The Library at St. Vladimir’s Seminary began in a non-functional bathtub of a tenement apartment in upper Manhattan. At this time St. Vladimir’s 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 other personal libraries from former faculty and friends of the Seminary despite the lack of an adequate facility.
In 1962 the present property in 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 Florovksy, the former dean of the Seminary (more information about Fr. Florovsky can found here). With a new facility that could accommodate up at 30,000 volumes, the library expanded more comfortably. For several years 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. Over the 1970’s and 80’s, 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 LOC. The Library began to grow at an even more rapid pace with the acquisition of personal libraries of past deans and faculty. The collection grew 43,000 volumes by the 1980’s and on to 116,000 by 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 new administrative building began in 1998 and was completed in 2002. In 2002, the library moved into the John G. Rangos Building, which is where its currently located. At that time, the shelf space for the library was tripled. Storage space increase 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 a great gathering place for patrons and visitors. The collection now ranges in time from the 16th to the 21st centuries. It contains some manuscripts, but most of the collection consists of printed books and in the 20th century. In addition to it’s strengths in current theology, the collection also possess 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 has grown into a formidable academic and research facility with a collection of over 180,000 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 75 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. As the seminary now has an international reputation, many outside patrons are requesting use of library materials and their needs must also be met.
For more information about the Library’s history, please listen to this podcast with Eleana Silk on Ancient Faith Radio.