American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

The Huntington Library Acquires New Collections on Slavery

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Here is Pasadena Now:

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired two collections related to abolition and slavery in 19th-century America, including an exceptionally rare account book from the Underground Railroad.

The first group of materials includes the papers of Zachariah Taylor Shugart (1805–1881), a Quaker abolitionist who operated an Underground Railroad stop at his farm in Cass County, Michigan. The centerpiece of the collection is an account ledger which contains the names of 137 men and women who passed through Shugart’s farm while trying to reach freedom in Canada; these names are recorded amid everyday details of Shugart’s business life, including the number of minks he trapped and the debts he was owed.

The second collection is the archive of some 2,000 letters and accounts documenting the history of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury saltworks, a major operation founded in 1808 in what is now Kanawha County, West Virginia. The records shed light on an industry that was not plantation-based but still relied heavily on slave labor.

“These new materials provide compelling windows into the lives of those who were enslaved and those who escaped slavery, and also shed light on the politics of the times before, during, and after the Civil War,” said Sandra Ludig Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “They are a vivid complement to The Huntington’s rich collections documenting American slavery, abolitionist movements, and the history of the American South.”

Read the rest here.

Why a Florida County Public Library Will Not Be Subscribing to *The New York Times*

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The librarians of Citrus County, Florida wanted to buy a digital subscription to The New York Times, but the country commission will not let them do it because, as everyone knows, The New York Times is “fake news.”  Yes, this is a true story.  Here is a taste of Antonia Noori Farzan’s reporting at The Washington Post:

The librarians of Citrus County, Fla., had what seemed like a modest wish: A digital subscription to the New York Times. For about $2,700 annually, they reasoned, they could offer their roughly 70,000 patrons an easy way to research and catch up on the news.

But when their request came before the Citrus County commission last month, local officials literally laughed out loud. One commissioner, Scott Carnahan, declared the paper to be “fake news.”

“I agree with President Trump,” he said. “I will not be voting for this. I don’t want the New York Times in this county.”

In a move that is generating intense online backlash, all five members of the commission agreed to reject the library’s request. The discussion took place Oct. 24, the same day the Trump administration announced plans to cancel federal agencies’ subscriptions to the Times and The Washington Post. While there’s no apparent connection — the Citrus County meeting began several hours before the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the new edict — the controversy unfolding in central Florida highlights how politicians nationwide are parroting the president’s disparaging rhetoric about the media.

Read the rest here.  I realize that Citrus County, Florida is a very conservative place, but what do these county commissioners have to fear?

Five New Digitized Manuscript Collections at the William L. Clements Library

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William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

They are:

African American History Collection, 1729-1966 (bulk 1781-1865) at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/africanamer/

Lydia Maria Child Papers, 1831-1894 at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/child/

Fort Wayne Indian Agency Collection, 1801-1815 at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/f/fortwayne/

Henry James Family Correspondence, 1855-1865 (bulk 1859-1865) at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jameshenry/
Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society Papers, 1848-1868 at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/r/rochester/

Learn more here.

The David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing is Closing

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I was recently contemplating a research trip to the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.  I have some left-over professional development money that I need to spend by the end of June and the DLAR offers me the best bang (in terms of collections) for my buck.

I enjoy research at the David Library for several reasons:

First, the early American history collections are outstanding.   I have so much stuff I still need to look at for my current project!

Second, the David Library farm is a wonderful place to work.  Fellows have 24-hour access to the library.  One does not have to worry about parking.  There is housing on site. And the farm’s location on the Delaware Canal provides opportunities for walking and other forms of exercising.  It has always been my favorite place to work.

Third, former fellows and other scholars can stay at the on-site residence at a discount.  I have taken advantage of this several times. Meg McSweeney has always been so hospitable.

Fourth, I am nostalgic.  I attended my first McNeil Center for Early American Studies (it was then called the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies) seminar at the David Library in 1995.  I held a research fellowship at the DLAR in 2008-2009.  I wrote my first The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog post in my room at the residence. I have lectured at the DLAR on several different occasions.  My family even visited one rainy Saturday afternoon during my fellowship and we organized baseball cards in my room.

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But the days of the David Library–at least the Washington Crossing days–are coming to an end. The DLAR has just announced that it will be selling the farm and moving its collections to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.  Here is a taste of the press release:

In a bold decision that will preserve the material record of American Revolutionary history and make it accessible to scholars across the globe, the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) and the American Philosophical Society (APS) announce a new partnership that will create an unparalleled single site for the comprehensive study of early U.S. history.

The newly formed David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society will provide for the long-term care and protection of the David Library’s collections, permit expanded public access to the materials, advance the current fellowship program, and enable the digitization of the documents. This new model of preservation comes at a time when many American historical institutions are struggling to maintain their collections.

“As a former research fellow at both the David Library and the American Philosophical Society, I am incredibly excited about this partnership,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President & CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. “In an era of tight budgets and uncertainty about the future of some of our most venerable historical organizations, this collaboration will make the David Center a powerhouse of scholarship on the American Revolution.  With the 250th anniversary of the nation fast approaching, this is definitely a case of 1 + 1 = 3.”

The David Library will continue to operate as usual in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania until the end of 2019.The transition period is expected to begin as early as this summer, as various committees work to fulfill the joint vision of the partnering institutions. Relocation of the collection from the David Library’s Bucks County campus to the American Philosophical Society will begin after the Library closes at the end of this year.

James J. Linksz, President of the David Library said that the partnership will ensure the long-term success of the David Library. “For the David Library to fulfill its potential to be the pre-eminent institution for scholarship and study of American history in the era of the American Revolution, the Board of Trustees determined that we needed a strong and distinguished institutional partner. In the American Philosophical Society, we think we have found the best partner possible. We are sad to leave Bucks County, the David Library’s home since its founding in 1959, but we are excited to join the APS in Philadelphia, the city where the United States of America began, and we look forward to our future as the David Center.”

The new Center will house the vast collection of rare and important documents, microfilm and other material from the David Library of the American Revolution, including original letters and journals from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and other founding fathers.

The David Library Board of Trustees will be tasked with determining the next life for portions of the 118-acre Bucks County property along River Road in Upper Makefield Township (Washington Crossing), where the Library has been located for the past 45 years.  A significant portion of the property, 52.53 acres, has already been protected from development through the Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation program, and will remain open space. With that restriction, the entire property will be offered for sale and the proceeds will help to fund future programming and collections care at the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society.

“The DLAR and the APS have long shared missions to support scholarship and disseminate knowledge about the birth of our nation,” said Robert M. Hauser, Executive Officer of the APS. “This new partnership allows the DLAR to preserve that mission while leveraging professional, financial, and technological resources at APS that will expand the David Library’s reach and impact.”

Read the rest here.

I will reserve judgement until I learn more about the nature of “David Center for the American Revolution.”

It’s #LibraryShelfieDay

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The primary sources I am working with right now

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Jersey keeps an eye on things

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These books look familiar.  🙂

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Part of the “H” shelf

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I still need to bring some order to this shelf

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Part of the “N” and “O” shelf

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Part of the “C” shelf

Mount Vernon Names Kevin Butterfield Director of the George Washington Presidential Library

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Here is the press release:

MOUNT VERNON, VA—The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association today tapped a noted American historian, Dr. Kevin Butterfield, to serve as the executive director of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (Washington Library), the premier center for the study of our first President.  As the executive director of the Washington Library, Butterfield will foster serious scholarship about George Washington and his era while also developing new and furthering existing cutting-edge academic and public programs, as well as growing the library collection.

“Kevin brings a fresh set of bold ideas and vision to take the Library to the next level—He’s a great scholar, but also has the rare gift of leadership,” said Mount Vernon president Doug Bradburn. “Our first five years were exceptional; I can’t wait to see what Kevin does in the coming years. The country needs George Washington’s wisdom and example as much as ever.”

Butterfield comes to Mount Vernon from the University of Oklahoma, where he serves as Director of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage and Constitutional Studies Program and holds an appointment as Wick Cary Professor and Associate Professor of Classics and Letters.  A specialist in the founding era, he boasts a lengthy list of publication and teaching credits on topics related to the founding period, including one prize-winning book about early American legal history and several articles.

Butterfield has been honored with many fellowships to support his research from institutions such as the American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur Museum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Huntington Library, the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, and many others. In his role as the head of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University of Oklahoma, he engaged multiple public audiences in exploring current affairs with a historical approach focused on the Constitution and civic engagement.

“Kevin Butterfield is a superb choice to be the new Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood.  “He combines excellent administrative experience with a deep understanding of history, precisely the talents needed for this important position.”

Butterfield will become the second historian to lead the Washington Library, replacing its founding director, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, who was named president of George Washington’s Mount Vernon in January 2018. Since its opening in 2013, the Washington Library has rapidly established itself as the premier center for the study of George Washington, a leading institution fostering scholarship and education in the history of the founding era of the U.S., and an innovative leader in the creation and dissemination of historical learning to a variety of audiences.

The Washington Library has held impactful conferences with prominent institutions in early American history, created a popular research fellowship program, and hosted more than 24,000 people at public events, teaching institutes, and leadership programs. The Washington Library has produced award-winning documentaries on the founding era, created ground-breaking educational experiences both on-site and across the country, and established the George Washington Leadership Institute as a top program for leadership studies.

A completely private and independent research library, the Washington Library is owned and maintained, along with Mount Vernon, the historic estate of George Washington, by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Butterfield holds a B.A. in History from the University of Missouri, an M.A. in History from the College of William and Mary, and a PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis. He will begin his duties as Executive Director on August 1, 2018. 

Keep Buying Books

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I love Jessica Stillman‘s piece at Inc.com: “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read.”  Here is a taste:

…I have good news for you (and for me, I definitely fall into this category): your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, it’s a badge of honor.

That’s the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.

Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations – the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

Read the rest here.

Unpacking Books

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Over at The Paris Review, Alberto Manguel writes about the experience of unpacking a library.  Early in my career, as we bounced from apartment to apartment and job to job, I did this often.  Now, as I enter the back half of my life, I wonder if I will ever have to do it again.  I think about this often as I enter my extremely cluttered study and navigate through the stacks and stacks of books that surround my desk.

Here is a taste of Manguel’s piece:

Sometime in 1931, Walter Benjamin wrote a short and now famous essay about readers’ relationship to their books. He called it “Unpacking My Library: A Speech on Collecting,” and he used the occasion of pulling his almost two thousand books out of their boxes to muse on the privileges and responsibilities of a reader. Benjamin was moving from the house he had shared with his wife until their acrimonious divorce the previous year to a small furnished apartment in which he would live alone, he said, for the first time in his life, “like an adult.” Benjamin was then “at the threshold of forty and without property, position, home or assets.” It might not be entirely mistaken to see his meditation on books as a counterpoise to the breakup of his marriage.

Packing and unpacking are two sides of the same impulse, and both lend meaning to moments of chaos. “Thus is the existence of the collector,” Benjamin writes, “dialectically pulled between the poles of disorder and order.” He might have added: or packing and unpacking.

Unpacking, as Benjamin realized, is essentially an expansive and untidy activity. Freed from their bounds, the books spill onto the floor or pile up in unsteady columns, waiting for the places that will later be assigned to them. In this waiting period, before the new order has been established, they exist in a tangle of synchronicities and remembrances, forming sudden and unexpected alliances or parting from each other incongruously. Lifelong enemies Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, for instance, will sit amicably on the same expectant shelf while the many members of the Bloomsbury group will find themselves each exiled to a different “negatively charged region” (as the physicists call it), waiting for the wishful reunion of their particles.

Read the entire piece here.

The Oldest Item From 12 Libraries

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Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura lists the oldest items at twelve major libraries.  The libraries are:

The New York Academy of Medicine

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Bodleian Library (Oxford)

St. Catherine’s Monastery (Egypt)

Chicago Botanic Garden

American Museum of Natural History (New York)

Library of Congress (Washington D.C.)

Folger Shakespeare Library

Boston Athenaeum

Australian National Library

New York Public Library

Free Library of Philadelphia

Learn about the oldest item in each of these libraries by clicking here

Libraries in the Age of Trump

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Over at Pacific Standard, Katie Kilkenny has a nice piece on the importance of lending libraries in this era of fake news.  Here is a taste:

In the report, released Wednesday, Pew finds that the majority of American adults—61 percent—say their decision-making would be improved at least somewhat “if they got training on how to find trustworthy information online.” In this bewildering world of real and fake news, a clear majority—78 percent—believe that the library is still providing them with information that is “trustworthy and reliable.” It’s not just older generations who prefer this more traditional resource: Millennials are more likely to trust the library than all previous generations, including Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation.

Millennials are big fans of their local lending institutions in other ways as well. Eighty-five percent believe the library helps them “learn new things,” according to Pew, and 63 percent agree that it helps them “get information that helps them with decisions they have to make”—both higher proportions than any other generation measured. This research aligns with findings from Pew released earlier in the summer: In June, the research center found that Millennials were the most likely generation in America to have visited a library and used a library website in the past few months. Clearly, young adults’ constant access to social network news feeds and Amazon hasn’t diminished the charm of browsing through the stacks to find the right call number.

A majority of Americans studied say that libraries help them “grow as people” (65 percent) while a minority of Americans agree that libraries help them focus on the most important elements in their lives (49 percent), deal with a busy world (43 percent), and deal with a world where it’s hard to get ahead (38 percent). That last figure seems to suggest that most contemporary American library-goers aren’t just visiting the library for the quiet place to chill, but for specific information needs.

Read the entire piece here.

The Mind of George Washington

HayesHistorian Kevin Hayes has a new book out on the reading habits of George Washington. (Kevin, if you are out there I would love to interview for the Author’s Corner.  I can’t seem to find an e-mail address.  Thanks).

He gives us a preview of George Washington: A Life in Books at the blog of Oxford University Press.

Here is a taste:

A hundred years ago Ezra Pound criticized American history textbooks for ignoring George Washington’s intellect. More often than not Washington has been seen as a shelf-filler, someone who decorated his home with books, but seldom read them fully or deeply. Here’s an alternate theory: though George Washington never assembled a great library in the manner of, say, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, he did amass an impressive and diverse collection of books that he read closely and carefully and that significantly influenced his thought and action.

No one has ever written an intellectual biography of George Washington. Though Washington’s surviving comments about books and reading are not nearly as extensive as those of other Founding Fathers, he did leave many different types of evidence that, in the aggregate, can help to reconstruct his life of the mind. The evidence takes many different forms:

Surviving books

Though Washington’s library was widely dispersed during the nineteenth century, many of his books do survive. The Boston Athenaeum holds the single largest collection of books formerly in his possession. Additional books survive at Mount Vernon. Other libraries—the Firestone Library at Princeton University, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Library of Congress, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, the Virginia Historical Society—all hold books from Washington’s library in their collections, most of which I have examined.

Marginalia

With the notable exception of his copy of James Monroe’s View of the Conduct of the Executive of the United States, Washington’s surviving books contain little marginalia, but he did write in his books occasionally. Most of the time he did so to correct typographical errors, but sometimes his marginal notes reveal how he read. Occasionally his notes in one book indicate other books he read. The fact that Washington wrote in his books has gone largely unnoticed, because uncovering these notes requires work that some find tedious. One must examine the surviving books meticulously, turning over one page after another in search of the slightest pencil marks showing that Washington did read the volumes that bear his bookplate.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened to the Greatest Library in the World?

LibraryTurns out it was illegal.

Check out Jamie Somers’s piece at The Atlantic on Google’s failed attempt to scan every out of print book in the world.

Here is a taste:

Although academics and library enthusiasts like [Harvard historian Robert] Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Certainly Google’s competitors felt put out by the deal. Microsoft, predictably, argued that it would further cement Google’s position as the world’s dominant search engine, by making it the only one that could legally mine out-of-print books. By using those books in results for user’s long-tail queries, Google would have an unfair advantage over competitors. Google’s response to this objection was simply that anyone could scan books and show them in search results if they wanted—and that doing so was fair use. (Earlier this year, a Second Circuit court ruled finally that Google’s scanning of books and display of snippets was, in fact, fair use.)

There was this hypothesis that there was this huge competitive advantage,” Clancy said to me, regarding Google’s access to the books corpus. But he said that the data never ended up being a core part of any project at Google, simply because the amount of information on the web itself dwarfed anything available in books. “You don’t need to go to a book to know when Woodrow Wilson was born,” he said. The books data was helpful, and interesting for researchers, but “the degree to which the naysayers characterized this as being the strategic motivation for the whole project—that was malarkey.”

Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Church Libraries as an Antidote to “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”

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God calls Christians to love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. (Luke 10:27).  Many Christians are pretty good at orienting their heart, soul, and strength toward their Creator, but few really know what it means to love God with their minds.  This problem, as many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, was addressed most forcefully by historian Mark Noll in his seminal 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and its 2011 sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  I have written about this as well, both in Why Study History: A Historical Introduction and most recently in my May 2016 Religion News Service piece, “In Supporting Trump, Evangelicals Are Reaping What They’ve Sown.”

Noll diagnosed the problem of evangelical anti-intellectualism.  We are now faced with how deal with it.  What kind of practical steps can churches take to overcome this serious deficiency in the church?  How can people interested in serious Christian thinking make a difference in their churches and communities and perhaps prompt others to take this Christian duty seriously.

One way of overcoming the scandal is to start a church library that not only caters to children and popular Christian materials, but also to books and resources that encourage Christian intellectual engagement.  Why not start the kind of library that Ron Maness had built at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas?

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I have never met Ron, but when he started following me on Twitter (@johnfea1), identified himself as a church librarian, and began asking for book recommendations, I knew his library must be something unique and special.  Ron is a very active librarian.  He sends out a monthly list of new books (with short summaries) to the congregation (250 members), he contacts individual members of the congregation when a new book arrives that falls within their area of interest, encourages his pastor to mention new books from the pulpit, and produces a daily e-mail list of links related to new books, author interviews, and reviews.   The Community Bible Chapel is used extensively by church members, community members, local clergy, and seminary students from nearby Dallas Theological Seminary.  Ron’s diligent work has cultivated a spirit of reading, conversation and a Christian life of the mind in his church and in the wider community.

I asked Ron to answer a few questions about his church library.  Here is my interview with him:

JF: Community Bible Chapel has a very large library for a church of 250 members. What role does the library play in the mission of the church. 

RM: Here is the Statement of Purpose/Mission Statement for the library:

Maintain a broad-based library of books, videos, DVDs, audios and other media items for all ages and levels of Christian growth, with the goals of 1) promoting knowledge and application of scripture and doctrine, 2) promoting knowledge of church history, 3) facilitating and supporting other ministries of CBC, including Sunday School and other teaching ministries, ministry groups, youth workers, etc. and 4) enhancing individual and family spiritual growth and discipleship. This will include not only maintaining the existing library inventory, but also the acquisition of new media items on an on-going basis.

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JF: What is your library budget?

RM: Our library budget is currently $7 thousand. It has been as high as $9 thousand, but due to the maturity level of the existing library, I have reduced it the last few years.

JF: How many books do you have in your church library?

RM: We currently have over 14 thousand books in the library, of which 11 thousand are adult and 3 thousand are juvenile/childrens books. In addition, we have approximately 500 other media items (DVD, CD, video).

JF: What is your philosophy of book-buying for the library?

RM: I have been managing the library, along with my wife, since 1981. Because I have “lived” books so long, I don’t have any problem with knowing what books I want to buy. In the past, I visited Dallas Seminary’s bookstore weekly, along with other Christian bookstores on a regular basis. I am familiar with publishers and their new offerings, as well as the key commentary series, and authors/theologians. I visit the Gospel Coalition website daily, and am now a frequent visitor to Twitter. I get emails from Westminster Seminary Bookstore. All of these sources provide book information that I use to make buying decisions. I make most of my purchases from Amazon, who is also good at letting me know of new books in my areas of interest. I frequently pre-order books in advance of their publication dates.

Also, since I am the only one purchasing adult non-fiction books for the library (my wife purchases adult fiction and children’s books), I know the library stock and what items might be needed. I try to ensure we have a broad-based stock for all levels of Christian maturity, from new believers to seminary students and pastors.

JF: Christians are called, among other important things, to love God with their minds. How is the library making an impact on the intellectual life of your church?

RM: Our library has been described by several outsiders as comparable to many Bible college libraries. We have a full range of current and classic Bible commentaries, systematic and biblical theologies, Puritan classics,  books on all categories of Christian doctrine or ministry, Christian living, biographies, and an extensive history section (church and general).  So we have provided the resources to enable the members of our body to grow in the knowledge of Scripture and the doctrines of the faith, in order to equip them to fulfill their individual and collective ministries and strive toward Christian maturity.

In addition to managing the library itself, some time ago I began a library email list. Only those who requested to be included are on it. Presently there are around 75 people on the list, including some who don’t attend CBC.  Every morning, I visit the Gospel Coalition website, along with a few other selected  sites, and review that day’s articles. I then choose 3 to 5 of the most interesting articles and forward them to the library email list. Part of the purpose is to encourage library usage by articles featuring book reviews, but an additional purpose is to increase awareness of issues being discussed in the wider evangelical world.

Let me provide a quote from a response I received last week from a library patron who is on the email list:

“Ron, thank you, once again, for your diligence to spawn discussion and broaden our thinking.”

That is the impact that I would hope the library would have on the intellectual life of our church.

I was particularly influenced by three books that I read a number of years ago:

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll.

No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? by David Wells.

Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America, by Mark Noll.

I believe the library has contributed to our body gaining a fuller understanding of other traditions and perspectives. To take three examples of areas where there are often sharp differences of opinion, I have found a receptive  audience for books featuring different views on end times theology, creation (young earth vs old earth, creation science vs intelligent design, etc.), and the on-going “Christian America” debate. And I am always quick to acquire new volumes in the several series giving four or five views on specific subjects, like Zondervan’s Counterpoint series for example. These enable the reader to, in one volume, see different perspectives all together.  

In summary, I do think our library has had an impact on the intellectual life of the church. In the past, this was aided by our church leadership determining not to tie our church to hard positions on secondary matters, such a specific end times theology. And in the present, the library has been enabled by leadership’s continuing financial support for an aggressive library ministry.

JF: Thanks, Ron.

Are you interested in developing a church library or strengthening your existing library? Check out the library page at Community Bible Church for Ron’s helpful suggestions.

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Richard Newman Steps Down as Director of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Library 1Here is the press release from Howell K. Rosenberg, the President of the Board at the Library Company:
It is with deep regret that I inform you that Richard Newman will be stepping down as director of the Library Company effective August 1, 2016. As Dr. Newman explained to the Board of Trustees, family health issues have compelled him to make this very difficult decision. Over the past two years, Dr. Newman has served ably as the Edwin Wolf 2nd Director. He successfully met the first two years of the NEH Challenge Grant to endow the Program in African American History. He diversified and enhanced the Library Company’s public programming and created the new position of business manager to bolster the institution’s administrative operations. Finally, working closely with the Board, he has overseen the expansion of the Library Company’s property holdings on Irving Street. We thank Dr. Newman for his service on behalf of the Library Company and wish him well in all future endeavors.
 
We will now begin the task of searching for our next director. The Board of Trustees has appointed a committee to conduct a national search for the Library Company’s future director, as well as a transition committee to oversee institutional affairs until the search has been completed.
 
During this time of transition, I want to assure you that the Library Company remains in a very strong position. As always, our curators and staff are dedicated to excellence and will carry on with the many tasks that have made the Library Company such a renowned institution through the years: serving scholars, educators and students studying American and Global history; planning and running dynamic public events; making sure that the financial side of the organization is run efficiently; and attracting new supporters to Benjamin Franklin’s library.
 
Best of all, in my eyes, the Library Company still has its most important resource: shareholders and supporters like you. Few places have a membership that is as passionate about their institutions, as you are about the Library Company. Your on-going dedication as shareholders assures the Library Company’s future for a long time to come.

A Tour of the American Antiquarian Society

AASOur reports from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Providence last weekend continue to roll in.  Elise Leal is a Ph.D candidate in American history at Baylor University.  She is  working on dissertation on the relationship between evangelicalism, social reform, and childhood in the early nineteenth century with a particular focus on the American Sundays school movement.  Read all of her posts here. –JF

On the third day of OAH 2016, I participated in a special tour of the American Antiquarian Society. Six other conference attendees joined my bright and early Saturday morning for the drive to Worcester. I was the only graduate student, as the majority of the group were archivists, plus a high school history teacher. One of the archivists was a native of Massachusetts and regaled us with interesting historical facts about the state to help pass the time. For example, I learned that if you take the commuter rail from Worcester to Boston, it will take you just as long to get there today as it did in the late nineteenth century due to the slow speed of the trains.

We were greeted at the archive by Paul Erickson, AAS Director of Academic Programs, and James Moran, AAS Director of Outreach. They began the tour by sharing a brief history of the Society’s illustrious founder, Isaiah Thomas. A Revolutionary War era patriot and printer, Thomas was an outspoken promoter for independence in his newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy, which forced him to flee from Boston to Worcester in 1775 to escape being arrested by the British. In 1812, Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society (then called the American Society of Antiquities) out of his personal library, creating the first historical society established in the United States with a national focus. The AAS now houses the largest collection of materials produced before 1820 and is surpassed in total collections size only by the Library of Congress.

One thing that I appreciated about the tour was that it was structured without being restrictive. After the brief historical overview, Paul and Jim took us through the main AAS Postcard.jpgreading room and upper conference room containing historical memorabilia (think commemorative china plates sporting Lafayette’s face or a grandfather clock belonging to John Hancock). They then spent the majority of the tour taking us through various archival stacks. Throughout this whole process, they let us wander around with a fair degree of freedom and allowed us to handle many of the historical documents. For example, the first archival room we visited housed the AAS’s extensive collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century newspapers. Paul and Jim pulled a selection of these newspapers for us to view, and they generously let us pour over these documents to our hearts’ content (it definitely took awhile…) My personal favorite, though, was the next room, which housed the nineteenth-century literature, pamphlets, graphic arts, maps, and the like. Paul asked about our research interests a few days before the tour, and he had prepared a lovely stack of American Sunday School Union books for me to view. Of course, the Revolutionary War letters from British officers, eyewitness accounts of an eighteenth-century cross-dresser, the mid-nineteenth century Valentine’s cards, and the giant hand-drawn genealogies that he pulled for other tour members were pretty cool too.

Speaking of cool things, Paul pointed out a large collection of railroad sources that have never been viewed and said that he’d love to have someone come use them for a project. If there are any early stage graduate students reading this, I’ve just found you a dissertation topic. You’re welcome.

In all, this two-hour tour was definitely worth the trip to Worcester. I got a fascinating insiders view of how archives are run from two very engaging AAS staff members. I also got to view a range of rare historical documents, some of which I didn’t know existed let alone thought I would handle. Many thanks to the American Antiquarian Society, and to Paul and Jim in particular, for making my first OAH experience that much more enjoyable.