation in 2008 into FESABID (Spanish Federation of Archival, Library, Documentation and Museum Societies);

  • promote ecclesiastical libraries and librarians within the national and international library scene.

Activities. Because of some of the objectives outlined in its Statutes, the ABIE has been carrying out the following activities.

  • Summer Courses: since 1997 at least one training course has been held in summer. The topics and teaching staff can be consulted at

  • Publications: the most important to date was the Guide to libraries in Spain in 2003.1 A directory of Spanish ecclesiastical libraries, ordered by their Diocese, is currently available on the ABIE website.

  • Technical Conference: since 1997 the ABIE Technical Conference has been held annually, as well as its Annual Assembly. From 1983 to 2008 all the papers were collected in the Cultural Heritage magazine: documentation, studies, information, and since 2007 on the Association’s website ( they are available in full text, in pdf format.

  • Annual reports: without systematic character, reports on the status and activities of the Association have been published and can be found on the BETH website. These reports correspond to the periods 1999–2000, 2011–2012, 2018–2019 and 2019–2020. Likewise, on the ABIE website you will find the Memories since 2018.

Projects. Since the birth of the ABIE, there have been two main projects to which it has aspired, although without materialising to date: the constitution of a network of Ecclesiastical Libraries and the creation of a collective catalogue, in addition to other projects secondary such as digitisation of funds and online training.

  • Ecclesiastical Libraries Network: for the ABIE, being an association of people (librarians) and not of institutions (libraries) is a handicap for organising a library network, although said network could be a consequence of the achievement of any of the other projects previously discussed.

  • Collective Catalogue: a collective catalogue, to which more ecclesiastical libraries with their respective collections were joining, could be the germ of the Network of which we spoke above, and that could have led to the implementation of a common library management software, allowing obvious savings and synergies between libraries. This idea was outlined by Víctor Sanz, director of the University of Navarra library, at the I Technical Conference in 2007, with his presentation “The Church Library Network: A Viable and Necessary Project.” A firm proposal was presented years later to the Episcopal Conference itself, but the lack of funding led to the abandonment of this ambitious project.

  • Training: in recent years the Board of Directors of ABIE has tried to redouble its efforts in training activities. Due to the difficulty of finding suitable dates for face-to-face training and taking advantage of technologies, online training has been promoted, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, through platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams or Webex. The installation of a Moodle-type Learning Management System (LMS) is also being studied.

  • Digitisation: finally, through public subsidies or through initiatives to digitise bibliographic heritage such as the one undertaken by Google, the aspiration is to convert the valuable collections of Spanish ecclesiastical libraries into electronic format and put them in value through a common catalogue or repository.

ABIE website:

Francisco José Cortés Martínez


Conferencia Episcopal Española. Comisión de Patrimonio Cultural. Guía de las bibliotecas de la Iglesia. Madrid: Editorial Edice, 2003.

Conferencia Episcopal Española. “Estatutos de la ABIE.” Madrid 2007.

Sanz Santacruz, Víctor. “La red de bibliotecas de la Iglesia: un proyecto viable y necesario.” Patrimonio Cultural: Documentación, estudios, información 46 (2007): 59–66.

Turbett Álvarez, Jaime. “La Iglesia y el Patrimonio Bibliográfico en España: la Asociación de Bibliotecarios de la Iglesia en España (ABIE).” Trabajo de Fin de Grado Universidad de Cantabria, 2020.

Valle Sánchez, Mª del Carmen. “Presentación de la ABIE (Asociación de Bibliotecarios de la Iglesia en España).” Patrimonio Cultural: Documentación, estudios, información 46 (2007): 93–99.

Association des Bibliothèques Chrétiennes de France ABCF

The ABCF aims to encourage librarians to work together and to promote the study of religion. It provides librarians with a range of services to meet the various difficulties they may encounter professionally, in order to give everyone the widest possible access to in-depth Christian thought. This approach is the logical continuation of what led to its creation.

As early as 1957, the need was felt to train those in charge of ecclesiastical libraries and create a greater sense of community. On the initiative of Fr. Mech (1911–1999), of the Jesuit Faculty of Lyon Fourvière, Fr. Villepelet (1906–1975) and Msgr. Jouassard (1895–1981), Dean of the Faculty of Theology, a first meeting was held in Lyon. It had an ambitious programme, inspired by the ‘Diplôme de technicien des bibliothèques’ (DTB), but adapted to the conditions of the seminary librarian’s job: modules on acquisition, conservation, cataloguing, and relations with other institutions, in particular public libraries, and those of Catholic universities, offered to participants. Its success – 40 librarians from seminaries and religious houses attended) shows that it met a need. In 1958 a service of mutual aid for ecclesiastical libraries (SEBE) was set up thanks – to the work of Fr. Dominique Bullier and in 1963 Fr. Mech filed the statutes of the ABEF: ‘Association des bibliothèques ecclésiastiques de France’. The aim of this association was to unite and support the libraries of the French houses of religious studies.

During this time, the closure and reorganisation of many seminaries endangered their libraries, while the need for resources for the apostolate was felt in the dioceses, both for clerics and laypeople. Among other associations, the ABEF played a decisive role in helping seminary libraries in this transition which led to the creation of diocesan libraries. Since 1971, the ABEF has published its Bulletin, a link between all members. It is now available online from the association’s website:

At its 1998 congress, the ABEF took the name of ABCF, ‘Association des Bibliothèques Chrétiennes de France’: it now brings together Christian libraries of all types. The ABCF has had an important influence in the evolution of diocesan libraries, ensuring their modernisation and the professionalisation of their managers, a role it still plays today.3

In 2005, Odile Dupont, then Director of Libraries at the ICP (Catholic University of Paris), joined the ABCF board as International Delegate. Elected president of BETH in September 2007, she was called to the IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions) Congress in 2009, where Fr. Silvano Danieli, director of URBE (‘Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche’), asked her to open a group of libraries in the service of interreligious dialogue. The Relindial group was opened in April 2012, under the auspices of the IFLA Social Science Libraries Section. Since the beginning, the ABCF has been a strong supporter of the group and more recently, of the project ‘Relindial Cartonera: Creating books to connect our lives’; the current ABCF secretary, Sophie Vasseur, is the Lead Librarian for the project within IFLA.4 This activity has already reached more than 800 people, thanks to the mobilisation of librarians and teachers who have enabled these people to dialogue and create together, small steps in the direction of dialogue, and the association is constantly promoting this action.

The SEBE, created in 1958, was replaced in 2009 by the use of an Internet mailing list. This service facilitates the search for out-of-print books and the direct transfer of books to other libraries. It facilitates communication and maintains the link between the different members.

The primary mission of the ABCF website ( is to represent the association by making available institutional information (organisation, history, list of members, etc.) and information that it issues (newsletters, etc.). The website is a unique way of communicating, it is also a tool for exchange and training. ABCF is also present on Facebook, which gives additional and complementary visibility.

In 2020, nearly 190 Christian libraries joined our association: diocesan libraries, universities, specialised institutes, seminaries, monasteries, convents, various institutions … They have benefited from the following services: Bulletin of the Association des Bibliothèques Chrétiennes de France, promotion of training, help in managing a collection, exchanges of experiences, research into out-of-print works, transfer of books between members, links with other libraries and internationally … The congresses, which are always much appreciated, pursue their objectives of training and cohesion by allowing the participants to share their experiences and knowledge.

At the beginning of 2020, we sent each diocese the “Charter of Christian Diocesan Libraries,” co-signed by Msgr. Norbert Turini, President of the Council for Communication of the French Bishops’ Conference. The aim of this charter is to help us better understand the functioning of a diocesan library and to open up avenues for the future. A similar study is being carried out for monasteries and convent libraries.5

In Bulletin 163 (2020), “Literature and Spirituality,” Br. Jean-Pierre Jossua, OP, theologian, offered us his contribution “From Theology to Literature.” He is one of the pioneers of what he calls “literary theology, which is divided into two parts: on the one hand, the literary writing of Christian reflection, and on the other hand, the theological reading of literature.” In Bulletin 164, “Uses and Users of Diocesan Libraries,” we have chosen to give a voice to students, researchers, teachers and authors. What links do they have with their libraries? How can we accompany them, guide them, what tools do they need? These are all questions we must ask ourselves in order to make the library an indispensable link in the chain of research.

Every two years, a congress is organised alternately in Paris and in a provincial city, where various members of diocesan libraries, theological centres, Catholic universities or Protestant faculties, monasteries, but also members of the National Library of France can meet. We hope to meet again in September 2022 for three days. “How can a Christian library be a vector of dialogue and unity,” is the theme we have chosen to develop together. Conferences, roundtables and library visits will punctuate these three days. In a society marked by individualism and communitarianism we believe that “Preserving books and encouraging their reading and distribution is an activity that is very close to the Church’s evangelising mission.”6

We hope that we can always count on the spiritual and material support of our institutions, so that our libraries continue to live and develop under the guidance of trained librarians who are concerned about the influence of the Gospel. As living, changing places, may we respond to the mission entrusted to us: “to be places of culture, formation and evangelisation,” by helping the reader, the student, the researcher to draw from the Source in order to grow and hold on to the faith.

ABCF website:

Florence Capy


ABCF. Charte des bibliothèques chrétiennes de France et de leurs bibliothécaires.

Dupont, Odile. “Les réseaux français et européens de bibliothèques religieuses.” Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF) (2010): no. 1, 54–57. -2010-01-0054-011.

Marchisano, Francesco. “Les bibliothèques ecclésiastiques dans la mission de l’Église.” Pontificia commissio de bonis culturalibus ecclesiae. 19 March 1994.

Noye, PSS, Irénée. “Aux origines de l’ABCF.” Bulletin de liaison de l’ABCF no. 124 (Dec. 2003): 2–3.

RELINDIAL IFLA SIG. The Relindial Cartonera Project.

Associazione dei Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani ABEI

ABEI, ‘Associazione dei Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani’, was born in 1978, in the Abbey of San Nilo in Grottaferrata from an offshoot of the Ecclesiastical Archives Association (AAE, ‘Archiva Ecclesiae’). The atmosphere of an Eastern rite environment on the outskirts of Rome reminds us of the catholicity – in the etymological sense of ‘universal’ – of books and culture that do not tolerate boundaries or restrictions of rite, faith, or nationality and in its denomination, the privilege of people, librarians rather than libraries.

The foundation of the ABEI also responded to an important institutional innovation of the Italian Republic, dating back to 1974: the establishment of a Ministry dedicated to cultural heritage, with competences coming from the different ministries (for the State archives and for libraries). It was a sort of Copernican revolution where the State took care not only of the ‘function’ of archives, libraries and museums – documentation for archives, training for libraries (school, university, etc.), conservation and exhibition for museums – but also of their own heritage in its own ‘cultural’ as well as ‘functional’ value, with consequent new needs for conservation, enhancement, fruition.

The new Ministry had first of all to recognise and identify the cultural heritage of our country. It was the essential premise to protect, enhance, and make it usable.

The world of ecclesiastical libraries was very jagged and varied in all respects: ownership bodies, functional typology, accessibility, technique and completeness of cataloguing, extent of heritage, etc. An adequate coordination was then necessary, and this process produced more stable ties among libraries (always in need of funds for the preservation of collections) and the new Ministry and Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI, ‘Conferenza Episcopale Italiana’). The consequence was a more adequate ‘public’ usability, with rights and duties, therefore, on both sides.

The collaboration of ABEI, which time after time strengthened its initiatives and increased the number of associates, favoured the signing of an Agreement between Ministry and CEI for the preservation and usability (access and consultation) of Italian ecclesiastical libraries.

From the very beginning, we may identify four fundamental strands of the Association’s activity: drafting of the statutes; census of libraries; professional training; editorial activity for connection, communication, and formation.


The statutes, which were first drafted on October 20, 1979, underwent various adaptations partly required by civil laws. The 1989 version was particularly important, as it was approved by the President of CEI with a decree dated January 30, 1990. This meant an official recognition by CEI. The version currently in force was approved by the General Assembly of CEI on June 26, 2014 and was also officially recognised by CEI. The statutes are supported by a Regulation, determining its application.

Census of Libraries

Lists of names and addresses of libraries were periodically published in the information bulletin Bollettino di informazione since the early 1980s. A more complete recognition was then carried out in two stages. The first one began in January 1987 and ended with the Yearbook of Italian ecclesiastical libraries, published by Bibliografica in 1990; it contained 405 entries.7 A second and more complete list followed a few years later.8 It gathered 1,469 cards, as the result of a meticulous and systematic analysis of the results of two mailing lists, both paper and electronic, with double submission of the form for those who did not respond to the first one. The data were periodically updated in the Information Bulletin, in a special section. The census has no longer a paper document and was transferred on to the Internet;9 the data migrated – at least in part – into the register of Italian libraries, which is easily accessible and updatable. The census was then extended to the patrimony of the libraries, and precisely to religious periodicals; the project was set by ABEI in 2006; the database, constantly implemented, is available on the Association’s website.

Finally, just a few words on ABEI-CD: the attempt of a collective catalogue of ecclesiastical libraries; three releases came to light in the years 1999–2001.


Training courses for ecclesiastical librarians were organised very early on. Training courses and study seminars were also accompanied with other activities, useful for professional improvement and for mutual knowledge, e.g. local study days.

Editorial Activity

Another line of activity undertaken early by the ABEI is publishing. The first product is the Bollettino di informazione, immediately promoted as an indispensable means of connection between the members of the Association and continuously published since 1981. It is a source for the story of the Association and hosts many of the texts of the reports presented at ABEI conferences.

The first volumes printed by ABEI are the proceedings of the first Conference, Le biblioteche ecclesiastiche aperte al pubblico (The ecclesiastical libraries open to the public), edited by Dante Balboni,10 and the Lezioni di biblioteconomia per bibliotecari ecclesiastici (Lessons of ecclesiastical librarianship), which collect “the lessons held by the teacher of the ABEI in the courses it organises for the professionalisation of ecclesiastical librarians” (1983).11

It is worth mentioning here Acolit, a list of authorities in the religious field, a work tool conceived and entirely created within the Association. It was suggested in 1995 by the intuition of Prof. Mauro Guerrini, member of ABEI, and immediately created (with the firm support of Bibliografica publisher), by a committee made up of ABEI members. Four volumes have been published so far, starting from 1998, each one dedicated to a sector of the ecclesiastical world.12 We hope that Acolit will have a further development not only with the gradual coverage of the still uncovered areas of the religious sector, but also with an expansion of the use of its data, so far available only in paper format.

Institutional Activities

ABEI played a significant role in the stipulation and implementation of the Agreement between the Ministry of Cultural Heritage (‘Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali’) and CEI on the preservation and consultation of archives and libraries owned by the Church.13 The Agreement is still an important point of reference, as confirmed by a conference organised in the decade of its signing. ABEI undertook a deep collaboration with CEI for the realisation of the undersigned commitments: the scheme-type of regulation for ecclesiastical libraries; a first list of diocesan reference libraries.

ABEI organised annual conferences, firstly on a regional basis, and then always on a national basis, which have been held every year without interruption at least since 1990, in every part of Italy and often in ‘peripheral’ locations, also to enhance the less frequented local realities. The conferences have always been open to everyone, including non-members, and have been organised in close collaboration with the host diocese and/or with civil institutions.

ABEI established its own library in 2004, under the name of its first president, Msgr. Angelo Paredi; it is largely made up of works donated to the Association, especially relating to librarianship and bibliography. This book collection is deposited in the library of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, of which it constitutes a separate collection that can be freely consulted. It counts over 1,100 volumes.14

ABEI and the Evolution of Ecclesiastical Libraries

In addition to the activities listed so far, we present a few traits of the evolution that occurred in the world of ecclesiastical libraries in these forty years.

First of all, the progressive declericalisation of ecclesiastical librarians, with the net increase of lay and young librarians also in managerial positions, and an increasingly significant female presence is reflected in the composition of the Board of the Association.

Another evolution is the modernisation of the ‘librarian’s tools’, with the progressive adoption of computerisation. In 1997, ABEI’s website was launched alongside the bulletin for a more complete information about the life and the activities of the associative activity, extended with special links to other realities: libraries, bodies, institutions, and databases.

And then, there is the progressive opening of libraries to the outside world: not only with public access, no longer limited to the community or institution owning the library, but also with the sharing of catalogues and joining collective networks.15 Currently the data of all ecclesiastical libraries are visible on BeWeB.16 Some nodes remain uncovered, especially on the minor material.

The increasing collaboration with national and international institutions is important too. At the European level, with its adhesion to the ‘Conseil International des Associations de bibliothèques de théologie’, carried out in 1981, with the participation in the annual assembly of the institution, now called BETH, alongside national associations and highly prestigious library institutions, also international.

ABEI collaborated in the organisation of the historic symposium dedicated to religious libraries held as a separate session parallel to the work of the IFLA World Congress held in Milan in 2009. This ‘parallel session’ of the Congress took place on 24 August 2009 at the Ambrosiana Library. It was centred on the function of libraries and books in interreligious dialogue; representatives of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition attended. The records of this meeting have also been published.17 It was the first meeting of this kind hosted by IFLA in its conferences. Later, favoured by the ‘Parallel Session’, in 2012 a Special Interest Group was established within IFLA: Relindial, Religions: Libraries and Dialogue.

The activity of ABEI will certainly persevere for a long time, but in what forms will be up to the assembly and the Board to establish. Librarians will give a valid contribution, with their constant, patient, daily work. They promote culture and love for books and libraries, making them loved, pursuing critical thinking, dialogue, respect, and mutual enrichment. Study and thought are always together, to enlighten and integrate each other, because, as Confucius stated, “Learning without thought is pointless; thought without learning is dangerous.”

ABEI website:

Fausto Ruggeri and Stefano Malaspina

Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries ABTAPL

ABTAPL is the Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries, an organisation of libraries and librarians working with theological and philosophical collections and related materials in the UK and beyond. It provides an informal network for sharing information and experience, for consultation, for advice and for support for both individual problems and continuing professional development. The only membership qualification is to have an interest in the bibliography, librarianship or management of our specialist subjects.

ABTAPL was founded in 1956 to bring together librarians working with or interested in theological and philosophical literature in Great Britain. Its purpose was to improve the bibliographical information available, to reveal some of the little-known collections on these subjects and to help smaller libraries lacking professional expertise. Originally it was to be the UK member of an international theological libraries’ organisation set up in 1954 by the World Council of Churches. Unfortunately, this body did not long survive but many of its aims and objectives are now carried out by the ‘Bibliothèques Européennes de Théologie’ (BETH).

Some of ABTAPL’s original objectives can be found in an earlier organisation, SCOTAPLL (the Standing Conference of Theological and Philosophical Libraries in London). After World War II, the UK’s Library Association wanted to develop co-operative schemes which would make materials of all kinds more accessible. One of these ideas was a project for allocating to each library service in Greater London a section of knowledge which they could then develop and build into a significant collection. On being allocated the fields of Philosophy and Religion, Westminster City Library, under the leadership of Robert L. Collison, Reference Librarian from 1948–59, began to contact other libraries, initially in London, likely to have substantial collections in these fields.

From this an ecumenical group of librarians was formed which “constituted a friendly circle, flexible but long-lasting, that gradually extended itself over the whole country.”18 The Rev. Roger Thomas, Librarian at Dr. Williams’s Library, generously made his library available as headquarters for the new group and provided “just that degree of stability and encouragement that was so valuable.”19 From the very beginning institutions representing other faiths were included, e.g. the Jewish Historical Society and the Buddhist Society. For its first few years ABTAPL worked alongside SCOTAPLL, with the latter acting as a regional branch of the national association. However, by 1964 SCOTAPLL had ceased as a separate entity, transferring its funds to ABTAPL.

This description of ABTAPL’s roots helps to explain its broad multi-faith and non-denominational ethos.

From its inception the Association continued a regular pattern of meetings as established by SCOTAPLL. A Bulletin was launched which included articles describing theological and philosophical libraries, features on professional matters, information about new publications, forthcoming meetings and other notices. This became one of the Association’s most successful ventures. John Howard, in his overview of ABTAPL in 1974, highlighted that the chief evidence on which any assessment of an Association’s success or failure should be based is the written record and in this case the Bulletin. He said, “In my opinion, the Bulletin is not only the evidence, it was also the success of ABTAPL.”20

Sadly, when the Bulletin Editor stood down in 1966 the Association virtually came to a standstill until 1974. John Howard described this period as “the doldrums”21 and ascribed it to a lack of leaders. He recognised that too many libraries in small theological colleges and seminaries did not have the funds to support full-time qualified librarians. Fortunately for ABTAPL when John became Chairman in 1974, he devoted great energy into reviving the Association. When he stood down in 1982, he then became editor of the Bulletin from 1983 until 1987 remaining on the Committee until 1996. During this lengthy period his enthusiasm completely revitalised the Association.

Under John’s Chairmanship the new committee proposed the following:22

  • regular talks and visits to appropriate libraries in Greater London;

  • revival of the Bulletin, for current information on the bibliography and librarianship of religion and philosophy;

  • publication of a Directory of Theological Libraries in Britain;

  • possible compilation of British Union List of Serials in Religion.

All these objectives were achieved and the Association has continued its pattern of regular meetings and visits ever since. A new series of the Bulletin began and a Union List of Periodicals was established, as well as a directory of Theological Libraries.23 Other publications followed.

One of the most significant ventures was the introduction of the annual residential conference beginning in Durham in 1978. These were organised for many years by Mary Elliott of King’s College London, Honorary Secretary and conference organiser from 1974–1986. Like John Howard, Mary’s enthusiasm for ABTAPL helped to ensure that the Association continued to thrive over the following years The residential conference became invaluable not only for showing the wide variety of modern library practices in many different institutions, but also giving opportunities to meet other librarians in the same specialisations, especially for those working in isolation with no prospects of otherwise broadening their professional education. Long standing friendships have been formed and new professional networks developed. Over the years many places and libraries have been visited and many themes explored, such as disaster planning, archive administration, library design, and management techniques.

With regard to international relations Mary Elliott not only organised the UK meetings over the years but also she became ABTAPL’s representative at the meetings of the ‘Conseil International des Associations des Bibliothèques de Théologie’, now BETH. This fruitful relationship has continued ever since, with Penny Hall and Marion Smith amongst others representing ABTAPL for many years. ABTAPL has also developed excellent relations with other national associations including Atla and ANZTLA, with delegates from ABTAPL attending their meetings and vice versa. Much has been gained from this mutual cooperation.

Current membership in 2020 was 129, made up of 95 institutional members, 10 personal members and 24 retired members. Although the closure and/or merger of various institutions and collections has inevitably led to some resignations, it is a good sign that new members are still joining and former members re-joining.

ABTAPL continues meeting twice a year, a day meeting in the Autumn, which includes a visit to a library in the specialisation, and a residential conference in the Spring. In 2020, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Spring conference was cancelled, but the Autumn meeting was held online. In future, meetings may be held as hybrids with some attendees in person and others online.

The full list of current publications is available on ABTAPL’s website. These include the Bulletin, the Union List of Periodicals, a Directory of Current Institutional Members, and the ABTAPL Guidelines for Theological Libraries. Members have access to a free online discussion list which can be used for loan requests, advice on a number of topics or indeed anything within the subject areas. ABTAPL also organises training days on topics such as copyright, social media, and archive administration. These provide an inexpensive means of professional development for members and have been very successful.

The biggest project launched in 2019 was the collection of Dawson eBooks for librarian/archivist, made available to ABTAPL members. Following Dawson’s demise, ABTAPL has successfully switched all the Dawsonera ebook titles to Brown’s VLeBooks. A benchmarking exercise is being continued and extended with more libraries being encouraged to take part.

The Association records its thanks to the many officers and committee members who have given their time over the years on a voluntary basis in addition to everything else they do. Without their service, commitment and enthusiasm ABTAPL would not be the flourishing organisation it is today.

ABTAPL website:

Judith Powles


Collison, Robert L. “SCOTAPLL and ABTAPL: The Early Years.” Bulletin of ABTAPL New Series 1, no. 34/35 (March 1986): 13–15.

Howard, John V. “The Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries: A Personal View of Its Past, Present and Future. Part 1.” Bulletin of ABTAPL new series 1, no. 1 (Dec.1974): 12–15.

Howard, John V. “The Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries: A Personal View of Its Past, Present and Future. Part 2.” Bulletin of ABTAPL new series 1, no. 2 (March 1975): 13–16.

Howard, John V. “Early Days and Odd Moments in ABTAPL: An Expurgated and Expanded Version of an After-dinner Talk at the Jubilee Conference in Prague.” Bulletin of ABTAPL new series 13, no. 2 (June 2006): 20–22.

Lea, Emma R.L. A Guide to the Theological Libraries of Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Alan F. Jesson. London: ABTAPL Publishing, 1986.

Powles, Judith C. “Weather, Welcomes – and Wheelie Bins: An Affectionate Look-back at the ABTAPL Spring (Usually) Conference,” Bulletin of ABTAPL New Series 23, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 9–26.

Walsh, Michael J. Religious Bibliographies in Serial Literature: A Guide. London: Mansell, 1981.

Verein der BibliothekarInnen religionsbezogener Institutionen der Schweiz. Association des bibliothécaires du domaine religieux en Suisse

History is a relatively young association of librarians working in theological faculty, seminary, ecclesiastical, church related, or other religious libraries, formally established as ‘Verein der BibliothekarInnen religionsbezogener Institutionen der Schweiz’ (in German), ‘Association des bibliothécaires du domaine religieux en Suisse’ (in French), on 22 September 2015 in Fribourg.

But its history goes back more than thirty years, as the first gathering took place in Geneva, at the Ecumenical Centre, the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC), 26 October 1990.24 The venue was initiated by Pierre Beffa, the Director of the WCC Library, receiving the personal backing from the General Secretary, the late Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro, to bring the Swiss theological librarians and libraries closer together, thus, to foster and strengthen their professional and institutional ties and cooperation.

First attempts of such collaborative endeavours date back even earlier, in the seventies and eighties, when ad hoc committees of theological librarians of university libraries gathered – both in the French and German speaking part (as the ‘Commission des bibliothécaires suisses de théologie’25 and the ‘Arbeitsgruppe theologischer Bibliothekare’26), to better coordinate their acquisitions and improve the supply of academic theological literature in the country. Whether these early undertakings were influential for the creation of this new national gathering that started in 1990, is difficult to say, but is worth noting.

For many years, these meetings of Swiss theological librarians were held and organised informally, in a spirit of collegiality and friendship, without a president, without any structure, nor funds. The meetings were organised around visits at the hosting institution, be it a faculty/seminary, other church or mission related, or religious library/documentation centre, with guest lectures from professors/scholars of those institutions. Every meeting included the roundtables of the participants who reported on their current projects, cutting edge issues of librarianship, ranging from computerisation of library systems in the early years, and more recently projects of digitisation, retrospective cataloguing, multilingual subject indexes, management of e-resources, information literacy courses, restructuring of university libraries, etc.

Name and Organisation

The issue of the organisation, structure and name of the group has come up at different times starting in 2002 in Aarau. Opinions were controversial. Should the informal gathering receive a more official, representative, and legal character and structure? 2003, at the meeting in Porrentruy, a compromise formula was found, with a president elected for a three years’ period, to moderate the annual meetings and officially represent the group. The first president was Yvan Bourquin (Lausanne). An administrative assistant was entrusted with the registry of the members. H.J. Haag (Zürich) filled this role until his retirement in 2013.

Also, the naming of the group gave rise to many heated discussions and differing proposals. Only in 2008, at the meeting in Engelberg, an official (German) name for the ‘association’ was found and adopted: ‘Vereinigung der BibliothekarInnen theologischer Institutionen der Schweiz’, in short VEBTIS. The French name remained unchanged: ‘Groupe des bibliothécaires suisses en théologie’.27

At the 2014 meeting in Berne, some committed colleagues from Basle, suggested building a committee to prepare for the establishment of a formal association, with bylaws according to the Swiss Civil Code, art. 60ff.28 This resulted in the founding assembly held at the University of Fribourg (‘Bibliothèque interfacultaire d’histoire et de théologie’) on 22 September 2015, where was finally born! René Schurte (Zürich) was elected President, along with two other Board members, Caroline Weber (Basel) as Secretary, and Marianne Tsioli (Geneva) as Treasurer.

The Association is open to individual members and institutional membership, affiliated with any type of religious library or documentation centre, thus open to all religions. Colleagues from an Evangelical seminary ‘Pilgermission St. Chrischona’ (Basel) meet with those of an ‘Israelitische Cultus Gemeinde’ (Zürich), a ‘Benediktinerabtei Engelberg’, or a ‘Centre pour l’information et la documentation chrétiennes’ (Lausanne).

As formal association, became eligible for integrating the national library association, called ‘Bibliothek-Information-Schweiz’, first as an ‘interest group’, and since February 2021, as a ‘member section’ representing the religious/theological libraries of the newly established Swiss library association, called BIBLIOSUISSE (founded in 2018).

Since 2019 the Association has a new president, Markus Jost (Fribourg), and secretary Gabriela Jenzer (Berne).

Relations with BETH

Pierre Beffa, the ‘founding Father’ of VEBTIS, rich of his numerous international contacts and experiences as Director of WCC Library, as Secretary of BETH (1996–2002) and later as its President (2003–2007), has always been a living and personal link between the Swiss and European colleagues from BETH throughout his career, and as long as he actively participated in the VEBTIS meetings. His enthusiasm and commitment inspired others, such as the writer, to engage closer with the European theological library community. So, it was but a logical consequence that became an ordinary member of BETH in 2016.

List of Presidents

2003–2005 Yvan Bourquin (Lausanne)

2006–2008 Cécile Bossart (Basle)

2009–2013 Guy Roland (Geneva) serving 2 consequent terms

2014–2018 René Schurte (Zürich), since 2015 as President of

2019– Markus Jost (Fribourg)

website: Waldvogel

Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülése EKE

The Hungarian Association of Ecclesiastical Libraries, ‘Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülése’ (EKE) was founded in 1994 by 23 initiative-taking, determined librarians. From the beginning it aimed at being an ecumenical community to support the professional work of librarians practicing in libraries owned and maintained by different historical churches, denominations, religious orders, etc., and has succeeded in this goal. According to its Statues29 the association’s main goals are as follows: to facilitate the cooperation of ecclesiastical libraries; to foster the elaboration of concerted standing points concerning professional dilemmas and challenges; to exchange professional experience and expertise in domains such as the roles of ecclesiastical libraries in church and society; the formulation of collection building principles and metadata management; and the preservation of old and rare collections. The number of member libraries at its highest was 76, while presently it is 62. There are 8 libraries from the neighbouring countries historically rooted and reconnected to the organisational structure of Hungarian churches. Members of the association represent many types of libraries (school libraries, research libraries of institutions of higher education, and libraries of different ecclesiastical bodies and hierarchies, such as bishoprics, dioceses, religious orders) and unite libraries of historical churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Unitarian, Serbian Orthodox, Baptist, and Jewish).

The association’s main body is the general assembly that holds one meeting each year. Management of routine duties are undertaken by the president and a body of ten board members, with the help of the secretary and the treasurer, supervised by a board of three. The president and the board members are elected by the general assembly and prior to his or her election, the president must serve as a board member. Each of these titles and responsibilities are held for three years. The general assembly may be attended by all librarians of member libraries, but each library has only one vote as membership is primarily institutional, not personal. There is a thoughtfully designed balance of control: the number of board members follows the ratio of the denominations of member libraries, and the Catholic and Protestant churches post their candidates for presidency alternately. Yearly conferences are hosted in turn in different parts of the country by member libraries.

The first few years in the life of the association were spent in grounding the mutual personal and professional confidence of librarians belonging to different churches and denominations. It was a time dedicated to making personal acquaintances and being initiated into the different communicational, spiritual and factual legacies of libraries with a variety of facilities, collections, and professional potential. The present principles and statutes emerged step by step with continuous feedback for optimal functioning. Before 1989, ecclesiastical libraries were mainly silent and in shadow, obscure to the public eye, underfinanced, and struggling with preserving their heritage. The new opportunity of reaching out to colleagues of other ecclesiastical institutions accelerated both an independent and common acting of libraries grounded on professional interest and self-advocacy. This had at least two major results: firstly, professional librarianship within ecclesiastical libraries was advanced, and secondly, the ecclesiastical library as a distinguishable type in the national library system of Hungary began to be seen, heard and, what is more, pulse together within the whole wider profession of librarianship.

The first nine years were followed by a more established phase with new opportunities and challenges. International connections have been established (e.g., BETH, AKThB) and some personal connections have resulted in institutional memberships from the neighbouring countries. A clear structure of the annual conference has been developed with one day concentrated on national scale issues and professional novelties, a second focused on the particular results of member libraries, and a third envisaged for field work and exchange of experience in line with guided tours in hosting institutions. Communication channels have been launched and visibility has also been increased by an opening toward non-ecclesiastical librarians and associations. Working groups have undertaken specific foci such as callings for applications for funds; joining national working groups; promoting our publications; writing reviews about important professional books and journal articles, etc. Policy makers and other library associations have acknowledged our association by inviting our opinion on emerging legislative, strategic, and ethical issues. However, in 2006 member libraries were stricken by a serious cutback in financial support (and another one in 2008) that decreased the number of our professional staff and endangered sustainment of ongoing projects and library services. The association objected, but without much result. In response, member libraries have resorted to increasing their application for funds for specific tasks and aims. Many member libraries opted for and obtained a public status so as to be able to apply for funds along with state owned public or research libraries. The financial constraint enriched the ways in which ecclesiastical libraries interacted with their patrons, and more attention has been paid to the mediation and experiential cognition of our cultural heritage. Moreover, becoming a public library meant an opening towards new strata of potential patrons. The association strengthened its visibility, advocacy, and support of members by creating a union catalogue as a first priority. The compilation of the bibliography of ecclesiastical-religious works and launching a concerted acquisition were considered of no less importance but has not been fully achieved according to original plans.

The present phase in the life of the Hungarian association (EKE) is marked by a steady and balanced existence. Ecclesiastical librarians working in member libraries have obtained the license to perform the professional inspections initiated and required by the state. The work they perform serves also as a basis for benchmarking among ecclesiastical libraries. The principles of total quality management developed for the field of librarianship on a national scale are more and more applied and documented in our member libraries as well. One member library has already obtained the title of ‘qualified library’. From 2014 the funding of libraries went back to normal, which gave an impetus for further individual progress. The association acts as a supportive body by (1) organising one-day conferences and trainings; (2) providing information on topics of national interest, such as changes in relevant laws and legislation, available funding sources, or ongoing national projects worthy of participation; and (3) organising the visitation of individual libraries in the form of open days, so as to form a collegial bond among librarians of all types of libraries (ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical). All these events are of interest for a growing number of librarians outside the membership of EKE.

The pandemic challenged our membership, but also served as an opportunity for making up arrears of work such as stocktaking, arrangements of stacks, digitisation, data curation, and amendment in our databases. We are grateful that even working in home office mode was made possible by directing new acquisitions to home addresses and collecting the processed and equipped documents back to the libraries.

The association faces an oncoming generational shift in the near future: unfortunately, as time passes the presence of the ‘founding fathers and mothers’ is fading, although their legacy still acts as a beacon. The words of Béla Miksa Bánhegyi, OSB, former director of the Library of the Abbey of Pannonhalma, founder and first president of EKE, prove to be a never fading legacy: “I cannot avoid drawing the conclusion that there not only has to be room left for love in the ecclesiastical libraries, but love must dominate there. Librarians must love the library and the books therein. They must love one another and their colleagues working in other libraries – by this I have disclosed that collegial sympathy would not suffice – and they must love their readers and researchers, and those who come on inspection. I know this is not easy, but who said that it would be easy to fulfil the Scripture’s command of love? And who said that it would be easy to be an ecclesiastical librarian?”30

EKE website:

Ágnes Bálint

Federacja Bibliotek Kościelnych FIDES

The ‘Fides’ Federation is an association of official representatives of libraries belonging to the Catholic Church in Poland or remaining wholly or partially under the supervision of Church authorities. The Federation currently associates 82 member libraries, including most of the libraries of theological faculties and major seminaries in Poland, diocesan and religious. The primary goal of the Federation is to improve the activities of Polish church libraries, to implement technical progress, and in particular to coordinate work on the computerisation of these libraries.

The Federation was launched on September 23, 1991, on the initiative of Fr. Krzysztof Gonet, the then deputy director of the Library of the Major Metropolitan Seminary in Warsaw. An initiating group was established at the meeting of representatives of leading church libraries in Warsaw. In 1993 cooperation was established with the American Theological Library Association (Atla).

After four years of operation, on March 18, 1995, the FIDES Federation was officially established by the Polish Bishops’ Conference and received a statute and legal personality, in the Church and state alike. The legal status obtained in 1995 allowed the Federation to develop. On June 20 1995, the first General Assembly of the Federation of FIDES Ecclesiastical Libraries was held. The seat of the Federation was Warsaw, which it is until now. The patron of FIDES has been the martyr of World War II, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan friar. At the General Assembly every three years, the Federation board was elected, and the issues of church libraries were dealt with, mainly their computerisation. Experiences were also exchanged. In 1995 the journal Fides: Bulletin of Church Libraries was started and has been published to this day.

Over the next following years, the Federation tried to implement the tasks and goals it had set for itself. It made contact with the Centre for Archives, Libraries and Church Museums at the Catholic University of Lublin, the Orchard Lake Theological Center in the USA, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, the American Theological Library Associations (Atla) and the ‘Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche’ (URBE). It also started cooperation with the National Library of Poland, in which, among other things, a computer database on FIDES libraries was created. Federation representatives actively participated in many conferences organised by the community of Polish librarians.

Since 1995 ‘Fides’ has belonged to BETH as one of the fifteen ordinary members of this organisation. The Federation delegate takes part in the annual General Assemblies of BETH.

The Federation, like any association, has a Board and an Audit Committee. The supreme authority is exercised by the General Assembly. Membership fees are the main source of financing for the Federation.

From the beginning, libraries have been invited to join and a uniform catalogue data format was implemented, developed for Fides, based on the MARC BN format of the National Library. The use of the MAK library program from the National Library was also encouraged. Thanks to the efforts of the Federation, the MAK program was installed in over 80 church libraries and numerous basic training courses and training for program administrators were conducted. The Federation was the first to accumulate data from the Bibliographic Guide, the official List of Prints in the Republic of Poland, published by the National Library (current title: “Journal List of Prints Published in the Republic of Poland: Bibliographic Guide,” since 2010 published in the form of PDF files) and began downloading current data via the Internet. In the years 1991–1995, the creation of the central catalogue of Fides libraries began. Available on the Internet since 1993, it was the second online library catalogue in Poland after the databases of the Library of the Wrocław University of Technology. In 1994 the Federation released the first CD-ROM with a central catalogue and other proprietary databases.

In the years 1999–2009 the Office for the Development and Computerisation of the FIDES Federation operated, organising training courses and assisting in the installation and updating of the installed MAK program. The Office also developed the central catalogue and was engaged in providing access to the FIDES databases on the Internet. It also coordinated preparatory work for the conversion of the FIDES databases to the international MARC 21 format and the work on creating the Dictionary of Key Words in Theology and Ecclesiastical Sciences which was only registered in the trial version.

In October 2004, in place of central catalogues, the Federation created and launched the FIDKAR multi-search engine (distributed catalogue of FIDES libraries), based on the Z39.50 protocol. It included about 100 databases: catalogues of books of church libraries, catalogues of diploma theses, and bibliographies of the content of journals. Currently, in cooperation with the Catalogue of Polish Scientific Libraries NUKAT, the Central Catalogue of Libraries ‘Fides’ ( is being created in the Koha program, which is systematically joined by other libraries of the Federation (currently there are 27 participants of the project).

In September 2006 the FIDES Federation launched its own digital library: the Virtual Book Collection of the FIDES Federation (, based on dLibra software, entering the network of digital libraries in Poland. The Electronic Bibliography of Theological Sciences ( was made available on the Internet, created by merging partial bibliographic databases created by the FIDES libraries and data from the Bibliography of Journal Contents. This database was created by the Federation of Ecclesiastical Libraries FIDES in cooperation with the National Library. Currently, it has over 139,000 descriptions of articles and indexes the content of 230 titles of Polish theological, religious studies and broader ecclesiastical sciences, as well as the content of over 520 collective works (publishing series, jubilee books, conference materials, etc.). It mainly includes publications issued by church colleges and theological faculties.

At its 337th Plenary Meeting, held on October 18–19 2006 in Warsaw, the Polish Bishops’ Conference entrusted the function of the Delegate of the Polish Episcopate for the Federation of Ecclesiastical Libraries FIDES to Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski. In 2017 the statutes of the Federation were updated and approved by the General Assembly. The changes were approved by the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

In accordance with the text of the statutes, the Federation currently aims to act for the evangelising mission of the Church by caring for the development of Polish church libraries and improving information about their resources. In particular, it seeks to carry out the following tasks: (1) including church libraries in the current civilisation changes, especially in the area of ​​new information and communication technologies; (2) preservation and promotion of cultural heritage accumulated in church libraries; (3) documenting activities and popularising knowledge about church libraries; (4) integrating the community of church librarians and preparing them for new challenges through appropriate forms of professional development.

FIDES website:

Grzegorz Filipiuk, OFMCap



Bednarczyk, J. “Działalność Federacji Bibliotek Kościelnych – FIDES (20 VI 1995–31 XII 1996).” FIDES –Biuletyn Bibliotek Kościelnych 1–2 (1996): 13–17.

Bednarczyk, J. “Powołanie do życia Federacji Bibliotek Kościelnych – FIDES.” Archiwa, Biblioteki i Muzea Kościelne 65 (1996): 69–78.

Szulc, J. “Federacja Bibliotek Kościelnych FIDES – historia powstania, zadania, działal ność.” Bibliotekarz 4 (2000): 11–15.

Wójtowicz, M. “Federacja Bibliotek Kościelnych FIDES w Polsce w latach 1991–2001 (10-lecie istnienia Federacji FIDES).” FIDES – Biuletyn Bibliotek Kościelnych 1–2 (2003): 21–72.

Forum for teologiske og religionsfaglige bibliotek FTRB

The history of FTRB can be traced back to the early 1970s. According to one of the founding mothers of FTRB, Karin-Helene (Nenne) Hognestad, subjects specialist (‘Fachreferent’) at the university library in Trondheim, three theological subjects specialists met in 1972–73, drawing plans for a journal article index. The index never saw the light. But the wish for further contact and cooperation was obviously there, which can be seen in the first written source of the early FRTB history, from 1983, as well as in an interview with Nenne Hognestad.

An invitation, signed by Helene Hveem, one of the other founding mothers and chief librarian at MF, the Free Faculty of Theology, to several theological libraries expressed the wish for an informal meeting place to discuss actual and common matters. It was also invited to discuss the establishment of a permanent group of librarians and subject specialists from Norwegian theological libraries.

The meeting which took place in 1983, gathered ten librarians from several academic libraries; from state university libraries as well as from free, private owned theological institutions. This meeting marked the start of FTRB. Participants agreed on the need for a forum like this, and decided for a meeting frequency once a year, no more no less. Further, it was decided to keep FTRB as a completely informal forum, without statutes, board, elected leader, secretary, treasurer or economy. One opted for a system with a contact person, who was to circulate among the participants, and responsible for a minimum of contact. After this session, the meeting went directly to practical matters: a discussion of the usefulness of Dewey in a theological library, and a demonstration of the new and, at that time, revolutionary possibilities for searching in foreign databases, such as the French FRANCIS. Despite the loose and informal structure, this way to organise and keep up the contact and yearly meetings has continued more or less the same way for the following, nearly forty years. It still functions.

FTRB is an acronym for ‘Forum for teologiske og religionsvitenskaplige bibliotek’ (Forum for Theological and Religious Sciences Libraries). But this has not always been the name of the association. In the 1980s and 1990s the Forum was exclusively for theological libraries, and for one and a half decade it was called ‘Forum for Theological Libraries’. At the end of the last century, librarians in charge of the science of religion took part in the meetings, and the name gradually changed in a broader, more inclusive direction. Since 2002, the Forum has been called with the FRTB name. But in fact, and typical for FTRB, a certain, definitive name has never been decided. It just came into use, to reflect a shift of scope.

The number of FTRB members is relatively few, simply because there are few possible candidate members. Several of the state university libraries are represented in FTRB, but not all, even though they have collections as well as librarians in the FTRB field. Many of the private theological libraries are represented and have been so for many years. They are all libraries within Lutheran institutions. FTRB is, of course, an ecumenical forum, but other confessions were very seldom represented. The Baptist Theological Seminary used to be a member but dropped out many years ago. There is an excellent Methodist collection in Oslo, but they have never been part of the FTRB. The reason for this is the economy and the lack of professional librarians and librarianship in smaller libraries. There is not, and has never been, a separate Roman Catholic library in Norway. But the Roman Catholic Church has in some way been present in FTRB, by Catholic librarians and subject specialists working in the university libraries. From 2010 on, the Norwegian National Library has been a FTRB member. In general, the number of libraries within FTRB is more or less ten, and the number of librarians taking part in the meetings never exceeds fifteen.

The main point in FTRB is the yearly meeting; just to meet and know of each other, to exchange knowledge and experiences, to inform on plans, changes and economy, to discuss library technology, databases, cataloguing rules, subject words and thesauri, and, with a certain focus over the last ten to fifteen years, library training and courses for users, students as well as scholars. The last twenty years has seen an interesting shift of themes, from an inward library focus to a more outward view, with excursions and presentations of ongoing scholarly work and research projects.

Despite certain initiatives over the years to cooperate on journal subscription and book acquisition (without success), FTRB has never been a productive group, with one exception, in a project called RINTT. The Norwegian National Library has always been in charge of the national journal article database. In the midst of the 1990s, this database had 1980 as the starting indexing year. FRTB considered this a weakness, especially for research in theology as a historical discipline, and initiated RINTT: Retrospective Indexing of Norwegian Theological Journals. All FRTB members asked their mother institutions for economic support, and FTRB succeeded in financing a librarian to do this retrospective work. The librarian worked in the National Libraries journal department, and indexed, from 1994 to the end of 1996, 22,000 articles from seven theological journals. This was a successful project, of great and lasting importance for studies and research.

As a national forum, FTRB has no tradition of international contacts. Such contacts have been kept up only by single member libraries and librarians. Many years ago, back in 1993, there was one Nordic theological library meeting, held at Åbo in Finland. The ambition was to establish a Nordic network for theological and religious libraries, but it all ended with the ambition. FTRB’s international network is the BETH network. Thanks to Penelope Hall, the BETH ‘missionary’, FTRB was elected ordinary member of BETH at the General Assembly in Rome in 2006.

FTRB has, through its forty years, been an important factor and meant a lot for participating librarians and their libraries. The yearly meetings, with discussions and information, are of great value and inspiration for all librarians being members of the FTRB family.

FTRB website:

Svein Helge Birkeflet

Nätverk för teologiska bibliotek i Sverige NTBS

History of Theological Education in Sweden

The study of theology, as well as theological education, has a long history in Sweden. When Uppsala University was founded in 1477 and Lund University in 1666, theology was one of the main subjects for study. Around 1830, these universities went from primarily focusing on theological research to also educating priests for the Church of Sweden. In the 1970s, theology became part of the subject of religious studies at the universities and it was decided that the subject should be non-confessional. Hence, the confessional parts of the education of priests were taken over by the Church of Sweden. Education of pastors for the free churches was done at theological seminaries owned by the larger denominations. In the 1990s, these seminaries received university college status.

Network for Theological Libraries in Sweden (NTBS)

The network for theological libraries in Sweden (NTBS) was founded in 2020. It is an informal network of libraries and librarians working with theological collections and related materials. The members of NTBS are the libraries of Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College, Johannelund School of Theology, Lutheran School of Theology, National Library of Sweden/Rogge library, The Newman institute, University College Stockholm, and Örebro School of Theology/Academy for Leadership and Theology. The objective of the network is to share information and experience related to theological librarianship. At the first network meeting last autumn, it was decided that the network wanted to apply for membership in BETH. As of 2021, NTBS is a formal BETH member.

Member Presentations

Johannelund School of Theology

Located 70 km north of Stockholm in Uppsala, Johannelund School of Theology (JST) is the educational division of The Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM), a Lutheran renewal movement within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden. Founded in 1856 in Johannelund, Stockholm, the original focus was equipping missionaries, which later developed into education for pastors and theology students. In 1970, the school moved to Uppsala. Today, approximately 275 students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programmes in biblical studies, systematic theology, and practical theology with church history. The Johannelund library’s primary task is to support the students and teaching staff in their education and work, and thus, it is not open to the public.

The Newman Institute

The Newman Institute, named after St John Henry Newman, was founded by the Society of Jesus in 2001 as the first Catholic University College in Scandinavia since the Reformation. The library, situated in the heart of the Institute, holds approximately 8,000 titles. Yet in total, thanks to the donation of the Jesuits library of almost 30,000 titles, the Newman Institute holds an even larger collection of mainly theological literature, this also is thanks to large donations from private libraries. Several prominent researchers in biblical exegesis were received into the Catholic Church during the second half of the 20th century and generously decided to donate their private collections to the Newman Institute.

Since 2010, the Newman Institute has offered undergraduate programmes in theology, and since 2013 in philosophy. Most recently, The Newman Institute started a Master programme in Systematic Theology. In addition to the above-mentioned collection of exegetical literature, the collections include church history, systematic theology, patristic theology, and a wide range of philosophical literature. The combination of philosophical and theological studies relates to the Jesuit learning tradition. At present, there are around 250 students enrolled at The Newman Institute. The Institute is also closely affiliated with Signum, a periodical giving a Catholic perspective on areas relating to society, church-life, and culture.

University College Stockholm

University College Stockholm (UCS) is owned by the Uniting Church in Sweden (a new denomination formed by the merging of the Methodist Church in Sweden, the Swedish Baptist Union and the Swedish Mission Covenant Church). Its history dates back to 1866 when the first two seminaries for the education of pastors were founded. Today UCS includes both Stockholm School of Theology (THS) and the Stockholm School of Human Rights and Democracy (HRD). In turn THS is itself made up of two departments: The Department of Religious Studies and Theology and the Department for Eastern Christian Studies (Sankt Ignatios College). Currently about 900 students are enrolled at UCS annually. UCS has doctoral programmes in Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Eastern Church Studies and Practical Theology with Church History and Church in the Contemporary Society.

The collections of UCS library contains primarily books within the fields of theology and religious studies and human rights and democracy. The primary task for the library is to provide support for the students, researchers, and teaching staff in their work. However, the library is open to the public.

Örebro School of Theology/Academy for Leadership and Theology

Örebro School of Theology (ÖST) was founded in 1908 by the Baptist pastor John Ongman. Ongman lived for a while in the United States and brought back some progressive ideas; for instance, women were accepted at the seminary from the beginning. The ÖST was owned by the Evangelical Free Church until 2017, when it merged with the seminaries of the Swedish Alliance Mission and the Swedish Pentecostal Churches into the new organisation, Academy for Leadership and Theology (ALT). The ALT currently offers a four-year Pastor and Leadership programme and a three-year Theological programme, as well as two Master level programmes.

The research library of the ÖST presently holds approx. 60,000 print volumes and 50 print journals in addition to e-books and databases. The collections cover primarily the subjects of theology and religious studies. The library’s growing Karl Kilsmo collection consists of books and serial publications about the Reformation period, with special emphasis on the Anabaptist movement and its subsequent development of the Mennonite movement. The library is open to members of the public after contact with the librarian.

NTBS website:

Maria Brolin

Suomen teologinen kirjastoseura STK

The Finnish Theological Library Association (STK) was founded in June 2017 by two Finnish theological librarians, chief information specialist at Helsinki University Library Matti Myllykoski and information specialist at University of Eastern Finland Library Jussi Hyvärinen. Matti Myllykoski had attended BETH annual conferences since 2010, and Jussi Hyvärinen, for his part, attended BETH annual conference for the first time in September 2016 in Helsinki and immediately became interested in domestic and international cooperation of theological librarians. As a result of the common interests of these two colleagues and their libraries, the Finnish Theological Library Association was founded the next year.

The objective of STK is to strengthen contacts and mutual exchange between librarians who work with theological materials at the universities of Helsinki and Joensuu. The main common concern is the drastic development of our concept of collections to the concept of connections. There are other libraries in Finland which have theological collections but have not taken part in STK’s activities, among them Åbo Akademi Library in Turku, Finnish Theological Institute Library in Helsinki, and New Valaam Monastery Library in Heinävesi. STK’s aim is also to cooperate with them whenever they need our advice and support.

Collections of Theology at the Helsinki University Library

The faculty of theology at the University of Helsinki is the heir of the faculty founded in Åbo (Turku) as part of the Royal Academy in 1640. In 1829, after the great fire in Åbo, it became part of the University of Helsinki. The seminar library of the faculty became later the Theology Library, which, in turn, was integrated into the Helsinki University Library, when all big and small libraries of humanities and social sciences were brought under the same roof in 2012. Back then, the collection of the Theology Library included about 90,000 volumes, while the total collection of the new library amounted to approximately 1 million volumes. The classification system was left intact. The printed collections were reduced by removing a great number of double copies. In practice, however, this kind of one-copy-only policy as a guideline for unifying the collections could not be realised without significant compromises. Thus, in Helsinki, there is one library for humanities, law, education and social sciences, and the collection of the former Theology Library has become a part of it; instead of a theological collection, we must rather talk about theological materials, which are intertwined with other materials of the Library.

Collections of Theology at the School of Theology at the University of Eastern Finland

The School of Theology at the University of Eastern Finland consists of two study programmes: Western (mainly Lutheran) Theology and Orthodox Theology. Its predecessor was the Faculty of Theology in the University of Joensuu (2002–2009). The theological collection of the university is mainly located in the Joensuu Campus Library, which was founded in 1969. Theologians have never had a separate Faculty library in Joensuu; it has always been a part of the main library, the signum system of which is based on the Finnish version of UDC. In the Joensuu campus Library, the theological collection is located in the same facilities as the collections of humanities, philosophy and social sciences.

As UEF offers studies in both Orthodox and Lutheran theology, the library’s collections must meet the needs of both disciplines. The original core of the theological collection consists of collections received from the Finnish Orthodox Seminary in 1988, the Finnish Orthodox Public Library in 1993, and the Finnish Archbishop Johannes in 2000. Therefore, the theological collection contained predominantly Orthodox material until the university started to offer education also in Western theology in 1997, which increased the acquisition of Lutheran studies significantly. Since then, maintaining the balance between the Western and Orthodox material has been one of the library’s special tasks.

The Move from Collections to Connections at Both Libraries

In 2020, a great number of Finnish academic libraries, including our libraries in Helsinki and Joensuu, have introduced Alma, a novel service platform, which greatly improves the services of local digital catalogues. On the new platform, all the search terms produce overwhelming results from web materials in comparison to the printed materials preserved on library shelves. These web materials mostly belong to databases purchased by the library, but the Alma platform also harvests some results from Open access databases on the net.

Before the turn of the millennium, the collections of the university libraries as well as theological seminaries and faculties consisted of mainly printed books, journals, and microfilms, but included also some CD-Rom disks. In the past two decades, however, most of the journals have become electronic, e-books are preferred to printed books and sold in huge packages so that one book costs annually about 20 cents. (Another move away from collections: libraries do not own their books but rent them.) Great thematic databases have outdated most collections of old books; national libraries and other institutions in Europe and elsewhere have digitised their cultural heritage and made much of their collections openly accessible. The Open Access movement has been fruitful in promoting modern scientific work openly accessible for everybody. These developments have revolutionised all libraries, including those serving scholars and students in various fields of theological studies.

In 2012, when Helsinki University Library was recreated in the Kaisa House, the digital revolution of collections in the field of humanities and theology was only beginning. It had, among other things, in the lobby a nice area for recent acquisitions of printed books. On the seventh floor of the building, there was a large area for printed journals. Some five years later, both of these areas have shrunk into a tiny space and become almost unnoticed. As the space costs are growing and e-books are bought in masses, the printed collection that is still preferred by a minority of users – particularly those specialising in classical studies – is slowly diminishing.

STK website:

Jussi Hyvärinen and Matti Myllykoski

Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche URBE

URBE (‘Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche’, Roman Ecclesiastical Libraries) was born within the Group of Librarians of the Roman Pontifical Athenaeums and was officially constituted as an Association on May 13, 1991. The Association is described with the aim of coordinating and managing the network of IT systems of participating libraries. Members of the Association are the Institutions of the Roman Pontifical Universities (Universities, Faculties and Institutes recognised by the Congregation of Catholic Education) represented by their Rectors/Deans. The General Assembly elects a President and a Vice-President for a period of three years and the Director of the Board. The Board, with the aim of animating, promoting and coordinating the activities of librarians, is composed of the Director, four librarians and the treasurer.

From 1991 to 2000, the main activity was essentially to help and promote the cataloguing and the migration of previous data among libraries, in order to constitute a basis for the establishment of a shared catalogue. In 2000, it became necessary in all the libraries belonging to the Network to migrate to a new cataloguing and IT management system: the Amicus platform. An important step was thus achieved in the direction of cooperation and collaboration among ecclesiastical libraries: the ultimate goal and inspiring principle of the network’s activity. The logo of the URBE website, designed in that period, was intended to graphically signify this collaboration: a bundle of ears tied together, the ecclesiastical libraries, which contain the fruit, the grain of wheat, the nourishment of the knowledge, that the remarkable library patrimony of URBE makes available to students and teachers.

The goal of the Network was and remains, therefore, to coordinate and manage the network of the computer systems of the associated libraries, as established by article 2 of the Statute, but it was not meant to be exhausted only in the IT dimension. In the report for the year 2004 of the Board, held on March 14, 2005, the positive outcome of the migration process to Amicus was noted, highlighting the new perspectives towards which URBE should have moved:

This cooperation has to be a way of making possible all those initiatives and services that arise from a true collaboration, the result of a lively dialogue between libraries. All of our academic institutions strongly contribute to the evangelising mission of the Church in the broadest sense of the term, and this – to some extent – must guide us to give an identity to the URBE network, which means developing among us the awareness of a specific defined cultural presence, from the very commitment of our institutions.31

Those services and initiatives considered important for the growth of URBE as a network of libraries and inspired by principles of collaboration took shape in the next few years. Common training, in particular, represented by the Board an important investment for the Network, which saw the relationships between the various libraries expand and deepen, helping cohesion and mutual knowledge, and started the process of standardisation of cataloguing description rules, a functional aspect for the development of URBE as a library system, rather than as a simple aggregation of autonomous and independent libraries. In fact, the question of the identity of URBE as a reality in its own right, which welcomes the particular realities of the various library institutions but which differs from them, has involved the reflection of the Board considerably:

But what does being a network or being in a network mean? URBE was created to establish a network of libraries among the pontifical ecclesiastical universities in Rome. Since that distant 1991 a lot of progress has been made, but we have not yet managed to give an identity to the URBE network. Each library, while sharing the same software, moves with great autonomy, offering its users those services considered as most appropriate and necessary. The meaning and value that today justifies a network is something that goes beyond the possibilities of a single library. Even the URBE network, proposing itself to extremely varied users such as the teachers and students of our institutions from all over the world, and expanding to online consultation, must give itself its own identity, without detracting from the connotation of each single institution. The network itself has a distinct structure from that of the individual participants in the network: so the goal of integration is not the loss of one’s identity but, on the contrary, the achievement, through cooperation, of a new collective identity. The Network intervenes precisely where the single library is unable to support the needs or requirements of the user. There must be objectives regarding cooperation for an adequate service policy towards users and consequently an adequate saving of costs, forces, and energies, which will benefit all members of the Network.32

There is a strong urgency to rethink the URBE structure in relation to some services that are considered essential for its development and for the future of the association, having a clear need to keep pace with advances in technology and information technology, against which only cooperation between libraries can guarantee the full realisation of their potential: the focal points identified by the Board, as stated in the report for 2006, are therefore cataloguing, strengthening internal loans and the extension of the interlibrary loan to the national and international scenario, staff training, the promotion of cultural initiatives, the management of the website and digital resources, the processing of statistics, the purchase and maintenance of hardware and software and finally, in particular, the requalification of the catalogues of the individual libraries in view of the creation of a single virtual catalogue of all the libraries in the URBE network.

2007–2010 is the period in which strategies were developed and the paths traced by the Board began to be followed. Training received important impulses, improvements were made to the network systems, the URBE site was renewed, corrective action was carried out on the databases of each catalogue so that all were adapted to the MARC21 standard and the libraries, in agreement with each other, chose to adopt a common cataloguing legislation.

In 2009, the 75th IFLA Congress took place in Milan: the association, which participates in the event for the first time in its history, has the opportunity to talk about itself and to confront itself with other librarians in an international meeting focused on the specificity of religious libraries, presenting their wealth of experience and their own peculiar identity.

These were years full of fruit, obtained not without difficulty or doubts; in 2010 the Association turns almost its twenty, it has experienced difficult moments, sometimes moments of tiredness; contradictions have not been lacking; nevertheless, we have always pushed ourselves forward by taking it upon ourselves, day after day, to reach common objectives that make the network and the services it offers transparent and functional. In our meetings we compare, we discuss; the diversity of thinking or the different way of seeing things does not prevent us from finally finding the right way to go. Having achieved some objectives, it is no longer conceivable to go back; so far, we have created the future towards which the Association can confidently move forward.33

The spirit that continues to animate the Board is that of those who – aware of operating and working for the good of all the academic institutions gathered on the Net – are open to dialogue with librarians and collaborators, to listening and to collaboration. Twenty years after the birth of URBE, it is possible to see that a complex collaboration programme has been launched and that today we can reap the benefits. The common organisation has facilitated updating, training, professionalism, the sharing of resources and not a few economic savings. It was unthinkable that a single library, no matter how large and efficient, would be able to manage independently what has been built and matured together in these twenty years. This collaboration was carried out in a stable manner with a Statute and with a specific purpose, that of a ‘network’: a network on the territory, in the same city; with common intentions and with a ‘uniform’ patrimony, so as to make possible a dialogue for common projects for the benefit of all libraries, and in particular for the benefit of professors and students enrolled in our universities.

We are ‘religious libraries’ (where this term should be understood in the widest possible meaning) for the content of our patrimony and for the juridical aspects of belonging; but in our case we can fully call ourselves ‘university libraries’ due to the main purpose of our service: to support the teaching and research carried out in our universities / faculties. Consequently, the collections, services, users, and organisation of our libraries reflect the didactic-scientific physiognomy and the choices of the governing bodies of our universities. For this reason, the collections of our libraries must constantly be among the most up-to-date ones in the theological and related disciplines of our competence and also among the richest in works in foreign languages because they must satisfy the updating needs of our teachers and students, who, as we well know, cover a well-diversified and internationally vast area of origins. ‘Every reader his/her book’, according to the second rule of librarianship. Therefore, the task of us librarians is also to know how to respond and guide our users in the universe of specific research, in which each of our Faculties carries out teaching. The single virtual catalogue and the sharing of other resources (which can range from catalogue legislation to interlibrary loan, catalogues of periodicals, the exchange of double books, etc.) respond to this need to share tools for the benefit of the users of our universities and make our book heritage more accessible. Once this process has begun, the future – if we want – can only go on accordingly with the past, with an intensity equal to the will on the one hand to believe in the formula of cooperation, and on the other hand to cultivate and take care with perseverance what we have sown so far.34

The two-year period 2011–2012 was characterised by efforts to pursue the goal of the single catalogue: a collective catalogue that could offer users a single channel of information on the book heritage of the entire network and form the basis for the creation of shared services. In the ideal of the Board, this represented the tool that would finally guarantee the formation of a real identity of URBE, the landing point of cooperation between the libraries of the Network.

After the pause for reflection following the suspension of the single catalogue project, together with the Board we tried to reformulate the sense of cooperation between our libraries, focusing on training for librarians, cataloguers and staff who operate in the service sector. This formula aims to enhance, through dialogue and shared reflection, the adaptation and contribution of URBE to a process of epochal transformation that in recent years has been affecting the world of information, and consequently the world of libraries. The training will, therefore, not only be aimed at the adoption of new models or new cataloguing rules but will be particularly focused on acquiring a new awareness of the changes in the role of libraries in the provision of information and on the new global dynamics of knowledge sharing.

In 2016, the URBE network celebrated 25 years since its foundation. It is a reason to rethink the past, to highlight the progress, the goals achieved but also the shortcomings and perspectives that have remained unexplored. Indeed, on 9 June of the same year, URBE organised a study day at the Pontifical Urbaniana University on the occasion of its important anniversary. During these 25 years we have been concerned with the professional training and qualification of managers and operators; we have worked to identify computer systems that meet the needs of international cataloguing standards, and we are committed to innovative and up-to-date library management choices for the benefit of the end users of our libraries. There is another term that gives further specificity to the Association: Union. A strong and demanding term that has materialised in the concept of the URBE network, inaugurated in 1994. Under the concept of the network in these 25 years, the idea of collaboration and cooperation has increasingly been identified with the aim of pursuing common objectives. The forms of collaboration can be many and varied, ranging from an unstructured level of cooperative organisation to an informal sharing of skills rather than resources, to a structured organisation in a unitary and organic way that presupposes a sharing of resources, skills, and services. In the Association, the autonomy of the single library has always prevailed over planning activities aimed at achieving a common goal. All the initiatives implemented responded to the needs and requirements of the individual Library. A collaboration project for a common purpose has not yet been possible. Perhaps time has come to take a bold step. Putting together forces and energies according to the services that the Internet must provide does not affect autonomy, on the contrary it benefits every single library.

The hope that the Network will finally take a step in the direction of building its own new identity, which has a more community and collective character, has been materialising in recent years in the renewed interest shown by the Rectors in the constitution of a single virtual catalogue, project proposed several times, shelved in 2013, but now finally ready to come to light in the present year 2022.

At the conclusion of this excursus of the long and fruitful journey made by the Association, we can quote the words of the Director of the Board, Fr. Silvano Danieli, addressed to librarians on February 29, 2016:

The experience and baggage we have accumulated over these 25 years do not allow us to stop now or to be satisfied with what we have achieved so far. The next milestone must see all our efforts to give the Net a new face: common services, common catalogue, “Carta dei servizi” … and what else can be achieved with the help of all those people who look at us with interest and with the participation of all of us: librarians together with our staff, who have already acquired a strong spirit of collaboration.35

URBE website:

Marcello Sardelli

Verband kirchlich-wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken VkwB

In comparison to other European associations of theological libraries two attributes are outstanding for the German association ‘Verband kirchlich-wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken (VkwB)’: (1) Whereas basically all European associations comprise all confessions, Germany has got two denominational associations with VkwB representing the Protestant libraries, and (2) It is a partial association of an umbrella organisation comprising Protestant libraries and archives in Germany, and therefore works closely with archives and archival matters.

Full members are scholarly libraries seated in Germany from a Protestant institution or responsible body and they must have one full-time staff at least. When these requirements are not fulfilled an affiliated membership is possible. Current membership in 2020 was 110.

The Beginnings: 1956–1961

In the very beginnings in 1956 the Protestant libraries were only a section within the ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft landeskirchlicher Archivare’ (Working Group of Regional Churches’ Archivists) which existed already from 1936. Due to the impacts and damages during World War II (securing of holdings in border regions, evacuation of holdings etc.), the archives were increasingly required to deal with library issues. After 1945 the Protestant libraries slowly professionalised and in order to support those rather lone fighters, a ‘Sektion für das wissenschaftliche Bibliothekswesen’ (Section for academic librarianship) was founded in 1956 within the archivists’ association. Very soon the librarians desired to disengage from this guardianship and establish an equal professional group.

Reorganisation and Separation: 1961

The renaming of the association, which took place in 1961 at a meeting in Berlin with the participation of the East German member churches, was programmatic: ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft für das Archiv- und Bibliothekswesen in der evangelischen Kirche – AABevK’ (Working Group for Archives and Librarianship in the Protestant Church). Linguistically, the lowercase ‘evangelical’ makes clear that the group was open to all denominations within the Protestant Church.

1961–1993 in the German Democratic Republic

Since the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 only pensioners were able to get a visitor visa from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Therefore, the employees of the ecclesiastical libraries in the GDR had no possibility to participate in symposia or training events in librarianship of the West German working group. As there was an urgent need for further education and exchange of experience, the ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft für kirchliches Archiv- und Bibliothekswesen im Bereich des Bundes der Evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR’ (AKAB, Working group for ecclesiastical archives and libraries in the area of the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR) was founded in 1970 and existed as a staff association until 1993.

AKAB’s members were archivists, librarians and department heads of ecclesiastical archives, libraries, and authorities. Unlike the Western association, it was ecumenically oriented so that all denominations were represented (Lutheran, Catholic, Free Churches…). AKAB divided into the sections of archives and librarianship, the section librarianship comprised 41 ecclesiastical libraries and aimed to reach agreements on the development of holdings, on inter-church loans, and on the preservation and development of historical holdings.

In the GDR church members were seriously suppressed and were turned away at universities or other places of training, so that ecclesiastical librarians hardly could get a state education. The main task for AKAB was to bring together the employees, who were for the most part in professional isolation, based on common interests and concerns, and to deepen and broaden their professional knowledge.

AKAB endeavoured to support non-professionally trained members in acquiring the necessary professional knowledge, to guide their professional qualification, which took place through self-study, and to conclude it through an examination. This training enabled to manage large libraries with more than 100,000 volumes. Since 1974, this examination was taken before the Training and Examination Board at the Secretariat of the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR. The professional title was ‘Librarian in Church service’ or, if a university degree was completed, ‘Academic Librarian in Church service’. In the process of German reunification after 1990, VkwB strived for recognition of the successfully completed training to a ‘Librarian in Church service’ to be given the same status as the state-approved degree in West Germany and succeeded. For those affected, it was satisfaction and justice they did not have to pay for their time as opponents in the GDR with professional disadvantages in future.

The ‘Kirchliche Zentralkatalog’ (Church Central Catalogue) was run from 1967 to 1990 and listed more than 500,000 titles in the ecclesiastical libraries in the GDR with some outstanding old stocks. This historical catalogue was secured on microfiche in the 1990s.

1961–1993 in the Federal Republic of Germany

After the construction of the Berlin Wall the AABevK had to continue its work separately. The most outstanding achievements during the period between 1961 to 1980 were:

  • The implementation of ‘Innerkirchlicher Leihverkehr’ (Inter-library loan of ecclesiastical libraries) in 1961 as a complementary organisation to the official inter-library loan of the state libraries which was and is not accessible for small libraries. In 1963 the Catholic libraries affiliated, and arrangements were made with the University Library of Tübingen due to its special collections mission in Theology. The aims were to enable the supra-local use of library stocks and to improve the literature supply for smaller ecclesiastical libraries.

  • The publication of the Bibliotheksführer der evangelischen Kirchen (Library guide of the Protestant churches) listed all member libraries with their collection focus. First published in 1973 it was reissued several times until 2002 and was an indispensable information tool.

  • The service of ‘Zeitschriften-Aufsatzerfassung’ (Journal essay service) of the ‘Nordelbische Kirchenbibliothek’ in Hamburg ran from 1960 to 1998 and was co-financed by the ‘Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland – EKD’ (Protestant Church in Germany). The library recorded essays of about 100 journals and yearbooks and delivered catalogue cards six times a year in a subscription.

Moreover, education and training events were organised. A training course for non-professional staff was established in the 1960s, a three-year-course teaching within one week each year all aspects of librarianship. This course has been conducted continuously since then! Various publications documented the work and collections of the member libraries as well as offering technical support by guidelines for cataloguing or by bibliographies.

In 1980 the umbrella association completed the restructuring and reconstitution from an association of persons to an association of institutions with two very autonomous sub-associations – one of them being the ‘Verband kirchlich-wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken VkwB’ – and a change of name to ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Archive und Bibliotheken in der evangelischen Kirche’ (Working Group for Archives and Libraries in the Protestant Church). Professional relationships were established with domestic and foreign professional associations and in 1983 VkwB became a member of BETH.


After German reunification in 1990, AKAB had structural difficulties in growing together with AABevK, as it had not completed the transformation into an institutional association. At its last annual meeting in 1993, it dissolved itself by a narrow majority. Most of the member libraries applied for membership in AABevK. Since 2000, cooperation with the Catholic Association AKThB has progressed massively, because both realised that in a secular society the denominations are no longer recognised individually and that the tasks can only be mastered together.

As IT development progressed, opportunities for cooperative and digital services were seized. The most important project to date is the meta-catalogue ‘Virtueller Katalog Theologie und Kirche – VThK’, which was developed in 2004 together with AKThB based on the technology of the ‘Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog – KVK’. It enables simultaneous research in the holdings of over 60 ecclesiastical libraries and includes more than 8 million volumes. The database ‘Predigtdatenbank Theologie und Kirche – PThK’ enables collaborative bibliographic collection of sermon literature, therefore reduces duplication of effort, and is an important tool for sermon research. Further digital products are the KiDokS online repository with theses from the ecclesiastical colleges and the ‘Digitale Bibliothek des Kirchenkampfes’ (Digital library of the Church Struggle). The periodical Informationen für kirchliche Bibliotheken (Information for ecclesiastical libraries) was phased out in 2009 in favour of the mailing list. Together with AKThB the Jahrbuch kirchliches Buch- und Bibliothekswesen (Yearbook for ecclesiastical book science and librarianship) has been published since 2000.

Beyond all these activities, training, cooperation, and professional exchange remain the most important tasks for VkwB.

Challenges in Present and Future

The increasingly secular society is the major challenge for VkwB and its member libraries: the decline in Church members and Church tax leads to budget cuts, staff reduction, closings and mergers of ecclesiastical libraries. Towards supporting institutions, the libraries have to defend their right to exist since libraries are not regarded as the core mission of the Church; they have to promote the services more actively for getting the necessary recognition. The staff has to fulfil the change in the job profile from collector to research assistant. Many libraries lack educated staff, which leads to de-professionalisation. Pricing in the e-book market makes it difficult for ecclesiastical libraries with their mostly small budgets to join and keep pace with digitisation so there is a danger of a digital divide within the library service.

The digitisation demands skilled and highly professional staff but offers many possibilities for cooperation. The lone fighting library will be unsuccessful – the upcoming challenges demand collaboration and networking amongst the ecclesiastical libraries so they can keep on fulfilling their mission.

VkwB website:

Anja Emmerich


“Verband kirchlich-wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken (VkwB) in der Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Archive und Bibliotheken in der evangelischen Kirche (AABevK).” In Bibliotheksführer der evangelischen Kirchen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 6. überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage, 70–81. Hamburg: Verband, 2002.

Stephan, Armin. “Miteinander!? Zusammenarbeit von Archiv und Bibliothek auf Verbandsebene, I.” Jahrbuch Kirchliches Buch- und Bibliothekswesen 6/7 (2005/06) (2007): 133–145.

Expertisehouders Levensbeschouwelijke Collecties VRB

VRB | Expertisehouders Levensbeschouwelijke Collecties’ (VRB | Experts Religious Collections) serves as a consultation platform, gathering about fifty academic and ecclesiastic (diocesan as well as monastic) libraries in Flanders. Their theological and philosophical collections contain over two million titles altogether, including current theology, historical studies, manuscripts, rare books, incunabula, curiosa, preciosa, and more general studies into Flemish cultural heritage. This way, our association contributes significantly and specifically to Flemish librarianship and heritage. Every year, VRB organises a conference on a currently relevant topic, e.g. digitalisation, Open Access.

Our most recent achievement is the creation of a taskforce ‘Orphaned Collections’ commissioned by the Belgian Bishops’ Conference. This operation unit provides first-line support wherever library collections are at risk of being orphaned. In times of secularisation and the persistent downscaling of religious institutions, this has indeed become an urgent problem.


More than 50 years ago, there did not exist an association of theological librarians at all, nor were they explicitly represented in other library associations. On March 10, 1965, the Jesuits gathered 17 theological librarians for mutual acquaintance and consultation. This meeting culminated in the foundation of the ‘Vereniging voor Filosofie- en Theologie-Bibliothecarissen’ (Association of Philosophical and Theological Librarians), which almost immediately, on October 13, 1965, changed its name into ‘Vereniging van Religieus-wetenschappelijke Bibliothecarissen’ (Association of Religious-scientific Librarians). Interesting fact: the first chairman of VRB, Herwig Ooms, OFM, also became the first chairman of le Conseil (1972–1977). His successor was another Flemish religious and VRB-member, Herman Morlion, SJ (1977–1989). Later, Etienne D’hondt, chairman of VRB for no less than 24 years, was for a long-time vice-chairman of le Conseil/BETH, too. The successors of Etienne as head of Maurits Sabbe Library (KU Leuven), Veronique Verspeurt and currently Ward De Pril, became treasurers of BETH.

Ends and Means

In 1968, VRB became a non-profit organisation and had its statutes published in Belgisch Staatsblad (Belgian State Gazette, September 17, 1968, no. 5376). Its primary ambition was and still is the establishment, expansion, and development of religious librarianship and the representation of professionals working in that field. In 2013, VRB was renamed ‘Expertisehouders levensbeschouwelijke collecties’ (Experts Religious Collections), while retaining the acronym out of respect for what had been achieved over those 50 years. The new name connects the original ambitions with the changed situation of religious library collections.

The VRB newsletter no longer exists, but we host a fine website: – everything is in Dutch, of course, but everyone can visit the archives on our page and admire the many pictures of our meetings! Also worth visiting are the many book reviews on our website. The previous and next general meetings are shown, on under the headings “Actua” and “Agenda” you can read what is going on in the colourful world of religious books.

International and Interreligious Context

The fact that we are neighbours and speak the same language promotes close cooperation with VThB (‘Vereniging voor het Theologisch Bibliothecariaat’, Association for Theological Librarianship) in the Netherlands. In autumn 2009, Etienne D’hondt, then chairman of VRB and head of the Maurits Sabbe Library (KU Leuven), organised the first joint meeting of VRB and VThB at Brepols Publishers. Since then, we always invite each other at our general meetings.

While VRB started out as a Catholic association, we now also have several Protestant members. A valued member is FVG (Faculty for Comparative Study of Religion and Humanism, Antwerp) that aims to represent all religions worldwide. Other members have no confessional character at all, such as the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library (Antwerp) or ‘Biekorf’ (Bruges) but exhibit a strong heritage factor. It also works the other way. Amongst our members are institutes that are explicitly catholic, but not libraries. KADOC primarily deals with archives of Catholic organisations in Flanders, and PARCUM is a museum of Catholic artefacts.

Board – Statistics

Until 1976, the board of VRB exclusively consisted of religious men. Kris Van de Casteele, librarian of the ‘Theologisch-pastoraal Centrum’ (Antwerp), became the first lay person to be admitted to the board. Two years later, the board welcomed two female members. By 1998, the board was completely laicised. In 2010, after 24 years, Etienne D’hondt passed the baton of chairman on to Erik Meganck. Year 2021, our secretary Marina Teirlinck (‘Bibliotheek van het Bisschoppelijk Seminarie Gent’) takes care of all administration and legal matters, Bart Janssens (Corpus Christianorum – Brepols Publishers) of the finances, Geert Van Reyn (Augustinian Historical Institute) of our website, and Doenja Van Belleghem (Sacred Books Bruges) of the PR.


Normally (before the pandemic) we enjoyed two general meetings and four board meetings yearly. The latter take place in a board member’s professional office. Up until now, VRB hosted 112 general meetings. These show a default pattern. In the morning, we start with a members’ meeting where we approve reports, discuss finances, members’ new initiatives, and news from VThB, BETH, and Atla. This is followed by a guest conference on some current relevant topic. Then we all sit down to enjoy a frugal lunch together. In the afternoon, we visit an exhibition, and we never leave each other without sharing a beer, in the house or in a local bar. Apart from the installation of the aforementioned taskforce ‘Orphaned Collections’, we make our expertise available to the promotion of, and research into, religious books. To give an example: VRB partners with the project ‘Medieval Manuscripts in Flemish Collections’.


Despite the outspoken recognition of the achievements of VRB over the last years, we find ourselves faced with new challenges that we cannot neglect nor ignore. Our current situation can perhaps best be described as ‘reculer-pour-mieux-sauter’. There are the conferences, the taskforce, the ‘special memberships’, the reconnection with the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, the upgrading of our website. Visibility, accessibility, and broad cultural and social relevance are our constant care.

VRB website:

Erik Meganck


Ćurić, Matina. “Theological Libraries in Central and Western Europe.”

Meganck, Erik. “Expertisehouders Levensbeschouwelijke Collecties VRB.” META: Journal for libraries, archives, and documentation centres (2015): no. 1, 26.

Van de Casteele, Kris. “Vereniging van Religieus-wetenschappelijke Bibliothecarissen (VRB): Verwezenlijkingen en perspectieven voor de toekomst.” In Omnia autem probate, quod bonum est tenete: Opstellen aangeboden aan Etienne D’hondt, biblio­thecaris van de Maurits Sabbebibliotheek, edited by Mathijs Lamberigts and Leo Kenis, 65–104. Leuven: Peeters, 2010.

Vereniging voor het Theologisch Bibliothecariaat VThB

The current ‘Vereniging voor het Theologisch Bibliothecariaat’ (VThB,36 literal translation: Association for Theological Librarianship) started its life in 1947 as the ‘Vereniging voor Seminarie- en Kloosterbibliothecarissen’ (VSKB). This was a Catholic association with an apparently limited target group judging by the name: Association for Seminary and Monastery Librarians. From the beginning, however, the association was broader in scope than its name would suggest. Not only librarians from seminaries and monasteries were members, but staff from all kinds of other religious libraries in institutions led by Dutch religious orders – sisters, priests, and brothers. According to its first chairman, Dr. W. Couturier, SJ, “the association was founded primarily for an idealistic purpose: to bring libraries to a higher scientific level through the unification and cooperation of its members and thus to contribute to the promotion of ecclesiastical studies in particular and the cultural life of the Netherlands in general.”37 The VSKB was one of the many associations founded in the Netherlands aimed at Catholic emancipation, a typical product of Dutch pillarisation.

The newly formed association started almost immediately with a whole range of activities. Its own association magazine (Mededelingen) was created; summer courses for library staff were organised; and a start was made with a central cataloguing, analytical description of journals, etc. All these projects were set up and led from the administrative office under the direction of Fr. Jan Daniel Bakker, SSS, who had a great influence on the work of the VSKB. In 1950, he set up the ‘Bestel Centrale’ for the central purchase of foreign books at a discount. In 1959 he started the publication of Scripta recenter edita, an international bibliography of books published in the fields of philosophical and theological studies. Bakker also took the initiative to establish relationships with similar associations in other countries, particularly Germany and France. Informal consultations were set up with these associations, consultations that would later culminate in the establishment of the ‘Conseil International des Associations de Bibliothèques de Théologie’, which is now BETH.

Around 1960 the association reached its peak. At that time, it had more than two hundred members. After that, however, the number of members fell steadily. This had everything to do with the changes in the Catholic Church: the number of registrations for seminaries and entrances to monasteries fell rapidly. As a result, the number of theological seminaries had to be drastically reduced and several monasteries had to be closed. Numerous theological libraries were closed and their collections were dispersed. The most important collections were integrated in Dutch university libraries, other parts ended up at second-hand bookshops or even in the wastepaper container – although fortunately rarely.

This development had major consequences for the VSKB. Not only did the membership decline steadily from the mid-1960s onwards, but the remaining members had less and less interest in the services of the VSKB. Due to the concentration of the seminaries in a few larger scientific institutions (many of them connected to a Dutch university), the libraries were increasingly led by professionals who no longer needed the services of Fr. Bakker. Gradually the projects, originally set up with so much enthusiasm, were disbanded. The central cataloguing was discontinued in 1964; the journal indexing came to an end in 1965. In 1970, the ‘Bestel Centrale’ started a new life as a ‘World Library Service’, separate from the VSKB (ending in bankruptcy in 1980), and in 1973 the publication of Scripta recenter edita was discontinued. The appearance of the meetings also changed. Whereas previously they were almost exclusively populated by religious in their habits, from the 1960s onwards, more and more members appeared at meetings in more civilian attire.

To turn the tide, it was soon decided to abolish the exclusively Catholic character of the association and to welcome representatives of other theological libraries. The ‘seminary and monastic libraries’ in the association’s name were exchanged in 1968 for the broader term ‘religious-scientific libraries’ and in 1974 the current neutral name ‘Vereniging voor het Theologisch Bibliothecariaat’ was adopted.

In 1968, the new name not only referred to the new ecumenical character of the association, but also was proof of the increasing influence of academic libraries on the association. Most of the new members came from university libraries and regional academic libraries, as well as from libraries of the Protestant seminaries. (Unlike their Catholic colleagues, Protestant librarians in the Netherlands had never founded their own library association.) The interests of the new members were clearly different from those of the old generation VSKB members. That is why, in 1969, it was decided to work with two working groups: the scientific theological libraries and the smaller libraries. In addition, a working group for abbey libraries (‘Werkgroep Abdijbibliotheken’, WAB) was set up in 1973, to which abbey libraries from Flanders also joined. This division of the association into working groups, however, was not sufficient to halt the decline. Increasingly, the ever-shrinking group of religious librarians became alienated from the academic staff of the large libraries. The latter group came to dominate the VThB. In 1980, for the first time, the chairman of the association was no longer from a religious order, although he was still a Catholic, the head librarian of the Theological Faculty of Tilburg. It would take until 1989 before the gavel was handed over to a non-Catholic, the subject librarian for theology from the University of Utrecht.

The work and position of the staff of the academic libraries differed in many respects from that of the smaller libraries. As part of large organisations, they had to work with colleagues responsible for other fields and account for time spent with their supervisors. Particularly in times of budget cuts and automation, all areas were examined with an increasingly critical eye as to whether any tasks could be combined, and time could be spent more usefully. The question, therefore, arose as to whether a separate library association for theology was necessary. Couldn’t the interests be better handled within the framework of the general Dutch Librarians’ Association (‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Bibliothecarissen’, NVB)? Many VThB members were already members of the NVB. In 1992 it was decided to investigate possible forms of cooperation with or merging into the NVB. In 1994, the committee set up for that purpose published its report: its conclusion was that transforming VThB into a department within the NVB had many advantages but was not financially feasible within the NVB’s financial framework. This conclusion was adopted by the members of the association. Many members, however, had not waited for the outcome of the discussion, but had already drawn their own conclusion and cancelled their membership, either because they no longer felt at home in the association or because they no longer saw the benefit of the association.

In 1994, the VThB met twice, but after that it remained dormant for a number of years. At the beginning of 1995, an issue of the association periodical Mededelingen was published for the last time. A heated discussion and the fact that neither the chairman nor the secretary of the association were working in theological libraries any longer made the association “fall into a coma” as the chairman of the Flemish association aptly put it.

Only after seven years had passed did the association awaken from this coma. The subject librarians of the Free University of Amsterdam took the initiative to convene colleagues from all the universities. There appeared to be a need for regular consultation, initially only between the academic libraries, but soon some other libraries became involved as well. At the end of 2003, the VThB made a new start. The renewed association differed in many ways from the activist association of the 1950s. There were no idealistic goals, but simply a network of colleagues who wanted to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences in times when theological and religious studies were considered less and less important. Since then, meetings have been held every spring and autumn. The agenda often includes matters related to new digital developments, such as digitisation, e-books and e-journals, and data management. Still, visits to old book collections are still appreciated.

Almost autonomous from the VThB, the Abbey Libraries Working Group (WAB) still functions, which is a collaboration between Catholic abbeys and seminaries in Flanders and the Netherlands, with the common goal of maintaining the BIDOC program, a software package providing accessibility for the affiliated libraries. Some members of the WAB also participate in the VThB and thus ensure the mutual exchange of knowledge between the association and the working group.

VThB website:

Geert Harmanny


The archives of the VSKB / VThB are deposited at the Catholic Documentation Centre in Nijmegen.


Hoppenbrouwers, Frans. “Drs. Jan Daniël Bakker sss, 1914–1982: stuwer en duwer van de Vereniging van Seminarie- en Kloosterbibliothecarissen.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis 22, no. 1 (2019): 245–252.

Hoppenbrouwers, Frans. Pater Jan Daniël Bakker s.s.s.: onvermoeibaar en ongewoon. Tilburg: Stichting Communicantes, 2020.

Lankhorst, Otto S. “Over kaartenbakken en centrale catalogi van Nederlandse kloosterbibliotheken.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis 22, no. 1 (2019) 253–259.

Nissen, Peter. “Katholieke theologische bibliotheken in Nederland van de negentiende tot de eenentwintigste eeuw.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis 22, no. 1 (2019): 225–238.


Penelope R. Hall, “The International Council of Theological Library Associations: Past Foundation, Present Form and Plans for the Future,” ATLA Summary of Proceedings 51 (1997): 245.


(1) Scripta recenter edita (VSKB, 1959–1973), a monthly bibliography of philosophical and theological works published by the Dutch association; (2) Bibliographia ad usum seminariorum (VSKB, 1959–1965), a thematic bibliography on religion; (3) Bestelcentrale / World Library Service (VSKB, 1950–1980), an international bookshop organised by the Dutch association where libraries from all over the world could order books at conditions fixed under the official rates. (4) Theologici Exquisiti Oblatique Libri – TEOL (ABSR/ABEF, 1962–), a service managed by the French association and offered to libraries from all over the world, to search for out-of-print titles and to sell the available duplicates before they enter the official antiquarian market. (5) Clavis Periodicorum (VTB, 1959–), a fully annotated bibliographical review of theological periodicals published by the Belgium society VTB. It intended to describe all theological periodicals having appeared or still appearing in Europe from 1850 onwards.


Part of the BETH archives have been lost, including the minutes of the meetings.


For more information on the work of this institution see the contribution of Fr. R.-Ferdinand Poswick in this volume.


With thanks to Marjolijn Palma.


Conferencia Episcopal Española. Comisión de Patrimonio Cultural, Guía de las bibliotecas de la Iglesia (Madrid: Editorial Edice, 2003).


Irénée Noye, PSS, “Aux origines de l’A.B.C.F.” Bulletin de liaison de l’ABCF no. 124 (Dec. 2003): 2–3. [accessed 20 May 2021].


Odile Dupont, “Les réseaux français et européens de bibliothèques religieuses,” Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF) (2010) : no. 1, 54–57, -011 [accessed 20 May 2021].


RELINDIAL IFLA SIG, “The Relindial Cartonera Project,” [accessed 20 May 2021].


ABCF, “Charte des bibliothèques chrétiennes de France et de leurs bibliothécaires.” [accessed 20 May 2021].


Francesco Marchisano, “Les bibliothèques ecclésiastiques dans la mission de l’Église,” Pontificia commissio de bonis culturalibus ecclesiae, 19 March 1994.


Associazione Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani, Annuario delle biblioteche ecclesiastiche italiane: 1990 (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 1990).


Associazione Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani, Annuario delle biblioteche ecclesiastiche italiane: 1995 (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 1995).


Dante Balboni, ed., Le biblioteche ecclesiastiche aperte al pubblico: atti del 1. convegno: Roma, 24–25 aprile 1979 (Rome: Associazione Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani, 1980).


Antonio Alecci, ed., Lezioni di biblioteconomia per bibliotecari ecclesiastici (Rome: Associazione Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani, 1984).


Mauro Guerrini et al., eds., ACOLIT 1: Bibbia, Chiesa cattolica, Curia romana, Stato pontificio, Vaticano, papi e antipapi (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 1998); Silvana Chistè and Lino Mocatti, eds., ACOLIT 2: Ordini religiosi (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 2000); Fausto Ruggeri, ed., ACOLIT 3: Opere liturgiche (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 2004); Paola Pieri, ed., ACOLIT 4: Padri della Chiesa e scrittori ecclesiastici occidentali (secoli 2.–13.) (Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 2010).


Cfr. “Intesa [fra il Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali e il Presidente della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana],” Bollettino di informazione – Associazione dei bibliotecari ecclesiastici italiani 2 (2000): 5–12.


Cfr. “La Biblioteca “mons. Angelo Paredi” dell’Associazione dei Bibliotecari Ecclesiastici Italiani,” Bollettino di informazione – Associazione dei bibliotecari ecclesiastici italiani 1 (2005): 5–7.


The National Library Service (‘Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale’, SBN) is the network of Italian libraries promoted by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. It is coordinated by the Central Institute for the Union Catalogue of Italian Libraries and for Bibliographic Information (ICCU, ‘Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico e le Informazioni Bibliografiche’). The SBN network was established with the goal of overcoming the fragmentation of library resources. Today, the network includes state, ecclesiastical, local, university, school, public and private institutional libraries. The libraries taking part in SBN are grouped together into local or thematic hubs.

16 BeWeB – Online ecclesiastical heritage, is a showcase displaying the systematic census-taking carried out by Italian dioceses and ecclesiastical cultural institutions on their self-owned holdings belonging to their historical, artistic, archival, and library assets.


Silvano Danieli and Mauro Guerrini, eds., Babele Bibbia e Corano dal testo al contesto: Dalle culture ai libri di culto: funzioni moderne delle biblioteche nelle tradizioni religiose delle civiltà del Mediterraneo.: Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana – Sala Accademie, August 24th, 2009 (Rome: CEI, 2010).


Robert L. Collison, “SCOTAPLL and ABTAPL: The Early Years,” Bulletin of ABTAPL New Series 1, no. 34/35 (March 1986): 13.


Collison, “SCOTAPLL and ABTAPL: The Early Years,” 13.


John V. Howard, “The Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries: A Personal View of Its Past, Present and Future. Part 1,” Bulletin of ABTAPL New Series 1, no. 1 (Dec. 1974): 12.


Howard, “The Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries,” 13.


Howard, “The Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries,” 15.


Emma R.L. Lea, A Guide to the Theological Libraries of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Alan F. Jesson (London: ABTAPL Publishing, 1986).


See the minutes of the “1ère réunion des bibliothécaires suisses de théologie” ( association archive).


In the minutes of the first gathering, 26 Oct. 1990, Pierre Beffa refers to a ‘Commission des bibliothécaires suisses de théologie en Suisse Romande’, which no longer exists.


See “Beschlussprotokoll der ‘Arbeitsgruppe theologischer Bibliothekare’” (session 25 Febr. 1976 in Bern: “Die Arbeitsgruppe versteht sich als lose Kontaktgruppe der Fachbearbeiter ‘Theologie’ an schweizerischen öffentlichen und privaten Bibliotheken. … Die Zusammenkünfte werden von einem Dreier-Ausschuss vorbereitet, dem die Herren G. Bührer, C. Layani und B. Rehor angehören. Kontaktstelle ist Bernhard Rehor, Zentralbibliothek, Luzern.” Previously, a ‘Kontaktgruppe Fachreferenten Theologie’ (Protocol 17 Sept. 1975 Luzern), under the leadership of Dr. Christoph M. Werner, invited colleagues from Swiss university libraries responsible for theology and religious studies for a ‘Bibliothekarengespräch Theologie an Schweizer Bibliotheken’ (3 July 1975, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Bern), where also Prof. Dr. François Bovon, convener of the ‘Commission des bibliothécaires suisses de théologie en Suisse Romande’ participated.


Earlier meetings have been named “Treffen der Bibliothekare theologischer Institutionen in der Schweiz” (25 Nov. 1991, Zürich), “Rencontre des bibliothécaires suisses en théologie” (6 Nov. 1992, Lausanne), “Rencontre annuelle des bibliothécaires en théologie” (Basle, 15 Nov. 1994), “Groupe des bibliothécaires de théologie de Suisse” (Aarau, 7 Nov. 2002).


See Protocol 18 Nov. 2014: “Wir bilden eine Gruppe, die die Vereinsgründung und die Statuten vorbereitet. Dazu gehören Cécile Bossart, Guy Roland, Susanne Schaub, Paul Stalder und Caroline Weber.”


Az Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülésének módosításokkal egységes szerkezetbe foglalt alapszabálya 2.§.


“In memoriam Bánhegyi B. Miksa OSB, az Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülésének első elnöke,” in Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülése Jubileumi Konferencia: 25 éves az Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülése, 1994–2019: Budapest, 2019. III. 5. ([Budapest]: Egyházi Könyvtárak Egyesülése, [2019]), 53.


Urbe Official Report, 14 March 2005, in Relazioni annuali del Direttore del Consiglio Direttivo, vol. 5 (Rome: URBE, 2006), 56.


Urbe Official Report, 26 February 2007, in Relazioni annuali del Direttore del Consiglio Direttivo, vol. 6 (Rome: URBE, 2009), 38.


Urbe Official Report, 1 March 2010, in Relazioni annuali del Direttore del Consiglio Direttivo, vol. 7, (Rome: URBE, 2012), 56.


Urbe Official Report, 8 March 2011, in Relazioni annuali del Direttore del Consiglio Direttivo, vol. 7 (Rome: URBE, 2012), 95.


Urbe Official Report, 29 February 2016, in Relazioni annuali del Direttore del Consiglio Direttivo, vol. 8–9, 2021, 150.


The acronym VThB is used throughout this article although until 2009 the acronym was VTB. When the association wanted to register a domain name in 2009, it appeared that the domain VTB was no longer available and another name had to be chosen. The new domain name became


Frans Hoppenbrouwers, Pater Jan Daniël Bakker s.s.s.: onvermoeibaar en ongewoon, Tilburg: Stichting Communicantes, 2020, 71.

  • Collapse
  • Expand

Theological Libraries and Library Associations in Europe

A Festschrift on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of BETH


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 124 124 22
PDF Views & Downloads 126 126 12