As a theological librarian I get to work with the best resources from the leading publishers. Theological libraries are great, but most preachers don’t live near one. I’m also a preacher, so I’m always on the hunt for illustrations and fresh ideas. Sure, there are new books published every day. But since your compensation package doesn’t have an unlimited book budget, you’re probably looking for cheap ways to get the best resources. I’ve got a few ideas.

Academic Journal Databases A few years ago Dave Bland and I surveyed over 500 Church of Christ ministers to learn more about how they did their sermon preparation.[1] Over 50% of the ones who used journal articles in their prep accessed these articles through a seminary-sponsored platform, such as Atlas. This means articles in full-text, anytime, on any device, anywhere with Wi-Fi. If you aren’t a graduate of a school that offers this service, there might still be hope. The Society of Biblical Literature now offers access to JSTOR to members. Get a public membership for less than $100 and get JSTOR for the year. That’s a pretty good deal.

Social Sciences Research Network. You know some of those crazy studies Malcolm Gladwell uses to make his points, like how Canadian hockey players are more likely to have January-February birthdays or how rap and hip hop are the genres with the least number of repeated words? Where does he find that stuff? Much of it comes from the ssrn.com. Join for free and browse the highest-rated articles in their database. My favorite for preaching? Check out Francis-Tan and Mialon’s “A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.” You’re loaded for your next talk on marriage, relationships, and values. Give it a shot.

Archive.org/Wayback Machine/TV News Archive

Since the earliest days of the internet (remember those AOL discs in the mail?) the Wayback Machine has been capturing images of websites on a daily basis. Their goal has been to create an archive of the internet. Think of it as the Library of Congress for dot coms. There is an incredible research value to being able to look at old versions of relevant websites. The Wayback Machine captures images of sites, but it doesn’t always get all of the content. You’ll have better luck on the front page of a site than on deeper levels. You aren’t going to have any luck with password protected sites, such as Facebook. As you’ll see, only the sites with the heaviest traffic (CNN, ESPN) get captured every day. The number of captures is driven by the traffic of that site: more traffic=more captures. My favorite aspect of Wayback is not necessarily its websites but instead sister site TV News Archive. Type any keyword into the search box and you can find places where that word has been used in a news broadcast from around the world.

Public Libraries. Most major city libraries have really strong collections of journal databases. This is one area where electronic has passed print. For instance, in 1990 it was unlikely that a public library system in Phoenix or Charlotte would have a deep collection of the journals relevant to sermon preparation. They didn’t buy them, bind them, or shelve them. But in 2019, they probably have access to a major database like JSTOR, Gale, AAtlas, and others that have really deep collections of full-text articles, often in theology and religion. Not a member? You still might be able to walk in and use a public access computer to get into these databases. Wait, why aren’t you a member of your local library?


[1] “Luke, Luther, LOGOS, and Libraries,” in Summary of Proceedings, Seventieth Annual Conference of the American Theological Library Association, ed. Tawny Burgess (2016).

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Bob Turner is librarian at Harding School of Theology. HST is one of our sponsors this month. They provide many quality resources that we want our readers to be aware of. Check out their website.

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