Category Archives: Burke Library History

Photograph of the exhibit case housing the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Nachlass microfiche collection exhibit

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Microfiche: the Nachlass Collection

“Microfiche is cool” is a sentence one rarely hears any more, in the Internet age. Yet I am constantly reminded of the astonishing efficiency of microformatting, when researchers ask to see the collection of primary-source materials of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—noted German theologian, pastor, and anti-Nazi dissident, and onetime student at Union Theological Seminary—preserved on microfiche, collectively known as the Nachlaß (“Nachlass,” or Estate) collection. This microfiche collection is decidedly cool—so much so, in fact, that we decided to create an entire exhibit about it.

The Nachlaß includes many of Bonhoeffer’s early writings and personal papers, his research notes, and letters from prison. Most of Bonhoeffer’s original manuscripts and papers have been preserved in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, with some primary documents in English kept here at the archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. These two libraries possess the only two known copies of the complete Nachlaß microfiche collection in the world (that our staff is aware of), making this collection both unique and invaluable to researchers. Each “twin set” of microfiche contains an enormous quantity of material: several thousand fragile documents, condensed into a breadbox-sized collection of roughly 300 plastic fiche cards. The Nachlaß is one of the most frequently-used microfiche collections at the Burke Library.

Photograph of a microfiche card from the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Nachlass collection of primary-source documents

Photograph of a microfiche card from the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Nachlass collection of primary-source documents. Archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University Libraries.

What is microfiche, exactly? (Those who have always lived in the same world as the Internet, after all, might never have heard of it before.) Well, microform technology—including microfiche cards and microfilm reels—originated in the early 1800s with the advent of photography. It became widely popular in libraries and archives in the mid-20th century as a reproduction and preservation medium (before the days of Internet digitization and online exhibits). Documents are photographed and printed as tiny images, which can then be inserted in a reader machine and enlarged on large reader screens, allowing readers to view and skim materials at a relatively fast pace. Microform plastic is sturdy, durable, and highly portable (think: a single plastic fiche card containing 80 document images, compared to a folder of 80 loose sheets of paper). Images of documents on microfiche can be seen by a large audience, while the original fragile documents are kept in archival storage. Microfiche was one of the original digital media! Thousands of printed books and journals have been microformatted, as have several rare manuscripts and primary-source collections—such as the Bonhoeffer Nachlaß

 

Collecting and preserving Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s papers and creating the Nachlaß collection was a monumental undertaking. Following Bonhoeffer’s death in 1944, his letters and documents were meticulously collected by his close friend Eberhard Bethge, in collaboration with the Bonhoeffer family. Bethge devoted much of his life to editing and publishing Bonhoeffer’s works, such as the Letters and Papers from Prison and Ethics, and wrote the first biography of his professor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage in 1967. Amidst the subsequent surge of interest in Bonhoeffer, it was Bethge, along with his colleague Dietrich Meyer, who spearheaded the idea of creating a microfiche collection of Bonhoeffer’s papers, for use at “various Bonhoeffer research centers” in the 1980s. The Burke Library acquired the microfiche collection with the facilitation of Professor Clifford Green, Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary, and former Burke Library archive specialist Ruth Cameron. Now researchers can have eyes on original primary-source documents, written in Bonhoeffer’s own hand, via the microfiche copies, while the originals are housed in storage.

Page from a notebook belonging to Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A page of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s handwritten notes for a course, “Religion and Ethics,” taught by Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary in the early-1930s, imaged from the Nachlass microfiche collection. Archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University Libraries.

Our newest exhibit showcases some rarely-seen materials from Bonhoeffer’s days as a student at Union Theological Seminary in the early-1930s, such as the above image of handwritten notes Bonhoeffer took in a “Religion and Ethics” course taught by Reinhold Niebuhr, enlarged and printed from Nachlaß microfiche onto plain 8.5 by 11 inch white paper. This medium reflects the mode in which researchers view microformatted primary-source materials today, and we hope this exhibit raises questions and curiosity about accessibility, duplication, and preservation in the 20th century and the Internet era. 

Photograph of the exhibit case housing the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Nachlass microfiche collection exhibit

Photograph of part of the exhibit case housing the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Nachlass microfiche collection exhibit at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary.

The original documents are housed in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Primary Sources collection in the Burke Library Archives. The exhibit is currently on view at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway, on the ground floor (Level L1) exhibit space. It will be on view through January 2020.

 

“Spirit of ’68” Part II: Research in the Administrative Files

By Jake Hearen, Student Research Assistant for the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit

(Posted c/o Carolyn Bratnober, Public Services Librarian)

I came to Union a bit behind the power curve. My formal involvement within a theological framework is relatively new. I had not heard of James Cone until I visited in the spring; I promise his books are near the top of my reading list. So, I jumped at the opportunity when I heard about Special Collections needing assistance with researching for the upcoming exhibit.

I realized how daunting the project as I became oriented to the particulars of the project. At its focus was the Union Commission and its predecessor organization, The Free University of Union Theological Seminary. These initiatives resulted in response to the tensions between Columbia students and the administration brought about by the Vietnam War and the gentrification brought of Columbia’s expansion affected the Union community.

In its entirety, the project was a single archival box stuffed with materials mostly from the 1968-69 school year but other documents appeared to include several that came from far beyond the walls of Morningside Castle. There were a few student publications from Columbia regarding the student protests. There were even a few standout pieces such as an international gathering of college students and a manifesto from the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference.

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

But what stood out most came from within the seminary. One letter, drafted by a student who witnessed seminarians severely injured while mediating between police and Columbia students, noted how our unique role as future chaplains and ministers allows us to instill change from within power structures more than any other vocation. Another document from the Union Commission itself highlighted the values of the seminary such as looking at the potential application of computers as technology evolves and the importance of the Burke Library.

This institutional memory clarified the gaps I felt between an earlier Union with activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the later of James Cone. Those seminarians stood defiant with their peers before the atrocities beset upon an Eden and said no more. Their spirit of coming together against the destructive will of institutional corruption with compassion in their hearts is something that I pray I embolden over my next few years and the many more to come. -JH

Organizing the Divine: Julia Pettee and the Union Classification System

Photograph of Pettee taken by Mary Ellen Pettee, 1965: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Photograph of Pettee taken by Mary Ellen Pettee, 1965: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

The creation of the Union Classification System reads much like a recipe: 1 cup of Dr. Hugo Munsterberg’s classification, ½ cup of Dr. Charles R. Gillett’s classed catalog, mixed together with Charles Ammi Cutter’s classification and folded into 3 cups Alfred Cave’s An Introduction to Theology. But as with any recipe, the most important element is the chef, and the woman who mixed these ideas together was Julia Pettee. All cuteness aside though, Julia Pettee’s story informs the history of the Union Theological Seminary, the history of the library profession, and serves to question the perceived roles of women in early 20th Century America.

Photo of Pettee's autobiographical manuscript, 1962: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Photo of Pettee’s autobiographical manuscript, 1962: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

It is her lively hand-written autobiography, “A Cataloger for more than half a century takes a backward look at her profession and reviews her thirty years as Head Cataloger of the Union Theological Seminary Library…,” that takes center stage in this brief blog post that hopes to inform, but more so, pique the interest of readers to this unique part of Union Theological Seminary’s rich and varied history.

Please note that all citations are from this autobiography, direct quotes are cited with page numbers in parenthesis at end of quote.

Julia Pettee was born in 1872, went to Mount Holyoke at the age of 16 and graduated from the Pratt Library School in 1895. Reflecting on her studies while at Pratt, Julia highlights the newness of the profession — Pratt was only five years old at the time — and how while she was attending the program secretarial skills were stressed. Indeed even Julia questioned the library field, asking in her first published article “Is Librarianship a Profession?” (I have not been able to find the article! ). Even though there was a job shortage, Pettee was able to get a cataloging job at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she stayed for ten years. While working she also studied and received her AB. Julia was approached by the Rochester Theological Seminary to classify their collection. This is where she laid the foundations for what would later become the Union Classification System.

Julia explained that she came to Union “with the understanding that I would be free to carry out my own ideas” (p.5). This will come as no surprise to anyone who if familiar with Union and its liberalist roots. Neither will it come to a surprise to anyone in the library world that the salary offered to a professional with several degrees and 10 years of experience was just $100 a month (the equivalent of making around $30,000/year today).

When Julia got to Union books were organized by a fixed location system, a method commonly used before the Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress systems. Under this system books were placed on the shelf as they were brought in, rather than being organized by subject or author. Julia also noted that books on the topic of women were put “together with other troublesome topics under the caption minor morals [author’s emphasis], in this order: Profanity, Drunkenness, Lotteries, Women, Dueling, War” (p.11).

In 1910, shortly after Pettee started at Union, the school moved from Park Avenue between 69th and 70th streets to its current location on Broadway and 121st Street (the Park Avenue site was Union’s second location; the school was originally located on University place between 6th and 7th streets). Lucky for Julia she had no problems with her commute, since she managed to find a nice walk-up apartment just down the block (if only we all could be so lucky!). Julia’s memoir conveys how exciting it was for the staff to move into a new and bigger space (although by the time she left Union, the collections were already start to outgrow the library).

Pettee set upon creating a classification system for Union’s library collections to replace the fixed location system.

Cover of typescript, "Classification of the Union Theological Seminary Library New York City..Sections revised and applied to Books in the Reference Room before 1920": Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Cover of typescript, “Classification of the Union Theological Seminary Library New York City..Sections revised and applied to Books in the Reference Room before 1920”: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Inside of typescript "Classification of the Union Theological Seminary Library New York City...Sections revised and applied to Books in the Reference Room before 1920": Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Inside of typescript “Classification of the Union Theological Seminary Library New York City…Sections revised and applied to Books in the Reference Room before 1920”: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

“For the Union scheme I had one fixed idea, a single unified scheme which would bring theological subjects and closely related secular subjects in convenient juxtaposition” (p. 24).

None of the established systems seemed adequate for a theological collection and so she created a new Union Classification System that combined the elements of Dr. Munsterberg’s classification (which he laid out an article in The Atlantic in 1903, “The St. Louis Congress or Arts and Sciences”), Dr. Gillett’s classed catalog, Cutter’s classification, and Alfred Cave’s An Introduction to Theology.

ALA Committee on code for classifiers "A Code for Classifiers: A collection of data compiled for the use of the commitee," by William Stetson Merrill, May 1914 and Julia Pettee's typed reaction to the proposed code, 1914?: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

ALA Committee on code for classifiers “A Code for Classifiers: A collection of data compiled for the use of the commitee,” by William Stetson Merrill, May 1914 and Julia Pettee’s typed reaction to the proposed code, 1914?: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Julia was very involved with the American Library Association – which, like the library profession itself, was still in its infancy – and served on many a cataloging committee. She also took a leave from Union to work at the Library of Congress developing the religion classification scheme.

Reading through her autobiography, Julia made a few side comments concerning the male-dominance of the profession.

Complete list of Code for Classifiers Committee as of May 1914: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Complete list of Code for Classifiers Committee as of May 1914: Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

She wily questioned of the Dewey Decimal Classification Committee which Melvil Dewey chaired why Dewey even needed a committee as, “he was the whole show” (p.23). Even without reading her comments, going through all of the documentation she amassed while actively involved with the American Library Association (ALA) one can see that most reports donned the names of males.

Obituary for Julia Pettee from Lakeville Journal, June 1, 1967 : Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Obituary for Julia Pettee from Lakeville Journal, June 1, 1967 : Union Theological Seminary Archives, Series 2, UTS Records, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

After retiring from Union in 1939, Pettee worked contractually for Yale. While there she wrote The History and Theory of Subject Headings, the first work published on this topic. Julia retired to the Mayflower farm, where she became involved with writing the local history of Salisbury, Connecticut. Julia Pettee passed away at the age of 94 in 1967, five years after penning the autobiography this blog post is largely based off of.

The Union Classification System was in use by the library until the mid-1970’s, after which books were cataloged using the Library of Congress Classification system, which most academic libraries have adopted and use today. Rather than reclassify books cataloged using the Union Classification the library decided to keep the books cataloged with Union. Now the library’s stacks have a level called “Union Stacks” and two levels called “Library of Congress Stacks.”

Image of Union Stacks at the Burke Library taken Nov. 2014.

Image of Union Stacks at the Burke Library.

There have been a few articles and even a book written about Julia Pettee.  Here is a short list of titles:

Butler, Rebecca. “The Rise and Fall of Union Classification.Theological Librarianship 6, no. 1 (2013): 21-28.  http://journal.atla.com/ (accessed November 4, 2014).

Pearson, Lennart. The Life and Work of Julia Pettee, 1872-1967. Durham, N.C.: American Theological Library Association, 1970.

Walker, Christopher H. and Copeland, Ann. “The Eye Prophetic: Julia Pettee.” Libraries & the Cultural Record 44, no. 2 (2009): 162-182. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 4, 2014).

For a list of articles and books written by Julia Pettee click here.

I hope that you enjoyed this very brief post on a tremendous woman! If you are interested in viewing anything from our archival holdings on Pettee, please make an appointment. Continue reading