Open Access Digital Theological Library

Make open content discoverable to share with the world

OADTL staff members
Some of OADTL's staff members from the Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths: (L-R) Dr. Ann Hidalgo, Mus'ab Abouabdalla, Dr. Thomas E. Phillips, Dr. Drew Baker, and Jongha Lee

“We’re sharing these collections through our website, through direct sharing with libraries, and through globalizing in the WorldCat knowledge base once we’ve curated the entire collection. Only WorldShare Management Services would allow us to do that. Only OCLC gives us this option.”

Dr. Thomas Phillips

The Open Access Digital Theological Library (OADTL) has a clear ethical mission: to make all high-quality, open-access content in religious studies discoverable to the global community through a single curated, search experience. “Our goal is both to provide existing content to a global audience and to give the developing world a voice to speak to the developed world,” explained Digital Theological Library Director Thomas Phillips. “We curate without regard to religious perspective, without any bias as far as ideology.” They curate in multiple languages, offering open-access resources in the modern languages of German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese in addition to English. They also curate primary source materials in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit.

Just seven months after the OADTL went live, it already had a larger collection than many academic theological libraries. But Thomas emphasized that the quality of the content is more important than the quantity. “We don't want people looking at this and saying, ‘It’s great, but nothing works,’” he said. “That's why we use OCLC's WorldShare® Management Services [WMS]. That's a big, big difference between what we're doing and any other project.”

“WMS, with its WorldCat Discovery interface, is the right tool for open access. The metadata is better. The searching is way better. And you can use the advanced search tools to find what you want.”

With Thomas and colleagues Ann Hidalgo and Drew Baker, the OADTL employs a small team to develop collections by first locating legally available content that’s already posted online. Then, they follow a simple, four-step process made possible only because of WMS and WorldCat: look up the record in WorldCat to get the OCLC control number (OCN) for the print record, locate the record in the WorldCat knowledge base, change the format to e-book, and add the stable URL to the new record. “All we need is a stable URL and an OCN to create collections in the WorldCat® knowledge base,” Thomas said. His team spends around 45 seconds per record, which costs around $0.43 per title.

When the content has already been cataloged in the WorldCat knowledge base, the team only has to select the collection, which takes significantly less time. “It's actually less effort to curate OA content than it is proprietary content,” Thomas said, “because with proprietary content, you have to constantly worry about keeping the paywall functioning right.” He continued, “And this is one-time work. We only need one of these, because it's globally accessible.”

With this content—all previously available but difficult to find without being cataloged in WorldCat—the OADTL is achieving its ambitious mission. “We have 9,500 unique users who are logging in regularly in over 110 countries. That's pretty incredible for the first semester of use,” Thomas said. With this success, he encourages libraries to develop and share other subject-specific, open-access collections. Rather than spending resources on an Institutional Repository, he said, libraries could “simply put their content anywhere with a stable URL, catalog it in WorldCat, and make it globally accessible immediately with rich library metadata… I think the issue is all about the discoverability, and WMS provides all the tools to make this content discoverable.” He continued, “We’re in this work of librarianship together, so let’s work together.”


  • Online and available to everyone

Library at a glance

  • Has centralized discovery of more than 190,000 open access e-books and journals and continues to grow
  • Funded by members of the Digital Theological Library: Claremont School of Theology, Denver Seminary, Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Hartford Seminary, International Baptist Theological Centre (Amsterdam), Lexington Theological Seminary, and Singapore Bible College
  • Collects open content primarily in religious studies without regard for theological or confessional perspective

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