Perusing Leen Ritmeyer‘s web-log several days ago, I came across his musings on the world of books, his earlier life as a Jerusalem-based student and researcher, and some of the memorable libraries he encountered here. He states: “It was the library of the École biblique et archéologique française, however, that blew our bibliophile’s socks off…” Living and working at the Ecole Biblique (aka St. Stephen’s Priory) as I do, Ritmeyer’s comment caught my eye and reminded me of a post I’ve had ‘on the back burner’ for some time.
I have meant to pass along information about the on-line catalog of the Ecole library, especially for those of you involved in serious scholarship and research. Now, the value of having access to the catalog — without being able to use the library itself — is probably not self-evident, so let me explain. From the very beginning (ca. 1890), the Dominicans here made a point of indexing their collection on the level of the individual articles contained in journals, periodicals and books. Thanks to their foresight and diligence, that means that someone today can sit at their computer — wherever in the world — and do a search of the catalog by keyword, author, or any number of other parameters, and pull up the reference data on a whole host of relevant articles (and books), materials that they might then have access to in their own institutional library or via internet resources such as JSTOR.
A bit of background: Starting in the 1990s the EBAF library’s old “hard-copy” cataloging was gradually entered into a computer system (a process yet to be completed for one or two lesser-used sections), which yielded a functional but rather limited DOS-based electronic catalog. Then, over the past several years this data has been converted into a custom-designed browser-based system that goes by the cryptic name “KOHA”, and it is this thoroughly upgraded catalog which was made available on-line a year or two ago. As one might imagine, it’s a huge task keeping this resource updated — I can tell you that it keeps a team of three and sometimes four catalogers busy full-time just keeping up with new acquisitions and the steady flow of periodicals (and, again, the myriad articles contained therein).
The on-line access is new enough that detailed information in English on the various “search” functions is not yet available (in French, yes — of course), so you can experiment and see what works best for your particular task. There are some fairly sophisticated search options. The material in biblical studies is even indexed to accommodate a “pericope” search, to pull up books and articles on a particular biblical book, chapter, and even verse (or range of verses)! (Just be careful of French vs. English renderings of biblical books and their abbreviations — here again, you may have to experiment; also, be advised that “subject” searches work only in French.) I can tell you, though, that the generic “Library Catalog” search, which can combine various parameters, is darn smart sometimes! For example, typing “palestine exploration schick” pulls up a list of every article Conrad Schick ever wrote for the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, from its beginning until his death in 1901! And, if you want to know up front which journals are indexed in the catalog, a link on the entry page takes you directly to a “List of Periodicals” (hint: there are a lot, and don’t be surprised to find lots of foreign language stuff).
The primary fields encompassed by the EBAF collection include biblical studies, theology, archaeology, ancient languages, and the history, culture and antiquities of the Middle East. Over time, I’ve encountered scholars and researchers who come here from all over the world, mostly to immerse themselves in the library, and, holding no scholarly pretentions myself — I’m strictly a dabbler! — I rather stand in awe of such things. So, to those visitors I get to know a bit I sometimes play ‘devil’s advocate’ and pose the question: Is the Ecole Biblique library really that good? The answer, invariably, is: Yes, it really is!
If you are unfamiliar with the Ecole Biblique/ St. Stephen’s, you can explore their web-site here. (One thing you won’t find on the site is any mention of the unique and fascinating ancient tombs lying beneath the property here, which the Dominicans, for their own reasons, allow only very limited access to, and choose not to publicize in any way.)
By the way, if you have occasion to use the catalog and encounter technical problems, or if you have any sort of comment, question or suggestion, our library staff would be very pleased to hear from you, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy hunting!