Tag Archives: More Product Less Process

The Worst and Most Dangerous Attack: Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry

Since I began as the Project Archivist at the Burke Library in August 2011, I have heard about various collections deemed “controversial.” Many of the collections I process have not seen the light of day for a decade or more due to the water damage suffered as well as general library backlog. Some of the so-called “controversial collections” made perfect sense to me, such as the Near East Relief Committee Records. Another collection that was always shaded in this light was MRL12: Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry (LFMI) Records.

I stayed away from this collection for a while, hesitant to take it on. It was in poor condition with many of the papers fragile and brittle. How would I make LFMI available in this state? It was also one of the larger collections in MRL, donated by the Inquiry itself. Would I have to make preservation photocopies of everything onto acid-free paper? How many supplies would I need?!

It was also unclear to me why exactly it was controversial, although the Burke Library Archivist, Ruth Tonkiss Cameron, had discussed this collection with me at various times. Was it because there were rare documents and photographs that depicted something to which the world wasn’t aware? Topics of war, genocide, something else? I honestly did not have a clue. I would ultimately realize that it was the Inquiry itself and their subsequent findings that caused the controversy.

Taming the Beast

Fast-forward to this year. I have been able to work with many wonderful students during my time thus far at the Burke Library Archives. Kristen Leigh Southworth, a master’s student at Union Theological Seminary, is one such student. Kristen has assisted me with many large archival projects such as the Emory Ross Papers and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, and I know I can depend on and trust the work she produces. I had discussed LFMI with Kristen off and on for some time, and I knew I wanted her help on it.

Throughout my two years at the Burke Library Archives I have gained considerable knowledge on missionaries and missionary organizations; as a result I feel very comfortable taking on larger, complex collections. With that in mind, I was ready for LFMI. To tackle it, I went back to the Luce Project proposal which was presented to the Luce Foundation in September 2010. It states:

This project will process the collection [MRL] so that they are organized and described, with basic preservation treatment through stabilization in acid-free containers, ordered arrangement, and removal of corrosive metals and other materials. This arrangement of the materials will enable more advanced preservation treatment, including encapsulation of photographs, production of acid-free surrogate copies, and selective digitized copies.

The elusive answer had been in front of me the entire time. I did not have to make preservation photocopies of the fragile newsprint at this stage of the project. I would place the newsprint and other papers into acid-free containers, arranging the records for use with the idea that in the future more in-depth processing and preservation could be implemented. I would be following what is known in the library sphere as the “More Product, Less Process” method.

I instantly felt raring to go on this collection. Ruth provided me with various documents relating to the collection, such as a legacy finding aid and processing notes. The collection had been housed in acid-free records cartons and some (not all) of the folders had been replaced with acid-free folders. Kristen was in charge of the bulk of the physical work changing out the old folders for new acid-free ones, and integrating approximately 6 feet of material that had come from the unprocessed records.

The collection grew to a total of 31.25 linear feet: 30 records cartons and 3 manuscript boxes. The legacy finding aid indicated that many of the materials were restricted due to fragility and preservation concerns. While it is true that the entire collection is fragile, that case could also be made for the entirety of the WAB and MRL record groups. Upon closer inspection many of the documents were carbon copies or on onion skin paper – thin and fragile, yes, but not necessarily disintegrating into the ether.

As Kristen was replacing the folders she was able to individually evaluate the three series. She was also able to see that the collection did not need to be so restricted. Instead, we changed the wording to [FRAGILE] instead of [RESTRICTED]. This will allow Burke Library staff to know that extra care would be required for the collection, but it would still be 100% available for use. I want to ensure these collections can be studied and used, not stored forevermore in a temperature and humidity controlled environment never to be touched again. The [FRAGILE] indications allow for usage to commence and continue.

Controversy Unveiled

I also now finally understand why this collection was considered so controversial, and after working with missionary and ecumenical materials for two years, I agree!

Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry formed in 1930 in order to conduct a thorough investigation of foreign missions in Asia. Missionary Boards were aware of the Inquiry and cooperated as needed, but the Inquiry was independent of the Missionary Boards themselves. The Inquiry consisted of two stages. The first began in late 1930, when twenty-seven “Fact-Finders” were sent to India, China, and Japan by the Institute of Social and Religious Research to collect data on missionary work and local conditions. Specialized research teams compiled extensive background information on missionary work in each of the countries before sending the Fact-Finders to spend five months in India, six months in Japan, and six and a half months in China.

The second stage began in September 1931 with a “Commission of Appraisal.” The Commission of Appraisal consisted of fifteen laymen, laywomen, and ministers who spent nine months visiting the fields of the Inquiry. The Commission of Appraisal then combined their own observations with the preliminary reports of the Fact-Finders to compile a final Report of the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry. This Report was formally presented to the Mission Boards of the seven denominations on November 18-19, 1932 in New York City.

The Report was considered to be “the most searching and exhaustive accumulation of missionary data ever undertaken.” It offered a bold critique of the entire missionary enterprise, highlighting major inadequacies in both the theology and the practices of the Missionary Boards and individual missionaries. Its criticisms of the Boards were particularly scathing, stating that “the trail of self-interest within the organization lies like the trail of a serpent over the mission of Asia,” and that the Commission could see “no ground for a renewed appeal for the support, much less for the enlargement, of these missions in their present form and on their present basis.”

Public controversy surrounding the Report was considerable, with many repudiating the whole volume as “the worst and most dangerous attack ever made” on foreign missions. However, in spite of the controversy and public outcry, the Inquiry was still considered by many to be the most notable and challenging statement regarding mission work since the Jerusalem Council in 1928. The majority of the Mission Boards welcomed it as a worthwhile endeavor, accepting most of the practical recommendations contained in the Report. Copies were sent to most mission stations by their boards, and missionaries were urged to give it their careful consideration. The Methodist boards even commended the Inquiry for being “in full accord with the temper of youth today,” which they believed would “give new meaning and effect to the Christian message as it is presented to this disturbed and distracted modern world.”

Final Thoughts

It finally makes sense to me why the collection was and still is controversial, and I look forward to entering my third and final year of the Luce Project having made it available. Missionary work still continues and it would be interesting to compare the findings of the Report to mission work today. Are the findings still current? Did individuals and boards truly accept and implement the recommendations put forth by the Inquiry? I look forward to new scholarship which will certainly come out of this intriguing collection.

Laymen’s also reinforced for me the reason for the project: Making records available that previously were not. Any processing and preservation through acid-free containers is better than their current, inaccessible state. August 2013 is the beginning of the third and final year of the project, and LFMI allowed me to refocus and hone my priorities. I am now processing the Missionary Research Library Administrative Records, another large and interesting collection. I anticipate the discovery of many new and fascinating records, not only in MRL Admin, but through the rest of the unprocessed material left to sort.

All I can say is, stay tuned…

The finding aid for MRL12: Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry, 1879-1940, is available online.



From the materials in the collection, and:

Baker, Archibald G., “Reactions to the ‘Laymen's Report’,” The Journal of Religion , Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1933): University of Chicago Press, pp. 379-398.

Hocking, William E. & the Commission of Appraisal, Re-thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years, New York: Harper & Bros., 1932.

Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry, Report of the Commission of Appraisal of the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry, 1932.

Speer, Robert E., “Re-Thinking Missions” Examined, New York: Fleming Revell Co., 1934.

World Council of Churches Records Available!

We are excited to announce that the World Council of Churches Records, 1893-1975 is officially open for researchers! Thanks to Amy Meverden for her hard work on this during her CUL Primary Sources internship.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Records comprise materials documenting the inception and institutional proceedings of the organization. Established to create dialogue between various Christian expressions of faith through publications, action committees, and assemblies. Collection contains materials such as correspondence, records, pamphlets, and photographs.

Records and documents relating to commissions, committees, conferences, and General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches including pre-Amsterdam, 1948 World Council of Churches in process. Includes various committees and commissions, including Life and Work, Faith and Order, Evangelism, World Council of Churches and International Missionary Council merger, Churches and International Affairs, Laity, Women in the Church, World Christian Youth, Church and Society, Churches Participation in Development, Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service, and History of the Ecumenical Movement.

Look to the finding aid for more information.

A Lay Person’s Love-Hate Relationship with “More Product Less Process”

As a doctoral student, and specifically a student of ancient Near Eastern languages, I have learned to become increasingly detail oriented (read: anal retentive) as the years pass. The longer I study cuneiform, the smaller my handwriting gets and I have noticed certain OCD tendencies related to classification and organization sharpen in my “old age.” I assumed that when I began work in the archives with the CUL Graduate Student Internship, I would be doing detail-oriented processing (my fantasies of archival work being that of handling 16th-century Luther Bibles and other rare/fragile materials, such that opening a box would justify Harrison Ford-esque “That belongs in a museum!” exclamations). I thought I would be working closely with very specific materials and processing on an item level.

As Carrie Hintz, Head of Archives Processing/director of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and my supervisor, project archivist Brigette Kamsler would explain, the “More Product Less Process” (MPLP) method began around five-years-ago to help libraries house and make available a greater number of collections in a shorter period of time, or with less resources. They explained that no matter what we do in archives, whether processing in tedium or by less detailed methods, we are still making the collections better than they were when we first encountered the materials. Great, right? Making things better, hauling through greater quantities in shorter periods of time, win-win! Everybody wins!

And then the anxiety began to creep in:
“What if researchers begin looking through this collection and see that things are not actually as organized as well as they *could* be?”
“What if, in working on a box level and grouping huge quantities of documents into large folders, I missed something about the original organization of the materials?”
“What if I am actually messing this all up!”

Doubts began to set in as I continued working through the 108 boxes of World Council of Churches materials, and I am sure that Brigette grew tired of my constant questions concerning whether I was actually doing this right or making a big fat mess! Part of this anxiety, from what I can determine, is that:

(1) *I* would never have allowed my papers, personal or otherwise, to be in such an organized state of disarray! (No offense, WCC and the people who were organizing your files in the first place…)
(2) I had a difficult time with the fact that certain papers or boxes did not have a clear “home” in the collection, as some of the materials related to one or more committee or section, or could be housed comfortably in various places
(3) “[Darn] it, Jim, I’m a doctoral student, not an archivist!”—without a degree or years of experience in the field of archival studies, how did I know that I was actually doing this right?

Well, I housed the WCC records—all 108 of those boxes—wrote the finding aid, printed pretty, uniform labels, and hauled those boxes back into their snug corner in the WAB section of the archives, and in two months flat! It really was a sight to behold, looking at the entire collection in its final (for now) resting place. While working on a separate collection after finishing this one, I found more WCC records. I was able to integrate these materials smoothly because of the basic organization that I imposed. Brigette informed me that a researcher had been inquiring into the collection in the spring and was told that he could access it in the next few years, as the time frame for when it would be finished was not then determined. Because of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and due to the wonderful innovation of MPLP, he can access the collection now! I would say that is a true success story.

So yes, I was a huge ball of nerves for a few days here and there as I gave MPLP the old college try and confronted my disorganization phobias, but now the finding aid will soon be uploaded online, information on the collection can be generally located, and (I think) this collection is easier to access. At the end of the day, I will probably always have a love-hate relationship with MPLP (hate in the midst, love at the end), but the process is a valuable tool and a practical archival trend.