Welcome to the Library!

The Bishop Payne Library provides an inviting context for theological exploration. The collection contains hundreds of thousands of materials curated to support your learning and research. Spaces have been designed to accommodate a variety of learning styles, facilitate group work, and host engaging programming. 

Our passion is to help you go deeper in your faith and vocation through reading, research and resources.

Librarians are ready to assist with your research and help you navigate the library's resources. Use the tabs at the left, or explore the pages throughout our website to learn more about the resources and services of the library.

Hybrid/Distance Learning Students

The library's website and digital catalog have been designed to make it easy for all users, on-campus and remote, to access resources. Just as with the physical library space, the website and online catalog encourage users to find materials and explore our collections. eBooks and eJournals (among many others!) are completely integrated into the OneSearch catalog. Library staff are eager to support your studies regardless of your location.

Library History

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.




Visiting the Library

The library collection and building support the theological research and teaching of the Seminary. Building access and resource use is given priority to the VTS Community (students, faculty, staff, their families, VTS alumni, CXM Supervisors, Board of Trustees, and guests of the Seminary), the GTS community, and students and faculty of the Washington Theological Consortium.

Effective November 20, 2023, the library building is accessible only by cardkey access.

  • Local Clergy: Local clergy who have previously held borrowing privileges with the library may apply for renewal of privileges prior to visiting the library. Local clergy new to the library will be required to apply for borrowing privileges prior to their first visit. Email paynelib@vts.edu to inquire about local clergy borrowing and access. Local clergy borrowing privileges last until May 15th of each year, at which time they will need to reapply for a subsequent year. For local clergy with approved borrowing privileges, access to the building is by calling the circulation desk (703) 461-1733 once you've arrived. They will verify your eligibility for entry and open the door for you.

    Submit a completed application form to apply for clergy borrowing privileges. PDF iconClergy Borrowing Application Form.pdf

  • Individual Researchers: Visiting researchers must make an appointment to visit the library, upon each separate visit. Visitors without an appointment will not be granted entry to the library building. The library is open to researchers who have a specific need to use the library's collections. Access is intended for limited-duration, distinct projects. Borrowing privileges are unavailable to visiting students or researchers, outside of the library's existing agreement with the Washington Theological Consortium libraries. The library staff is unable to conduct research on behalf of unaffiliated visitors.

    Submit a Visiting Researcher Appointment Request form to request a visit, including information about your project and use of the BPL collections. A library staff member will reply to your request with information about accessing the library.
  • General Public: Members of the general public do not have access to the Bishop Payne Library. They should make use of the Alexandria Public Library System.
New Student Checklist

Welcome to the Bishop Payne Library! New students can use this library checklist to make sure they're comfortable using all that the library has to offer.

  1. Find your library barcode on the back of your VTS ID Card. Hybrid/Distance Learning students receive their library barcodes via email at the beginning of their first term. You'll use this barcode to check out materials and authenticate for remote access to digital resources (link).
  2. Attend a library orientation. Watch your email during the August term (for VTS Students) or throughout the year for opportunities to attend an in-person or, for hybrid/distance learning students, virtual orientation to the library. 
  3. Take a tour of the library (for residential students). These are organized for groups of new students, or, you can ask one of the librarians for a tour. Or, go on a self-guided tour with a pamphlet at the circulation desk. Familiarize yourself with the variety of study spaces designed for diverse learning styles and comfort preferences.
  4. Familiarize yourself with our opening hours (link) (for residential students). During the academic terms, we are open evenings and weekends. During the summer and breaks, we reduce our hours to Mon-Fri during the day. 
  5. Use the Ask-a-Librarian button (link) to reach out to librarians with questions of any kind. We're here to help support your research at every stage. You can also ask any question to the circulation desk staffer who is there to help you, either in person or via (703) 461-1733. No question is too big or too small for the library team. It's our job to answer questions and help you.
  6. Get a feel for the library catalog: OneSearch (link). Our default catalog search helps you discover books, eBooks, journal articles, and more all in one place. Try out a few keywords or search for a known item so you're comfortable using the search box and know what to expect on the results page.
  7. Practice reading eBooks and digital journal articles. Look for the "PDF Full Text" links, as these are the quickest ways to access eResources. Example: . You can limit your catalog search results to eBooks or journal articles only using the limiters on the left-hand side.
  8. Try out the Map It feature. On the catalog results page, all physical items have a "map it" button: . Click on that and a map of the stacks will open showing you exactly where the book is located. 
  9. Explore Research Guides (link). These guides are created by librarians and act as starting points for researching various topics. They usually contain recommended starting resources as well as suggested pathways for further research. There is even one for Exegesis Resources!
  10. Learn about our Special Collections: Rare Books & Archives. These collections are open for student research! The rare books room features a range of unique materials documenting the history of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Anglican theology. The archives document the history of the Seminary and also contain the African American Episcopal Historical Collection (AAEHC). The rare books collection is searchable in the library's catalog. Visit the archives' website (link).
Contact Us & Research Assistance

We are here to help.

You don't have to research alone. Librarians are available to partner with you at any stage of your project. They can help you develop a research topic, suggest recommended resources or help you choose sources to use, and they can help you put it all together for an assignment. 

Schedule a Consultation or Reach Out for Help:

  • Fill out the Ask-A-Librarian Form. During the library's open hours, responses are generally provided within a couple of hours. Form submissions are monitored by multiple BPL librarians.
  • Ask the circulation desk staffer for research help. Remember, you are never "bothering" the circulation desk staffer. We are here for you! If they don't know the answer to your question, they will refer your question to another member of the library staff.
  • Schedule a Meeting with Vincent Williams, the User Services Librarian. Vincent can meet with you in-person, over the phone, or via Zoom.
  • If your research question concerns archival material, email askarchives@vts.edu, so the archives staff can respond to your question. 

On-Site Borrowing 

You'll need your VTS ID card to check out books using the self-checkout station or with the circulation desk staff. Most materials at the Bishop Payne Library are available to borrow. Exceptions are books in the Reference Section or in Special Collections, for example. Loan periods vary slightly depending on your relationship with VTS. Students receive a standard 4-week borrowing period and they are able to renew books up to two times if no other member of the community requests the item.

Remote Borrowing

Remote students are encouraged to make use of the library's extensive eResource collection. Catalog searches can be limited to eBooks or eJournals only for ease of browsing. The library has more than 500,000 eBooks and millions of digital journal articles, more of which are added nearly every week. It is the library's goal to provide eBook access to all course readings and library staff attempt to purchase eBook access to books in the Seminary's curricular areas whenever possible. If there is a book you need that is not available in eBook form, please reach out to the library staff to explore options for access.

Remote students (VTS Doctoral Students and GTS Students) can request books to be shipped for them if the item is not available electronically. We are able to ship up to 5 books at a time. The library pays for outgoing shipping, and the student is responsible for return shipping. To request books shipped to you, please send an email to paynelib@vts.edu or fill out the Ask-a-Librarian form. Include your shipping address with your request.

Renew Books

Library users may self-renew books up to 2 separate times through My Account. Log in using your last name and library barcode to view or renew the materials you've borrowed. You may also renew materials by emailing paynelib@vts.edu or by calling the circulation desk at (703) 461-1733.

Book Recalls

Books may be recalled at any time for user by another member of the VTS Community. Upon recall, the book will be due within 7 days. Library staff will communicate with you regarding any recalled items.

Course Reserves

Professors may ask the library to place reading materials on reserve in the library. These materials are located at the circulation desk. Course reserves can be checked out for 2-hours and renewed if no other student is waiting for access.

You can find course reserves through the VTS Library Catalog. Select Course Reserves and enter the professor's last name in the search box. You can browse the list of items on course reserves, including e-Books. Many professors also integrate their course reserve texts with their Brightspace course pages.

The library tries to make all required reading available as eBooks wherever this option is possible and available. Search for eBooks by title in the OneSearch catalog. Not all books have been digitized by their publishers, so significant gaps remain in coverage between print and eBooks.

Study Spaces

Group study rooms and carrels are for the use of the seminary community only.

Group Study Rooms

There are 5 group study rooms in the library, for use by students doing small group study or for course-related small groups. These operate on a first-come-first-served policy for groups of 2 or more. They are not intended for individual study. Library staff occasionally reserve these spaces for departmental or faculty meeting needs.

Individual Carrels

Carrels are available on the main and upper floors of the library, reserved for use by students writing theses, those with a documented learning accommodation, and visiting scholars. Please inquire at the circulation desk about the carrel policy. When not reserved, these rooms can be used on a first-come, first-served basis.

Print, Copy, and Scan

Copiers are located in the middle area of each floor as you get off the elevators. A VTS ID card is required to access print, copy, and scan features. You can use library computers on any floor to print by logging into the VTS Papercut Service.

If you need to set up your papercut account or need assistance printing, contact the VTS Computer Lab at computerlab@vts.edu.



Seminary Families

The library seeks to be a place for seminary learners of every age.


  • Seminary family members may register for a personal library card (Middle-School Aged through Adults)
  • Children in elementary school or below should be accompanied by an adult
  • All users should respect the library as a professional place of study. Please use lower voices in the library

Green Zones:

Children's Area: Library Commons (Main Floor)

  • Picture books, children's books, and beginning reading-level books
  • Parents should check out books for children elementary-aged and below on the parents' library account

Juvenile and Young Adult Area: Top Level

  • Books for upper-grade school, middle school, and teen readers
  • Seminary young people, middle-school-aged and above, may register for their own library cards
  • Young people should respect others working and studying on the top floor

Yellow Zones:

  • The computer directly across from the circulation desk may be used by young people middle-school-aged and above with parental permission

Red Zones:

  • The lower level of the library is a quiet, academic area for adults to study
  • All computers besides the one listed above are reserved for adult use.
Alumni Library Resources

VTS and GTS Alumni have access to a limited number of databases and digital resources. Visit the alumni guide for more information.