Tag Archives: WAB

The Why

Now that you know a little more about the MRL and WAB collections, as well as the Luce Foundation, I thought it would be useful to explain the reason behind needing this project in the first place.

Most, if not all, archives and libraries have what we call "backlog." Our collections are continually growing: we gather historic documents; professors, alumni, etc… donate their records; people leave material to us in their will; things like that. Unfortunately we don't always have the time (or the funding) to fully process and make available collections as soon as they come into our possession. We give them basic care, security, and the proper environmental conditions and control, but physically arranging and intellectually describing materials can be very time-consuming.

Enter the first reason for this project.

A second major reason for this project and the need to care for MRL and WAB specifically is due to the damage suffered during a major water incursion disaster in the Burke's modern archives stacks in June 2003. Water from a plumbing accident in the Brown Tower (this Brown is not the same as William Adams Brown!), two floors above, saturated materials from the WAB and MRL collections.

The wet papers in disintegrating boxes were quickly removed, relocated, shipped out as an emergency, recovered by vacuum freeze drying, and returned. These collections, which had already experienced a variety of temperature and humidity changes from being used throughout the world by missionaries and ecumenists, became even more fragile and disordered. There was approximately 300 linear feet returned in a state of disarray, with WAB and MRL collections intermixed and much of the original order lost.

The MRL Archives present the special challenge of fragile acidic materials. Various climates combined with being stored for almost a century in acidic boxes in over-heated conditions throughout the history of the actual Missionary Research Library added to their fragile nature. Many unique items are tightly folded and require time, patience and preservation techniques to unfold and care for the items in the long-term.

Throughout the duration of the Luce Project at the Burke Library, which just passed the one-year mark, we will arrange, describe, and provide wide access to a total of 573 linear feet of hidden archives. This project will process the collections 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 will enable more advanced preservation treatment and the potential for surrogate copies and selective digitization on those materials which have been stabilized.

For the first time, researchers will have access to many first-hand descriptions of cultural conditions documented by missionaries, physicians, and social workers in Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, Oceania, and South America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This project will also be the first to provide access to the records of some of the most important events and institutions in the history of the worldwide ecumenical movement, with especially rich documentation of the religious and cultural history of New York City.

What is MRL and WAB?

You may be asking yourself, why should I care about the Missionary Research Library and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library?

History:

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.  Mott stated that his intention was to create “the most complete and serviceable missionary library and archives in the world,” one that would be interdenominational, ecumenical, international, and rich in source material. He was the chairman of the Library Committee of the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, which sponsored the project, and he secured the financial support of J. D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Two administrators were chosen to develop the library. Charles H. Fahs became curator and Miss Hollis W. Hering became librarian.

Active missionaries consulted the library’s materials while on furlough and missionary boards, organizations, and individuals regularly donated materials.  By 1929, the library contained more than 70,000 books and pamphlets, including many scarce materials. Originally located at the Madison Avenue headquarters of the Foreign Missionary Conference of North America, MRL moved to Union Theological Seminary’s Brown Tower in 1929.

Financial difficulties, which plagued MRL for years, continued until 1967 when it was fully integrated with the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. The Burke Library became part of the Columbia University Library System in 2004.


The William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library was established in 1944 by vote of the directors of Union Theological Seminary as a memorial to Dr. Brown, who had been Roosevelt Professor of Systematic Theology at UTS. The ecumenical movement was a new interest in his later years, and the nucleus of the memorial collection came from Brown's working office library. The Ecumenical Library officially opened on March 13, 1945. As it did then, WAB serves as a source for the documentation and study of modern ecumenism.


The Collections:

MRL contains over 160 unique collections from missionaries and missionary organizations from six continents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with special strength in early 20th century China, Japan, and Korea. This collection contains a broad range of field reports, demographic surveys, and other analytical data. As a result, the MRL Archives document the cultural and social realities of indigenous populations in substantive detail, and will amply serve scholars of religion, historians, anthropologists, economists, and medical researchers, among others.

WAB contains over 30 collections, including records of local (NYC), national, and international ecumenical organizations and communities, as well as records from ecumenical conferences (Protestant and Catholic dialogue) that have shaped global Christianity.

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to "The Hidden Archival Collections of the Burke Library!"

This is a blog which will help educate and raise awareness for two important archival collection groups at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (Columbia University Libraries): the Missionary Research Library Archives (MRL) and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives (WAB).

MRL and WAB are being fully arranged, described and made available with the help of the Henry Luce Foundation. The Luce Foundation awarded the Burke Library with $295,000 for this three-year project (more can be read through the press release).

The project began in August 2011 with the hiring of me, Brigette C. Kamsler, as the project archivist. I'm looking forward to sharing more information on the collections with all of you!