The library at St Vladimir’s Seminary began in the 1940's in a non-functional bathtub of a tenement apartment in upper Manhattan. At the time, St Vladimir’s Seminary was still attached to Union Theological Seminary. The first volumes were donated by Russian immigrants and professors interested in promoting theological education. These donations included books in Russian, Greek, French, and German, but very little material in English. The collection continued to grow with the acquisition of personal libraries from former faculty and friends of the seminary, despite the lack of an adequate facility.
In 1962, the present property in Yonkers (formerly Crestwood), New York was acquired and plans were made for the construction of a new education building. This building would accommodate space for classrooms and a new library. It was dedicated in 1965 and the library was named after Fr Georges Florovsky, former dean of the seminary (more information about Fr Georges can found here). With a new facility that could accommodate up to 30,000 volumes, the library expanded more comfortably. For several years, efforts to build up the library concentrated on collecting materials to support seminary programs in the areas of pastoral theology, social work, ethics, and theological education. The scope of the collection expanded significantly through the Library of Congress Gifts and Exchange Program. During the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of boxes of books were received by the library at no charge. At one point, nearly a quarter of the collection consisted of books from the Library of Congress. The seminary library began to grow at an even more rapid pace with the acquisition of personal libraries of past deans and faculty. The collection grew to 43,000 volumes by the 1980s and on to 116,000 volumes in the following decade. Compact shelving was installed to maximize space, but storage was still a major issue. In 1992, the seminary’s Board of Trustees authorized the establishment of a capital campaign to raise funds for a new library and other new buildings. Construction for the John G. Rangos Family Foundation Building, which would house administrative offices, the library, and an auditorium, began in 1998 and was completed in 2001. In 2002, the library moved into the John G. Rangos Building, which is where it is currently located. In this new building, the shelf space for the library was tripled and storage space increased dramatically; the stacks came equipped with advanced electronic shelving and a capacity of 230,000 volumes. The new facility also included a beautiful reading room that serves as a great gathering place for patrons and visitors. The collection now ranges in time from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century. It contains some manuscripts, but most of the collection consists of printed books. In addition to its strengths in theology, the collection also possesses many treasures in its rare book section. The Ostrog Bible, the first printed bible in the Slavic script (1581) was donated to the seminary by Archbishop John of San Francisco. The Gospel of St Matthew in Aleut, translated by St Innocent of Alaska (1840), is another rare holding that is prominently displayed in the reading room.
From its humble beginnings in a bathtub, the library at St Vladimir's Seminary has grown into a formidable academic and research facility with a collection of over 160,000 volumes. Dr James Billington, the long-standing Librarian Of Congress, praised it as the "richest library of Eastern Christian holdings in the Western Hemisphere." Over the past seventy-five years, it has remained one of the seminary’s greatest assets. In addition to serving the students, faculty, and alumni, the library is now used by scholars from all over the world.
For more information on the library’s history, please listen to this podcast with Eleana Silk on Ancient Faith Radio.