Current text adopted by library staff March 4, 2021; revised and adopted by Library Committee March 23, 2021; adopted by the VTS faculty April 20, 2021.


Bishop Payne Library’s purpose is to instruct and empower seminary patrons to utilize a curated print and digital research collection, to offer an inviting environment for scholarship, and to conserve the seminary’s archival record. Reflecting its motto, “Seek the Truth,” Bishop Payne Library enhances the curricular mission of the seminary by inspiring student/faculty engagement with the church’s theological heritage and contemporary witness, from diverse perspectives.

History and Context

The seminary’s library dates from the seminary’s founding 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.

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

The Head Librarian has primary responsibility for the selection and balance of all library collections, assisted by the User Services and Electronic Services library staff. Recommendations from faculty, students, and staff are solicited. As a member of the faculty, the Head Librarian is aware of curricular developments, new courses, and faculty hires, to resource their research needs. Demand-driven acquisition (DDA) for e-books and streaming video and rapid acquisition of print materials facilitate timely response to patron needs.


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 as patron-driven acquisition 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, 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 collection foci are Anglican theology, Biblical studies, Anglican/Episcopal liturgical works, hymnals, octavos, and scores of sacred music. The collection includes Books of Common Prayer dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries. 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.


De-selection policy: 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 include:

  • Unneeded duplicate copies
  • Currency: outdated materials, superseded editions
  • Collection scope: no longer in collection scope, unnecessary ancillary areas
  • Uniqueness or scarcity in peer library holdings
  • Physical condition: damaged or deteriorated materials deemed unsalvageable
  • Relevance to denominational tradition
  • Relevance to curriculum/research needs
  • Collection balance in subject area
  • Usage: no or low and dated circulation data
  • E-alternatives: availability of stable, secure, long-term full-text digital surrogate available and preserved for the future, such as HathiTrust Digital Library
  • Availability for interlibrary loan
  • For the Journal collection, the primary criterion is availability of secure, long-term full-text digital surrogate, such as JSTOR, ATLAS, or HathiTrust. Secondary criteria are: relevance to denominational tradition, relevance to curriculum/research needs, and incomplete runs.

The library places a high value on providing diverse perspectives in the collection. Diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, and global theological perspectives are particularly valued. Freedom of inquiry for library staff and for seminary 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 Archive collections have been acquired over two centuries, and they reflect the society and age in which they were created. They may contain language that is troubling because of subject matter relating to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other marginalized and underrepresented individuals and groups. Nonetheless, they have significant value for historical and theological research. These items are preserved to record a comprehensive picture of the history and heritage 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 key 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 how to best utilize them for 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 various databases and indexes to 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 other online research resources (e.g. LibGuides, databases, Discovery catalog);
  • Curated research guides to significant aspects of the collection and/or topics especially relevant to the Seminary’s curriculum (e.g. LibGuides, virtual library course on the learning management system);
  • Webinars 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).

On Campus, Residential Students (Masters)

Residential students have full access to the print and digital collections of the library and have 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, virtual workshops, and the library services course in the learning management system.

Virtual Students (Masters) and Hybrid Students (VTS Doctoral Programs)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VTS had distance master’s students for the first time in academic year 2020-2021. The doctoral program is a hybrid model, with intensive sessions on campus and remote work off-campus. All virtual and hybrid students have remote access to the library’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, virtual workshops, and the library services course in the learning management system.

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, virtual office hours, virtual workshops, and the library services course in the learning management system.

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 staff 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. All donations must be accompanied and governed by an executed Deed of Gift. Recommendations for collections to be acquired are encouraged from members of the Seminary community, but the decision to solicit collections and the retention of unsolicited collections and non-archival material is at the discretion of the Archivist and Head Librarian.

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.