Friday, June 4, 2010

And the Rest Is History

(I was asked to provide the devotional thoughts for this year's meeting of the Association of Librarians and Archivists at Baptist Institutions. Some of the participants asked if I would publish my remarks, so here they are.)

The book of Ezra recounts the story of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the return of the Hebrews from the Babylonian captivity. Tattenai, the governor of Trans-Euphrates (where Judah and Jerusalem were located), became aware of the temple construction and feared political unrest. He began investigating the project and learned that there was supposedly a decree issued years before, during the reign of Cyrus, authorizing the rebuilding.

Reading from Ezra 5:17 through 6:4 - 17 Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter. 1 King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. 2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it: Memorandum: 3 In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be ninety feet high and ninety feet wide, 4 with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury.

In order to find out if there had indeed been a previous edict about the rebuilding of the temple, King Darius ordered a search of the royal records. The search was made not with computerized catalogs and keywords, but by careful unrolling and reading of the scrolls housed in Persia’s libraries and archives.

Although the search began in the libraries at Babylon, the decree was found in the archives at Ecbatana, almost three hundred miles away. I can tell you, the hand of God must have been on that search – I doubt any of us would have kept looking for so long!

Ecbatana’s cooler climate, relatively speaking, made it a pleasant place for the royals to spend their summers and an ideal climate for the storage of papyrus and leather scrolls. During the summer of 538BC, King Cyrus delivered his decree from the city, and the archival record was kept there. The citadel served as one of the repositories of the unchangeable laws of the Medes and Persians. In addition to the vital documents, gold, silver, jewels, precious stones, and other items of value were housed in the treasury.

Even today we, as archivists and librarians, are called to be keepers of historical and cultural treasures. Like our Middle Eastern forebears we are relied upon to provide three primary services:

  • First, we collect important documents and items of value. Our collections may not include royal decrees or temple treasures, but the books and items we hold are significant to our patrons.
  • Also, like the keepers of the royal treasury, we preserve these cherished items in secure, climate-controlled storage, ensuring their availability when the time comes for their use.

  • Our third role, and in my mind our most important, is the duty we have to provide access to our treasures. No longer locked away in fortresses and citadels, the information we retain is not ours to hoard but ours to share. As stewards of Baptist history, we minister to our patrons – churches, associations, genealogists, and scholars – by helping connect them to the collections we hold.

In putting my thoughts together for this devotional, I conducted an informal survey online, asking other librarians and archivists if they viewed our profession as a calling. Here is what some of them had to say:

“I think I see ‘helping people’ as a calling, and ‘preserving and making available the meaningful things people have created’ as a calling, and even ‘matching people to stories they will enjoy and information they find useful’ as a calling….”

“Yes, because I went into it with a whole different motivation. Before, I was aiming to use my skills for myself. Then there was a shifting, a letting go of thinking I was doing the providing. What I was already doing was being used for a different purpose.”

“While occasionally I have bad days, I am always happy I chose librarianship as my career. I can't see myself being happier or feeling more fulfilled in any other career but writing, and I do that on the side anyway. Learning is a passion of mine, and my work is a great fit.”

I challenge you today to remember your role as a steward of treasures. We are not called to be guards at the fortress but caretakers of the property we’ve been entrusted with. Although we ensure the safety of the items we hold, we do not clutch them to our chests. Instead we offer them with outstretched arms. We invite genealogists to connect with their pasts, churches with their stories, and students and scholars with the resources they need to continue making history.

I would like to close by reading the last stanza of Ferdinand Q. Blanchard’s hymn, “Word of God, Across the Ages.” To me, this song speaks to our calling as both Christians and keepers of history.

“In the tongues of all the peoples / May the message bless and heal,
As devout and patient scholars / More and more its depths reveal;
Bless, O God, to wise and simple,
All Thy truth of ageless worth,
Till all lands receive the witness / And Thy knowledge fills the earth.”

Thanks to each of you for your ministry.


Will said...

I would have loved to be there to hear this in person.

Laura said...

Thanks, Will. I appreciate your feedback! :)

Faceless Librarian said...

Superbly done, hon'. I really like how you talked about the historical/Biblical archivists and how they were able to find things. It's a great example of how the documents of the past can shape the future!

Laura said...

Thanks, Dan. Some things never change!