Purpose and Context

Text adopted by the VTS Faculty, April 20, 2021; revised and approved by Faculty on December 11, 2023.

Bishop Payne Library Purpose

Bishop Payne Library’s purpose is to instruct and empower Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) and The General Theological Seminary (GTS) patrons to utilize a curated print and digital research collection, to offer an inviting environment for scholarship, and to conserve the seminaries’ archival record.  Bishop Payne Library strengthens the seminaries’ curricular mission by inspiring and enabling student/faculty engagement with the church’s theological heritage and contemporary witness, from diverse perspectives. 

Collection History and Context

Bishop Payne Library (BPL) dates from the founding of VTS in 1823. Francis Scott Key Hall (now Bicentennial Hall) was built as the first separate library building in 1855 for a collection of 7,000 volumes. The Bishop Payne Library building was built in 1957 to hold 100,000 volumes, doubled in size in 1980, and completely renovated in 2020-2021. In 1973 the library was named to honor the Bishop Payne Divinity School, the separate Episcopal seminary for African Americans during segregation that merged into VTS in 1953. In 2021, Virginia Seminary affiliated with The General Theological Seminary, and in May 2023, the GTS Board of Trustees closed Keller Library at GTS and asked BPL to provide all library services for GTS as well as VTS.

The library’s primary patrons are the students, faculty, staff, and trustees of Virginia Theological Seminary and The General Theological Seminary.


The Head Librarian has primary responsibility for the selection and balance of all library collections, assisted by the User Services and Discovery and Technology Services librarians. Recommendations from faculty, students, and staff are welcomed. As a member of the faculty, the Head Librarian is aware of curricular developments, new courses, and faculty hires, to resource their research needs.

Acquisition and De-Acquisition of Print and Electronic Collections

The scope of the library collection is intended to document the historic depth, the intellectual breadth, and the global expression of Christian thought and practice.

For all formats (print books, journals, e-resources, gifts, special collections), the acquisition criteria include: relevance to the curriculum and faculty research interests, academic credibility, research significance, longevity, author’s credentials, publisher, language, format, accessibility (software, hardware platforms), and cost.

The library acquires e-books in various ways: individual title purchases, perpetual access packages (e.g. ATLA Monographs), annual subscription packages (e.g. EBSCO Religion and Theology Collection, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, etc.), Demand-Driven Acquisitions (EBSCO)/Evidence-Based Acquisition (e.g. Project Muse, Bloomsbury). The determination of whether to acquire print or ebook format or both is based upon patron access needs, cost, usage, and enduring relevance.

BPL subscribes to databases containing e-journals and reference materials on Biblical studies, theological thought and practice, education, music, psychology, and African American studies. Streaming video is available through Kanopy. The effectiveness of the subscriptions is assessed by tracking usage and analyzing cost-per-use. Integration into LibGuides and the library’s discovery system promotes awareness of these research resources.

VTS degree program theses are all preserved in print copies. The library also maintains an online open access thesis repository with author permission.

Small collections of recent children’s, juvenile, and young adult books, mostly on faith topics, are maintained to support seminary campus families.

Special Collections and rare books are acquired primarily by gift and occasionally by purchase. The existing collecting area emphases are

  • Biblical studies,
  • Anglican/Episcopal liturgical works, such as editions of the Book of Common Prayer, hymnals, and sermons,
  • History and theology of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church.

The following are materials that the BPL Rare Book Collection generally does not accept:

  • Duplicates of materials already held,
  • Widely-available publications,
  • Publications that do not align with the current curriculum of the Seminary,
  • Facsimiles of original materials, unless they serve a specific curricular need or are noted as significant in and of themselves,
  • Material that is excessively damaged.

The rare book collection includes a variety of Books of Common Prayer dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, which also reflect the history of printing. The hymnal and liturgy collection includes works that span the 16th to the 20th centuries and the rich diversity of the Christian tradition from around the world.

Final decisions about the acceptance of rare book donations are made by the Head Librarian, based primarily on the criteria listed above.  

Selected Keller Library rare books may be transferred to BPL custody for care, preservation, and scholarly access, with approval of the VTS and GTS Boards of Trustees, under the VTS/GTS Affiliation Agreement. Because the BPL building has limited physical capacity, only portions of these collections will be transferred; the remainder will remain in storage.

Library Collection De-selection Policy

Deselection is necessary to ensure the library's collections remain current and patrons have easy access to reliable, quality resources. Materials meeting deselection criteria are removed from the collection to make room for collection growth and possible future transfers from Keller Library. The library implemented a deselection and de-duping program starting in 2019. The library is committed to collection curation practices that are careful, conservative, and collaborative with faculty. OCLC’s GreenGlass Collection Curation program was utilized to inform the deselection process. Criteria for de-selection are based on the MUSTIE weeding guidelines:

  • M = Misleading, obsolete, or outdated resources
  • U = Ugly (worn and beyond mending or rebinding)
  • S = Superseded (by a new edition or by a better book on the subject)
  • T = Trivial (of no discernible literary merit; usually of ephemeral interest at some time in the past)
  • I = Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community; low recent patron usage
  • E = The material or information may be obtained expeditiously elsewhere through interlibrary loan, reciprocal borrowing, or in electronic format, particularly the availability of stable, secure, long-term full-text digital surrogate available and preserved for the future, such as HathiTrust Digital Library.
  • For the Journal collection, the primary criterion is the availability of secure, long-term full-text digital surrogate, such as JSTOR, ATLAS, or HathiTrust.

Criteria for retention despite availability of digital surrogate include:

  • Relevance to denominational tradition
  • Relevance to curriculum/research needs
  • Uniqueness or scarcity in peer library holdings
  • Collection balance in subject area

For deaccessioning of rare book material, BPL adheres to the ACRL/RBMS Guidelines Regarding the Security of Special Collections Materials, revised June 2023. Materials that duplicate holdings, fall outside of established collecting scopes, or otherwise do not fit the mission of Bishop Payne Library Rare Book Collection may be deaccessioned, subject to donor agreements and legal restrictions. Final rare book deaccessioning determinations are approved by the Head Librarian and the Rare Book Curator.

Diversity, Multiculturalism, Globalization

Bishop Payne Library is committed to providing diverse perspectives in the collection. Diversity in theological thought, as well as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and global perspectives are particularly valued. Freedom of inquiry for library staff and for patrons is honored through the theological diversity of the collection.

The library is also aware that some perspectives from the past may cause offense today. Items in the Bishop Payne Library and Archival collections have been acquired over two centuries, and they reflect the society and age in which they were created. They may contain content that is troubling because of subject matter relating to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other marginalized or underrepresented individuals and groups. These items hold significance for historical and theological research and are preserved to record a comprehensive picture of Christianity, the Episcopal Church, and Virginia Theological Seminary.

Cataloging records and archival finding aids descriptions also reflect the time and values of their creators and may contain problematic terms.  Bishop Payne Library and archival staff follow cataloging and archival standards that reflect national and local practices that continue to evolve over time.

A global collecting priority centers around the international Anglican Communion. The library seeks to acquire local materials representing the worldwide global Anglican Communion, particularly primary source material such as indigenous Books of Common Prayer, provincial constitutions and canons, and local diocesan or provincial histories. These are collected in partnership with the Center for Anglican Communion Studies and the seminary’s international students. More broadly, the library seeks to provide a worldwide theological perspective in its collection development.


User Services

The library user services department offers regular and one-time orientations to the library’s resources and workshops in research. Staff are trained to offer a welcoming environment to patrons of all backgrounds and to answer their research and resource questions. Where appropriate, staff collaborate with faculty to meet the needs of students in particular classes. User services aims to cultivate the graduate theological education habits of critical engagement, exploration, and further inquiry, as well as library research strategies and resource discovery methods.

Library staff strive to provide equitable service and access to the collection, responding accurately and with courtesy to library patrons of diverse abilities (physical and intellectual), backgrounds, and ethnicities. Staff recognize the wide range of faith and theological perspectives among patrons, and so provide an environment of unbiased service and respect. Patron confidentiality and intellectual freedom is strictly maintained.

Technical Services

The technical services department is responsible for optimally organizing the library’s collections and providing catalog search tools for the collection. Technical services staff ensure that the library catalog provides a means to locate relevant resources (both known and unknown, discoverable resources), as well as the accessibility of the digital collection.


The library employs a part-time book conservation specialist to maintain the collections for use and to perform restoration work on the rare book collections.

The library’s resources are made accessible through these additional means:

  • A navigable and understandable user interface for the online catalog and digital research resources (e.g Stacks platform, EBSCO Discovery service);
  • Curated research guides to significant aspects of the collection and/or topics especially relevant to the Seminary’s curriculum (e.g. LibGuides);
  • Webinars and workshops on specific research topics (both offered live and as posted recordings);
  • Prominent instructions/guides to accessing varied types of resources (e.g. using eBooks, locating journal articles, AAEHC bibliographies);
  • Regular and spontaneous reference opportunities provided in multiple formats (e.g. in-person large group, individual consultations, virtual office hours, virtual workshops, email/ask-a-librarian service) and at varying levels of formality (e.g. on-demand with circulation desk staffer or scheduled consultation).


Requests for resources not available in the library collection (or through purchase by its usual vendors), may be provided through interlibrary loan services, or through referral to the Washington Theological Consortium libraries or local public libraries (when the material falls outside the collection scope of academic libraries).

Support for All Modalities and Teaching Locations

On campus, Residential students (Masters):

VTS residential students have full access to the print and digital collections of the library and direct borrowing access to the libraries of the Washington Theological Consortium. They have remote access to the library’s electronic resources. Librarian instruction is available in person, via email, video conferencing, virtual office hours, and workshops.

 Hybrid students (GTS Masters and VTS & GTS Doctoral programs):

The GTS M.Div. and the GTS and VTS doctoral programs are hybrid models, with intensive sessions on campus and remote work off-campus. All hybrid students have remote access to BPL's electronic resources. The library also provides scanning services and lending of print materials on-site and via UPS. Librarian instruction is available via email, video conferencing, virtual office hours, and virtual workshops.

HKSKH Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong: In Aug 2019, VTS and Ming Hua Theological College signed a 5-year partnership agreement to offer the D.Ed.Min. The Lai Wong Yan Lin Library of Ming Hua provides primary library resources for students and faculty there. In addition, as VTS enrolled doctoral students and VTS affiliate faculty, Ming Hua students and faculty have access to Bishop Payne Library’s electronic research resources. Local library staff at Ming Hua provide primary instruction and librarian support. BPL library staff are available for consultation via email, video conferencing, and virtual workshops.


Quantitative evaluation measures:

  • The GreenGlass collection curation project data for comparing BPL’s collection to peer libraries’ holdings;
  • Usage data that support calculating cost-per-use metrics of electronic resources. Low use counts may indicate the need for more user education or for highlighting these resources in search results, or may indicate low demand for the product;
  • Analysis of library staff reference and presentation statistics.

Qualitative evaluation measures:

  • Analysis of interlibrary loan requests compared to collection holdings;
  • Analysis of student outcomes in relation to use of the library, in partnership with faculty (e.g. annual faculty portfolio review, theses and capstone projects);
  • Patron satisfaction surveys and interviews;
  • Scholar acknowledgements in publications.


The RFID tagging project in 2021-2022 provides an inventory of the circulating collections. Once implemented, the RFID system will facilitate ongoing inventory control and evaluation of collection usage.


The mission of the Virginia Theological Seminary Archives is to serve the seminary community by collecting, preserving, and making available through open and equitable access: the institutional records of Virginia Theological Seminary and Bishop Payne Divinity School; the papers of prominent individuals of the two organizations; and the holdings of the African American Episcopal Historical Collection (AAEHC), a joint project of VTS and the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church.

The Seminary Archivist, in consultation with the Head Librarian, has the primary responsibility for building and maintaining the archival collections. Institutional records of enduring value are acquired through transfer to the Archives from the various Seminary departments. Student records are governed by the VTS Educational Records Retention Policy; they are digitized for long-term preservation and then transferred to archives ten years after graduation or withdrawal. These student records are maintained in perpetuity by the Archivist.  Access to student records and/or information therein can be obtained with the permission of the VTS Administration and in accordance with FERPA regulations.  Manuscript collections and personal papers are solicited by the Archivist. Collections for inclusion in the AAEHC are determined by the AAEHC Collection Growth Specialist and the Seminary Archivist, often in consultation with the Head Librarian and the AAEHC Steering Committee.

Emphasis is placed on collecting original, unique, unpublished materials not held by other repositories, including but not limited to personal papers, correspondence, photographs, documents, oral histories, and organizational records. The Seminary Archives accepts gifts that fall within its collecting areas as approved by the Archivist and/or the Head Librarian. All gifts require the full and permanent transfer of the title to the Seminary by means of an executed Deed of Gift. The Archives of The General Theological Seminary remain on site at Keller Library in New York City and are currently closed. Selected GTS archival collections may be transferred to BPL custody for use, access, and preservation, with approval of the VTS and GTS Boards of Trustees, under the VTS/GTS Affiliation Agreement. Because the BPL building has limited physical capacity, only portions of these collections will be immediately transferred; the remainder will remain in storage.

The VTS Archives adheres to the Archives Policies and Procedures Manual, Bishop Payne Library and VTS policies, as well as state and federal law, and the canon law of the Episcopal Church.

Curating and Evaluating Consortial Resources

Washington Theological Consortium: The libraries of the WTC maintain a reciprocal borrowing agreement, which gives VTS students and faculty direct borrowing from nine other theological libraries in the greater Washington area: Catholic University, Dominican House, Howard University, John Leland Center for Theological Studies, Reformed Theological Seminary, Virginia Union University, United Lutheran Seminary, Wesley Theological Seminary, and the Woodstock Theological Library at Georgetown University. The consortium librarians meet regularly to coordinate and communicate about implementation of the reciprocal borrowing agreement and to confer about collection policies and access.