Author Archives: Brigette C. Kamsler

About Brigette C. Kamsler

I am the Project Archivist at the Burke Library. My areas of focus are the Missionary Research Library Archives; the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives; and the Union Theological Seminary Faculty Papers.

My Own “Final Blog Post” Has Arrived

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~Walt Disney

As I look back on the last four years and four months that I’ve spent as the project archivist at the Burke Library, I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. This position is what brought me to New York City. I’ve grown so much professionally and personally thanks to Columbia.

My main priority at the Burke Library was to process, arrange, describe and make available collections. My first grant from the Henry Luce Foundation focused on the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Over the three-year time period, my team of students and I processed 781 linear feet of archives (178 collections). Since the start of my second grant, which began in January 2015, 377 linear feet (45 collections) has been processed. In total, I’ve had a direct impact on scholarship, research and learning because I’ve made 1158 linear feet (223 collections) available for researchers.

Apart from the archives having an impact on research, teaching and learning, the internship program that I created and run has been very successful. I supervised a total of 18 library school interns, not only from NYC schools but also from other locations in the USA, as well as France and Canada. They are now employed by museums, archives, universities, corporate businesses, seminaries and other institutions.  I supervised 17 other students who were matriculated at Columbia or Union Theological Seminary. Thirty-five students in four years – not too shabby.

This very blog that you are reading started because I thought it would be useful to have students write more in-depth about their experiences with collections that were part of the first grant. Now it has grown into the general Burke Library blog and has so many voices and knowledge reflected by the posts. I also started running the Burke Twitter and Facebook pages; both of which have an ever-growing list of followers. All of these things are now in the very capable hands of Burke’s public services librarian, Elizabeth Call. She has taken these social media accounts into new and exciting venues and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow them.

I’ve written reports; participated in Wayfinding studies; served on committees and other advisory committees; curated two digital exhibits; written newsletters; made the Burke more efficient with usage of space; created documentation; written LibGuides; presented in classes for Columbia, Union Theological Seminary and Barnard College; presented at conferences; and on and on. I’ve grown tremendously as a professional over the last four years in New York City. And really, what more could you ask for?

I want to thank my amazing coworkers for being so supportive of me and bringing their own expertise to the table. I want to thank Alysse Jordan, who was interim director of the Burke Library when I first started in August 2011 – I could not have asked for a better “First Mentor” at Columbia (who I am very happy to call a friend now!). To my wonderful students that I’ve supervised over the past 4+ years: I’m proud to have been part of your career and look forward to watching you grow in our field.

Thank you to all and I wish you the very best!

Union’s Other Dynasty

The shadow and impact of Charles Augustus Briggs still hangs over Union Theological Seminary and the collections at the Burke Library. Charles, as well as his family members Emilie Grace, Julia and Alanson Tuthill, all have collections at the Burke, and many other faculty and staff collections contain records showing how the Briggs’ heresy trial affected their lives and work.

But did you know that there is another family, with a wide variety of collections at the Burke Library, which have also left just as much of a mark on the history of UTS?

William Adams Brown

William Adams Brown

The family would be that of William Adams Brown.

When I was hired at the Burke Library almost four years ago, part of my project was to process the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Apart from that being a really long name, I only knew WAB as an individual through his small collection of papers in MRL3. That collection in MRL however was more about Brown’s activities rather than Brown The Man. Now, as part of my second grant to process the UTS Papers, I’ve been given a different perspective.

I recently processed WAB’s papers in the Union record group and thought, “Wow, he was a pretty cool guy.” I wrote his biographical note in the finding aid and realized that much more how accomplished he was; although organizing these materials over seventy years after his death, there is only so much you can “know.”

That was until I reached his family scrapbooks. This collection of 15 boxes contains six very large scrapbooks, assembled by the Brown Family, that contain an amazing amount of detail, ephemera, sketches, poems, and just life.

I was convinced that I finally appreciating how great WAB was. Little did I know what I would understand about his family with the next collection I processed.

A page from William Adams Brown's scrapbook

A page from William Adams Brown’s scrapbook

That would be the papers of William Adams.

William Adams

William Adams

Other than being the maternal grandfather of William Adams Brown, and his namesake, I knew Adams was a theologian, minister, UTS professor and president. Adams’ collection is comprised of 29 boxes of material, 24 of which are sermons. The most informative things (on the surface anyway) were Adams’ collection of memorial books.

These seven volumes contain in amazing detail who William Adams was, and why we need to remember who he was in the present. His most important impact was to that at UTS. He was professor of Sacred Rhetoric, instructor of Church Polity, on the board of directors, and he served as UTS President from 1873-1880. Union had not had a president named by the directors for 31 years when Adams was appointed to the post.

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization during his presidency, raised Union’s status in church life, and had a profound impact on the other students and faculty during his short time in the presidency. After Adams’ death in 1880, Roswell D. Hitchcock was named to the presidency; he said of Adams,

“The whole institution was toned up. Professors and Students, equally and all, felt the magnetism of his courtly and stimulating presence. On all public occasions, he was our ornament and pride.”

Remembrances from other UTS faculty who were impacted by Adams included Thomas Hastings, Charles Cuthbert Hall, Charles Briggs, Francis Brown and Charles Gillett.

While I was processing the William Adams Papers, I had assigned two smaller collections for interns to work on: John Rogers Coe and Jonas Coe. Again, we knew almost nothing about these men. Turns out that not only were they related to William Adams Brown, but he was the one to donate their collections to the library.

The Family

The Family

The Burke Library also has the papers of William Adams Brown’s father, John Crosby Brown. John Crosby’s father, James, was also interested in Union, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish professorships. John Crosby joined the Board of Directors at Union in 1866, becoming Vice President in 1883 and President in 1897. During his tenure Brown was involved in the great controversies affecting Union, including the heresy cases against Charles Briggs and Arthur C. McGiffert. He was also instrumental in many of the great advances made by Union over the forty years that he served. He donated a good deal of money to the Seminary, and he successfully encouraged others to give as well. The Board, under Brown’s leadership and with the help of faculty president C. C. Hall, convinced board vice-president D. Willis James to make the major donation in what would become the Morningside campus of UTS. John Crosby’s legacy is still in effect at Union: the tower built in 1928 that dominates the skyline over the Seminary was named the Brown Tower in his honor.

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

William Adams Brown and his family impacted Union Theological Seminary through their positions as professors, presidents and board of directors. However they also continue to impact the Burke – I have a feeling that there are more collections at the Burke Library thanks to the donation of William Adams Brown. I look forward to even more of these discoveries!

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown

What is Past is Prologue: Luce Project Update

“Just as personal identity is anchored in a strong historical sense, so is our professional identity – both come from the ability to experience…continuity. Surely if you have nothing to look backward to, and with pride, you have nothing to look forward to with hope.” Barbara L. Craig, 1992[i]

I have hung up my hat on missionary and ecumenical materials, and have transitioned into processing the papers of the faculty and students from the Union Theological Seminary Archives. Some of the tasks are exactly the same: putting into order the archival material and describing it in a finding aid. Many of the people whose papers I’ve been working on were involved in the same organizations and causes as the missionaries and ecumenists. Some things are very different – I am not a theologian, so while I’ve heard all about Charles Briggs over the years, it wasn’t until this current project that I’ve actually been able to “dig in” to these people and events.


Me presenting at the Columbia University Libraries Staff Forum, March 2015

This project is another three year project, funded largely by the Henry Luce Foundation. Over three years I will be in charge of making available approximately 141 collections – that’s 1,135 linear feet of papers. This is compared to my last project of over 180 collections totaling nearly 800 linear feet. How can we process over 300 linear feet more than we did the last time, but over the same time frame?

One reason is because these UTS collections are in different (meaning, better) shape than the MRL and WAB collections had been. We have a better idea of what is in the collections, and there is not a huge mountain of unprocessed/disorganized material like with the last grant. There is also less of a learning curve as I have established practices in place and I have been able to “hit the ground running” on this one.

Let’s take a look at what I have been doing, shall we?

You’ve gotten a glimpse into some of the materials processed thanks to my interns this semester – Margaret, Kate and David. A few of the collections I’ve worked on include those of Charles Augustus Briggs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Sloan Coffin, Robert T. Handy, Charles Cuthbert Hall, and the East Harlem Protestant Parish Records.

Currently in process include the Student Interracial Ministry Records and the commentary on Song of Songs, which was created by Charles Briggs’ children Emilie Grace Briggs and Alanson Tuthill Briggs (although this work was never completed or published).

So far, my team and I have processed over 185 linear feet in 25 collections.

I’ve been enjoying the discovery of funny or interesting things in collections, including this whale picture from the Wilbert White Papers when answering a reference inquiry:


Whale of a Tale!

this letter from the desk of Martin Luther King Jr. (in SIM):


From the Student Interracial Ministry Records

and this age-old question:


Are we?


Picture from November 2014 when I attended Digital Archives Specialist courses at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

Apart from processing and making collections available, I’ve continued with my other duties of social media, committee work and task forces, presenting at and attending conferences and meetings, supervising students, appraising and accessioning material, EAD, MARC, being active in professional organizations, continuing education, presenting to the Columbia University community on my last successful project, and assessing the usage of collections, just to name a few.

I also continue to evaluate the work of my last grant, answering questions related to MRL and WAB, and see the impact the project has had on research, teaching and learning. As Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue.”

I am thrilled to be working on such an interesting and important set of archival collections, while still advocating for and making available the materials in my last project. We will see what other surprising and interesting things come to light as processing continues, so stay tuned.

[i] Barbara L. Craig, “Outward Visions, Inward Glance: Archives History and Professional Identity,” Archival Issues 17 (1992), page 121.

The Hidden Archival Collections of the Burke Library: A Success Story

It is hard to believe I am writing this, but… I am proud to announce that the Henry Luce Foundation-funded project to process the archives of the Missionary Research Library (MRL) and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library (WAB) has reached a successful conclusion!!! From August 2011-December 2014, I, with the help of a team of student assistants and library school interns, processed, arranged, described and provided access to these amazing collections. Let’s take a look at the numbers and the experience. Brigette blog_3


Project and Outcomes
The project was to process, arrange, describe and make available a total of 573 linear feet of archives. Ultimately by December 2014, my students, interns, and I had processed 776 linear feet of archives in 183 collections.

We far exceeded our goal of processing!  By 203 linear feet to be exact!  The grant proposal stated we would process 15 linear feet per month. Over the course of the grant, we processed on average 19 linear feet per month. My best month was when we did about 73 linear feet in one month.

Providing Access
One way we have enabled the public to have access to these processed materials was through our finding aids. Originally the titles of the collections were linked on our archives website, but that was it – no other information. Not very helpful to those trying to do research. Now, there is a sea of blue – everything is hyperlinked (all 183 collections!). Other ways we have provided access and spread the word was through social media, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and this very blog that you are reading now. Brigette Blog_9Brigette blog_10

Impact and Output
The staff at Burke have used a great deal of the archival collections in various classes and presentations. In addition, I promoted the project at archives conferences, including the Society of American Archivists (SAA), Special Libraries Association (SLA), and Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York (ART). Two updates on the project to SAA’s Academic Archivist (Spring 2013) and ART’s Metropolitan Archivist (Winter 2013) and wrote an article for an issue of Mid-Atlantic Archivist.

Intern Program
My student assistant and intern program has also been very successful. Overall I was assisted by fourteen library school interns and thirteen work-study students. You have read many of these students’ entries on the blog throughout the years!  Not only have we been able to process many collections together, and the student assistants and interns gaining valuable experience, it has also helped the interns to find employment once completing their internship at Burke. Of the fourteen library school interns, four are still in school. The other ten all have jobs in the field or in related positions. Five have become archivists at institutions such as Princeton University, Center for Jewish History, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Winthrop Group, and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Other past interns are now employed as catalogers, user experience designers, adjunct faculty, and customer order clerks at the following institutions: Poet’s House, Columbia University, and Farmingdale State College.

Researcher Visits
On February 4th, I attended an Archivist Roundtable of Metropolitan New York meeting called “Archives Matter,” with Society of American Archivists president Kathleen D. Roe. She said during the question and answer session, “It doesn’t matter how much you process if nobody comes.” Well luckily for us, people have been coming!

From 2010 until the end of 2014, the total number of researchers consulting the MRL and WAB collections grew each year. From July 2011 until December 2014, the number of researcher visits and boxes requested doubled.2012 is when the social media began, and a big increase in requests there can be seen. KrX_Wjh9Z91aD_fEGsGQoTJlUntL4RfzVLxwMEY32VhbncTcXNl2P28Kcqv6

I should also note that  while the MRL and WAB collections make up only 17.5% of the total archival collections at Burke, over 72% of all the boxes being pulled and 77% of the reason why researchers are coming to the library to use the archives are for these two collections.

Expectation versus Reality
So you may be thinking, missionaries and the study of Christianity – that must mean theologians are the bulk of our users. I’m here to tell you that that assumption is incorrect! While yes, we do serve theologians, we have a much wider audience than just that.

Of the 116 individual researchers who used the collections from 2011-2014, how many of those do you think were from theological schools or churches? 6 people. That means 95% of the people coming to research at Columbia University were not from theological schools.

So where were these researchers from? Brigette blog_11

Outputs of Researchers
One way in which we can measure the impact of this project is through the output of these researchers. As I stated, the growth of the questions and usage of the collections has increased significantly over the life of the project. But what have they been doing with this stuff?

Of the 116 individual researchers referenced earlier I contacted each to find out what came of their research, with a response rate from about half. Respondents included students, faculty, professors, independent researchers and an independent documentary filmmaker. We found that there are a variety of research products (completed and in-progress) as a result of this project.

The following list provides additional details on these research products (completed and in-progress): Books (9); Articles (4); Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations (43); General research and genealogy (2); film (1); programs, presentations or symposiums (5).

What we have learned
One great thing we have learned is that people want this stuff. The moment finding aids go up, we start noticing the increase of requests. Sure, people would love to have things conveniently online – however that is not always possible. When people want to see the collections, they will come.

We know that the collections are having an impact on research, teaching and learning. One researcher using the Pliny Fisk Papers said about the material, “This was not only critical to my PhD research, it was groundbreaking.” Many researchers said that the Columbia collections provide documents that are not available anywhere else in such complete form.

Needless to say, this experience has left quite the impact on me both personally and professionally. In fact, I even tattooed the MRL stamp on my arm. Brigette blog_2

Thanks to funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, we were able to make this amazing set of collections available. I’m looking forward to even more scholarship that is bound to be created thanks to these archival collections. After all, work in the archives funnels out into the community and brings up new and interesting ideas for all of us to discuss.

Library Research Awards: My Experience Conducting Research at Burke

In December 2011, Columbia University Libraries announced a new awards program designed to facilitate research access to the Libraries’ special and unique collections; it became known as the Library Research Awards Program. Each year, the Libraries award ten grants of $2,500 each to those researchers who demonstrate a compelling need to consult Columbia Libraries special collections for their work.  All US citizens are welcome to apply and preference will be given to those outside the New York City metropolitan area.  The intent of the grant is to help defer the cost of visiting the Libraries for research needs. The Burke Library is one of the libraries that participate in this grant, which is awarded on a competitive basis through an application process.


Matthew Unangst, a graduate student at Temple University, was a 2013 recipient of Columbia University Library’s Library Research Award for his project “Making East Africa: Colonialism, Race and Islam.” Matthew consulted a few rare pamphlets from the Missionary Research Library:

Was lehren uns die Erfahrungen, welche audere Völker bei Kolonisationsversuchen in Afrika gemacht haben?

By Alexander Merensky, published Berlin: Verlag von M. E. Matthies, 1890
[MRL Pamphlet Call Number: 1565]

Eine Auswahl aus der deutschen Missionslitteratur : mit einer Übersicht über die deutschen Missionsgesellschaften
Published Halle a.S.: Verlag des Studentenbundes für Mission, 1897
[MRL Pamphlet Call Number: 1444]

Weltkrieg und Weltmission by Johannes Warneck

Published Gutersloh: Drud un Berlag von C. Bertelsmann, 1891
[MRL Pamphlet Call Number: 1670]

The Missionary Research Library (MRL) was created by John R. Mott in 1914 after the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910. It was created in response to the need for a central resource to provide information for the development and preparation of missionaries, as well as a documentary source for the history of mission work. MRL offered many types of records including pamphlets, which Matthew used; books; and other collections such as archives. Thanks to a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Missionary Research Library Archives are being fulled processed and made available for use.

In the summer of 2013, Matthew spent a few weeks with us at the Burke Library. Not only did Matthew find more than what he was looking for, but he also has a better understanding and grasp of the process of research. Matthew was impressed with Burke’s unique and interesting collections, stating:

There’s just so much to go through. It seems at this point that the missionary publications are going to be an important part of every one of my chapters as the on-the-ground perspective about political and social changes in East Africa as the central administration…figured out how to govern the colony.”

The Burke Library offers so many exciting collections just waiting to be discovered. What will you find on your next research trip?


My Experience Conducting Research at Burke
By: Matthew Unangst

I spent three weeks this summer conducting research for my dissertation at Burke Library. My project explores ideas about race and space in the first decade of the German colonization of today’s mainland Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. Burke Library has the best collection of German missionary publications from the late nineteenth century of any library or archive in the United States, so I applied for a Columbia Library Research Grant to visit the library. I was lucky enough to receive one.

My time at Burke was extremely productive. Most of what I was looking at was German missionary periodicals, published by various mission societies around Germany. Those periodicals ranged from the semi-official Allgemeine Missions-Zeitschrift to periodicals meant for children, such as the Kleine Missions-Bote. It seemed that many of the materials I was reading had not been opened for a long time. Not all of them were in great shape – some of them were 130 years old and not designed for preservation in the first place – so I usually was covered in a cloud of dust by the end of each day. I also took advantage of Burke’s collections of missionary books and pamphlets, some of them in special collections, from the late nineteenth century.

I am using the missionary publications I read at Burke as my main source for local interactions between Germans and Africans in German East Africa. The colonial state was only just beginning to establish control over much of the colony during the period of my study, so missionaries were often the main contact between the state and local populations. Missionaries were often more attuned to local political circumstances and local desires than were central administrators hundreds of miles away. Though they wrote from their own German perspective, missionaries noted instances and circumstances in which people living near the mission reacted particularly strongly to missions’ or the state’s actions.

I want to thank the Burke Library’s staff for its help during my time there. The staff was an enormous help in getting me settled and helping me find the materials I needed. The reading room of the library was unquestionably the most beautiful place that I have done research. I look forward to my next trip there to follow up on the work I did this summer.

My Last Day at the Burke

The following is a final entry post by Juanita James.

I want to thank Dr. Bidlack and the Burke Library staff for giving me this opportunity to serve as an intern. I gained valuable knowledge about academic library management and about preservation of archival materials. I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to work on various projects, increasing my interest in management and academic libraries.

This internship has taught me a lot about myself, what I’m capable of, what I’m lacking, and what I need to improve on as a person and worker. I learned that I can make decisions in a managerial environment with confidence and ease and have knowledge in all aspects of the organization under my supervision.

I would like to thank you once again for this wonderful experience. I hope to keep in touch and perhaps to discuss with you steps I should take in the future to pursue a career in library and information center management. Once again, thank you for a terrific four months.

“The Communications of my wishes may stir up some other to do what I have only the strength to wish…” MRL6: D. W. C. Olyphant Papers

David Washington Cincinnatus Olyphant is credited with bringing the first American missionaries to China, all with the stroke of a pen.

I wish I could give you some good news from this far country respecting our Redeemer’s Kingdom – but I do not see that I can… [Canton, August 6, 1827]

One of the more regularly-used collections in the Missionary Research Library (MRL) is the D. W. C. Olyphant Papers, which is part of MRL6: China. It is believed that the collection came to MRL along with the David Willard Lyon Papers. The Lyon Papers were donated by Lyon himself in 1945.

The Olyphant Papers, while typescript, are the only papers of its kind; the location of the original hand-written materials is unknown. The correspondence was originally composed by Olyphant between 1827 and 1851 with the ultimate recipient remaining anonymous. The letters were copied from the originals by hand by D.W.C’s son, Robert Morrison Olyphant, and then typewritten. In 1914 these copies were lent to Henry Blair Graybill, 1880-1951, a missionary educator associated with the Canton Christian College, who copied them yet again. Finally a Chinese typist under the supervision of David Willard Lyon, 1870-1949, transcribed the letters for the final time in 1916.

For a full biography of Olyphant, please see his collection Finding Aid. His interest in China began through his profession as a merchant in a trading firm. He traveled to and lived in China for a time. It was during his residency that Olyphant wrote the famed letter which ultimately brought missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to China. Olyphant served on the Board of the ABCFM. In addition to his financial support, his trading ships also offered free passage to missionaries traveling to and from China. Olyphant wrote,

I would you could see your way clear to charter a vessel with moderate funds… I would willingly do the business for nothing, or devote a reasonable commission, or a portion of profits towards their support…[Canton, August 6, 1827]

Olyphant’s later letters mention other missionaries and their work, such as pioneering Scottish missionary Robert Morrison馬禮遜, 1782 – 1834, whom he met in Guangzhou 廣州 (Canton). Other topics of interest include opium, and the addition of California to the United States:

I rejoice in the acquisition of California. The missionaries will be so much nearer Christian land, and being so will have so much more of its sympathy and more of its sustaining care. [Shanghai, October 7, 1850]

In 1850 Olyphant traveled once again to China, but ill health forced him to set out on a return journey to the U.S. the next year. He writes simply,

It may be that – it is time for me to retire. [No location, March 28, 1851]

David Washington Cincinnatus Olyphant died while en route overland across Egypt on June 10, 1851.

The collection has been scanned and is available for viewing online.

To request the collection for in-person research, please do so through the Burke Library's Rare Books and Archives Request Form.

2014 Library Research Awards

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) invites applications from scholars and researchers to its annual program designed to facilitate access to Columbia’s special and unique collections, the Library Research Awards.


CUL/IS will award ten (10) grants of $2500 each on a competitive basis to researchers who can demonstrate a compelling need to consult CUL/IS holdings for their work.  Participating Columbia libraries and collections include those located on the Morningside Heights campus: the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts LibraryThe Burke Library at Union Theological SeminaryButler Library, the Lehman Social Sciences Library, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, and the Libraries' Global Studies Collections.

Applications will be accepted until February 28, 2014. Award notifications will be sent to applicants by April 30, 2014 for research conducted at Columbia during the period July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015.

To apply, please visit the Library Research Awards website.