The library and the heart

The Bulletin of Abilene Christian College, June 1928, for the upcoming 1928-1929 academic year describes the campus facilities. It includes this description of the library:

Description of the library, Bulletin, Abilene Christian College, June 1928. p. 18.  See

About six months hence most of the library would be lost in a devastating fire.  Plans were already underway to relocate to a new campus northeast of downtown Abilene, but the 1929 fire hastened the exit from the First Street campus.  The library contained “nearly nine thousand volumes, about two thousand pamphlets and bulletins, and about fifty magazines and other periodicals on the essential fields of study and activities…”  The Bulletin hails “two distinctive features” of the collection: 1) the “unusually large Bible department” and 2) the “careful selection,” further stating “Many volumes are denied place on the shelves because [they are] not standard, not moral, or not true to scholarship and constructive Christianity.  Like the heart, a library is as valuable for what it keeps out as for what it has within.”

A collection of that size was reasonably adequate to support a “First Class” (see p. 17) four-year senior college curriculum.  To my knowledge no specific detail survives which outlined the criteria for inclusion, or exclusion, of books from the ACC library.  Therefore what I offer here is only a broad and suggestive first attempt.  I will be pleased to learn of–and i will keep looking for– details which might color and inform my hypothesis. 

I suppose the needs of the curricular offering were a major factor in collection development.  At least a major practical factor guiding the selection and acquisition.  At the same time and in a deeper way the stated purpose of the school undergirds a collection development policy such as the one outlined above.  The curriculum functioned as a basis upon which to offer credible and recognized four-year ars baccalaureus degrees.  And the library collection, as all libraries do, either served that end and facilitated that work to greater or lesser degrees.  But secular course offerings, along with the intellectual and moral development they represent, served a greater purpose in the mind of those who operated the school.  And the function of the library was at the conceptual core of the whole educational enterprise on North First Street, Abilene, Texas.  Compare the statement above in the context of the paragraph below, ‘Purpose of Abilene Christian College’:

Purpose of Abilene Christian College, Bulletin, Abilene Christian College, June 1928. p. 17.  See:

By 1932 the 5000 books lost in the fire were replaced.  With a few additions the collection grew 10, 147 books.  “By special purpose in 1929,” notes the 1933 Bulletin, “a group of very interesting old books was added to the Rare-Books collection which now contains some volumes dating from as early as 1522.  It has a collection of Bibles in seventeen languages.” (Bulletin, 1933, pp. 7-8).  Margaret Bishop was librarian at the time.  She graduated from ACC in 1924 (BA) and from Vanderbilt University in 1927 (MA), and later studied in the summer term at the Drexel Institute of Library Science in Philadelphia.

The library staff at the time, in ways consistent with the general academic outlook of the school at the time, was attuned to the currency of higher education and library science.  They were not uninformed.  Apparently among the take-aways from Drexel that Margaret brought back with her Abilene was an awareness of the value and utility of rare books in an academic library.  She also reclassified the entire collection when she replaced the fire-damaged books.   Appearances suggest Margaret ushered in a tangible commitment to modern library science, upgraded the collection and the way it was viewed and used by the school, in significant and enduring ways.  In fact, by 1931 she was offering formal credit-bearing instruction in library science.  She and her administration were wholly committed to the implications of operating an institution of higher education the aim of which was “the glory of God, through the Lord Jesus Christ and the ennobling of mankind.”  This commitment, in the most fundamental way, informed and shaped their work and they were not afraid to guard the library collection like one would guard their heart.

Finding Aid Roundup: 2021 Year in Review

A few days ago I reblogged a post from the ACU Special Collections blog reviewing the growth of our print collection in 2021. I want to do the same for archival materials. The basic definition I use to distinguish print vs. archival is that print items (could be books, periodicals, tracts, leaflets, and the like) were generally mass-produced for consumption by the public. Albeit some could have had a small print run, but they are printed on a press in quantity aimed at mass-distribution and circulation. Archival materials on the other hand are unique. They are not intended for mass-distribution, often just the opposite, and almost always exist only in singular copies. Whether correspondence or diaries or photographs or manuscripts or other written or typed records, they were created in the course of doing something. Print items are cataloged (we use Dewey Decimal System) and shelved on the shelf (sometimes in boxes or filing cabinets). Archival materials remain in their discrete collection–collections are not intermingled–are numbered and shelved in folders in boxes. To facilitate access to archival materials, we creating Finding Aids. I could go on, but that is the gist of it.

So each or so month my colleague Amanda Dietz composes blog posts describing new or updated finding aids. She also creates posts which delve deeper into select collections. Follow the link and check out the ‘Foldered and Finished’ posts.

I said a few days ago I think it critical to keep our donors informed of the progress in building the collection.  I know lists of titles and authors are not the most compelling reading, and the same goes for lists of archival collections, but first-class research-level collections do not happen.  They do not drop from the heavens, they are built.  In our case, they are built almost solely by donors and used by researchers whose work deserves to be sourced by the very best collection that can be assembled.  They are built methodically, diligently, consistently, all for the purposes of preservation and use.  So, I hope the lists are useful. For those interested in this slice of American religious history, this is our bread and butter. This is the raw material from which ‘history’ is wrought (and re-wrought).

In 2021 over 600 linear feet of new old archival material came our way and passed through the processing room. It is all now on the shelves and along the way Amanda created or revised 125 finding aids.   That is a tremendous achievement and you can read more at the link below.

Finding Aid Roundup: 2021 Year in Review

Yours and HIS: Letters from W. Carl Ketcherside

Few individuals among Churches of Christ in the 20th century were as well-known as Carl Ketcherside (1908-1989). He described his journey as that of a piece-maker who became a peacemaker. He was for many a champion for the recovery of a lost unity amid a divided fellowship; for others, his voice represented a dangerous departure from historic restorationism if not biblical teaching. However his legacy is characterized, any interpretation of it rests on available sources: from a voluminous published corpus to archival materials from his own hand. On the one hand, ACU Special Collections holds a robust collection of his published books. Further we have copies or originals of as complete a set of his periodicals as is obtainable. On the other hand, we have numerous letters written by Carl to several of his associates. Never intended for publication, they shed additional light into his ministry and through his life, the wider story of Churches of Christ in his day. Each letter includes an attached transcription, and as a result of the typed transcriptions, the letters are now text searchable. We thank Ian Davidson, Cecil Hook. Hoy Ledbetter, Boyce Mouton and Terry Gardner for making the letters, transcriptions, and annotations available to ACU’s Special Collections.

During the 2013 ACU Friends of ACU Library luncheon during Summit I discussed the archival significance of this correspondence and the role archives play in the preservation and dissemination of our faith story. You can find this video presentation here.

Now, I was recently called attention to this speech. I composed it in haste, delivered it with some fear and trepidation, and then moved on. Fear and trepidation because this film captures the first time I spoke in front of an ACU audience, and on top of that Leroy Garrett was seated just in front of me. I also had a full plate in the fall of 2013 trying to begin to get the archive put back together after Donald, Chad, and I relocated everything to the lower level (in just four weeks) only 2 months prior. And we just moved into our house in late July and Laura and the girls started at school just a couple weeks before this Summit presentation. That was just the fullness of the moment. My plate stayed full since, and truthfully I did not really think about this speech again. Though the speech was filmed and placed online, I see now that I did not even take time then to link to it on this blog. I edited the ‘Spoken Word’ page to include a link.

But, I think it has aged very well. I listened to it again just now. I remember working very hard to condense it, to gain clarity, to maintain an even keel of tone and texture. But I do not remember the side line on archival practice. I like it. I’m glad I said it because it needed to be said then, and it needs to be said again. I like the way I said it, and I like what I said. I can see now that some of these thoughts filtered into an article I wrote for Restoration Quarterly.

So, here it is, my attempt to narrate a story about a man whose letters reveal much… much about him, his church, the imperatives which compelled him, and an archive which holds them in trust.

Just scan it! (?)

Expert: It would take hundreds of years to digitize records at Seattle National Archives:

My thoughts: 

First, apparently the archival collection in question is facing relocation, and the digitization proposal looks like a salvage operation aimed at getting something done before the records are buried even deeper in another facility. Institutions poised to receive collections really are on the front line of saving what could otherwise be lost, or buried in an undescribed or under-described deep-storage situation.  Maybe this is indicative of a trend toward larger, better funded, more capable repositories at the federal level?  Perhaps also in other settings?  For example, Perkins/SMU just received a large United Methodist archival collection from a closing sister institution. .   As institutions face space and budgetary contractions, other capable institutions who can acquire collections seem to be be doing so.  If not, I suspect the materials are parceled out at auction or otherwise dispersed (especially for small, local  museums).  

Second, I like Rencher’s straightforward, facts-based approach.  Simply put, folks who say ‘just scan it’ betray their lack of understanding of several critical aspects of the issues (see 3 and 4)  

Third, taking a cue from Rencher, here are some rough estimates for the ACU archival collections.  We have about 6000 linear feet of archival materials in the Center for Restoration Studies Collection (over 500 sets of papers ranging in size from a folder or two to 125+ boxes, each).  Linear feet/cubic feet distinction really doesn’t matter much here, because we are talking about a banker’s box of paper either way.  Our 6000 feet translates into about 12,000,000 pieces of paper, photos, etc.  Rancher’s example of one person operating one scanner for a full ‘camera year’ renders our collection fully digitized in 24 years, or the close of the academic year 2046.  That is, if we do not receive another item, and that does not count books, periodicals, tracts, or other print or A/V materials.  A/V materials require 1:1 conversion time, that is, a 30 minute tape needs to play for 30 minutes so it can be digitally captured with the equipment we have.  2046 also assumes perfect scanning conditions, with smooth prep, get-it-right-the-first-time, quality control baked into the process, no rescanning, getting file names right (and scalable).  So, start with the first collection today and in May 2046 we will be finished.  (Add another 24 years for the 6000 linear feet of University Records we currently hold).

Fourth, the article does not touch the hem of the garment in terms of digital degradation, the ancillary costs of supervisory time and equipment (especially if we scale up with additional scanners, which will wear out in time), conservation (if we choose to do any at the point of digitization), digital storage for that amount of data the scanning will generate (redundant and secure physical and cloud-based storage, in perpetuity), and the time and expertise necessary for some kind of metadata description, not to mention public access in some kind of online repository (which includes additional upload and description time).

I could go on and on, but I thought it might be useful to think aloud about this in terms of what we have in our collection.

Now, this might seem so gloomy.  I don’t intend that, but I think it helps to put facts against perception.  In this case, the perception that everything will be (or should be) scanned is not often rooted in a realistic understanding of what must happen to make that possible. 

With Quiet Diligence: How Claude Elbert Spencer Formed an Archival Tradition in the ­Stone-Campbell Movement

I published a chapter in The Faithful Librarian: Essays on Christianity in the Profession. (McFarland and Company, 2019) in which I provide for the first time a critical, source based account of Claude Spencer’s career and contribution to archival sensitivity in the Stone-Campbell Movement.  Below are the opening and closing paragraphs of the chapter:

As the pioneering archivist of the Restoration Movement or Stone-Campbell Movement, comprising the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Claude Elbert Spencer (1898-1979) came onto the scene during the emergence and professionalization of library study and the concomitant higher expectation of library work in the academy; he possessed a native impulse and a unique vocational imperative to collect history; and finally he owned a theological subjunctive to embrace the breadth of Stone-Campbell material in a single archive.  This essay narrates the contours of his life’s story and work as it relates to the formation of the archive he conceived.  Further, it attends to the values and virtues that compelled his collecting and guided his service.  Spencer’s bibliographic work was exemplary and his archival work was peerless in his denomination. The story behind this work and the values that undergird it invite contemplation by those who would serve as archivists in denominational settings.


It is remarkable that a boy who learned to read at age nine would five years later become de facto librarian of his high school, and five years after that lead the library at his college in exchange for tuition, room and board.  It is remarkable that librarian who wouldn’t have known a Disciple book if it hit him in the head would compile a bibliography so authoritative it remains unsurpassed after seventy years.  It is remarkable that he formed a collegial society to serve the academy and the congregation, the graduate seminar and the Sunday school roundtable.  It is remarkable that he maintained an unrelenting commitment to charity and equal representation in collecting scope in the face of bitter intramural disputes over bureaucracy the very existence of which fractured the ecclesial fellowship he loved and served the entirety of his career.  It is remarkable that he recognized the need for, and advocated for needed research topics that were years ahead of their time.  It is remarkable that though he held no degree beyond the ars baccalaureus in education, no less than 84 master’s theses and doctoral dissertations credit his advice, counsel, and assistance.*  It is remarkable that he attained expertise with minimal formal coursework and professional training, but so mastered ‘library economy’ and was so productive in keeping up a demanding schedule, that the upon his retirement he was replaced by two and one-half full-time equivalents with graduate degrees in history, library science, and theology.

Spencer’s legacy survives in the several bibliographic works he authored, in the catalog records he generated, in the finding aids he assembled, and in the indexes he compiled.  His legacy survives among the holdings of Disciples of Christ Historical Society, of which he was visionary and architect.  His legacy endures in the community of librarians, archivists, historians, students and independent scholars he formed.  His legacy endures in the scholarship he facilitated by virtue of his quiet diligence in collecting, organizing, describing, preserving, and advocacy for print and archival materials of the Stone-Campbell heritage, consisting of the Christian Churches, the Churches of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and related groups.

The chapter was a sheer pleasure to research and write.  Stone-Campbell historical scholarship came into its own because of Claude Spencer.  First he raised awareness of its need, articulated that vision in plain terms, and then set about sourcing everything a scholar would need to write.  Look at the footnotes of the historical works published by or about anything Stone-Campbell since World War 2.  Look hard enough, and follow the references long enough, and you will find precious few that do not cite materials he gathered, inspired others to gather, or quote those who deal with those primary sources.  I think he surpasses all historians as the most significant single figure who has contributed to ‘Restoration history.’

*– I have since located two additional theses, for a total of 86.

Claude Spencer pays tribute to Sarah Lou Bostick, ca. 1948

Sarah Lou Bostick

Sarah Lou Bostick

“No, there were not any rare imprints or beautiful bindings among the things Mrs. Bostick saved; a book dealer wouldn’t have given $1.50 for the lot. There were just the commonplace things, the stuff most of us destroy, but which is so necessary in writing the history of our people, our churches, and our brotherhood. Better history can be written because of Mrs. Bostick.”–Claude Spencer, “An Appreciation” in The Life Story of Sarah Lue Bostick, A Woman of the Negro Race, ca. 1948, p. 39.

Sarah Lue was the President of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions Auxilary at Pea Ridge (AR) Christian Church. As such she acquired (and saved) a truck load (literally, a tractor-trailer load) of programs, letters, documents, periodicals, etc. documenting African-American Christian Churches. Spencer said “only once or twice in a lifetime does the curator of a historical society get so much unusual material as was collected and saved by Mrs. Bostick.”

My take-aways from Spencer’s remarks: 1) you never know what use can be made of a seemingly insignificant source, or what information can be gleaned from it; 2) you never know what might survive, or how much, or where, or by whom; 3) better history can be written because the availability of more/better/different/nuanced source material; 4) better history can *only* be written when these materials see the light of day and are available to history-writers.

African-American Churches of Christ in Nashville: W. M. Slay preaches in Northeast Nashville, 1889

This notice appears in the 20 November 1889 Gospel Advocate at page 739:

GA 11.20.1889.739


I have been having a protracted meeting in North-east Edgefield.  I have established a congregation with nine members.  I administer the loaf with them every Lord’s day.  I am also teaching in South Nashville, had one addition last night, Bro. Calvin Hardison, by confession and reclamation.  Please note that we will start a protracted meeting Wednesday night, the 13th of this month.  I preach three times every Lord’s day, twice in South Nashville, and at 3 P. M. in Edgefield.


Nashville, Nov. 11, ’89.

There have been four baptisms at Gay Street church recently under the preaching of Bro. Howell.



It is difficult to compile a short list of lacunae in Nashville Stone-Campbell history.  A thorough-going narrative of the rise of black Churches of Christ, vis-a-vis Gay Street Christian Church would make such a list, and high on it, too.  Back of that, though, is the rise of Second Christian Church (the name by which is known Gay Street in earlier days) vis-a-vis the white Church Street Christian Church, of which Philip Slater Fall was long-time pastor.  Its deep origins lie in the ‘colored’ Sunday Schools of the 1830’s and there is some connection to the slaves owned by William Giles Harding, horse-breeder extraordinaire and owner Belle Meade mansion.  They worshiped as Grapevine Christian Church, very likely in the plantation’s vineyard.

If we are to meet these lacunae head-on, notices such as this in Gospel Advocate will be exceedingly helpful.  I am confident others, perhaps many more, are out there in Gospel Advocate alone. Similar items exist in Christian Standard.  If we ever find old issues of Christian Echo…ever…what a gold mine that would be!

I post it to raise awareness: there is a significant gap in our understanding of the local congregational context from which emerged the Womack-Bowser-Keeble orbit of black acapella Churches of Christ.  Such published reports are one kind of light.  Another source are congregational records.  Then there are personal familial archives containing photos, letters, mementos.  Any of these are immensely helpful, but I want to raise awareness that the congregational records, if there be any…if any were even kept…if anyone originated a list of members or kept tally of income and expenses…will break new ground and lift our eyes to new horizons of understanding.  I also post it as an appeal: who has anything to contribute to this story?  As always, I welcome input, suggestions and corrections.

A strategy for congregational research

My Nashville research across the last ten years has evolved from an interest in Central Church (where I was then Associate Minister) to a much, much larger scope including each congregation in the county, every para-church ministry based in Nashville, and how the larger issues within Stone-Campbell history interact with local history in one city resulting in the ministry conducted on ground, in the trenches, in the congregations.  With that comes the innumerable evangelists, ministers and pastors who held forth weekly from pulpits across the city. Ambitious? Yes.  Perhaps too ambitious.  That may be a fair criticism, but the field is fertile and the more I survey the landscape and read the sources and uncover additional data, the more I’m convinced to stay the course.

In the last four years especially I have focused my efforts to obtain information about the smaller congregations, closed congregations, particularly congrgations which have closed in the last 40 to 50 years.  My rationale for this focus is that some history here is in some cases, potentially recoverable.  There are larger affluent congregations which have appearances of vitality…they are going nowhere soon.  I can only hope some one among them is heads-up enough to chronicle their ongoing history and preserve the materials they produced.  On the other hand are congregations which have long-ago closed and chances are good we might not ever know anything of them except a name and possibly a location (for example, Carroll Street Christian Church is absorbed into South College Street in 1920 forming Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ…no paper is known to exist from this church, and I can’t even find one photo of the old building, and there is no one remaining who has living memory of this congregation).  For all practical purposes Carroll Street Church of Christ may remain as mysterious in twenty years as it does now.  I’d be surprised to learn of 3 people now living in the city of Nashville who have even heard of it.

But the several congregations that closed in the 50’s-80’s (and some even in the last five years) remain accessible if only through documents and interviews.  Theoretically the paper (the bulletins, meeting minutes, directories, photographs, even potentially sermon tapes) has a good chance of survival in a basement or attic or closet.  Chances are still good that former members still live, or folks might be around–in Nashville or elsewhere–who grew up at these congregations.  Theoretically.  Potentially.  Hopefully.

Yet as time marches on there are more funerals…for example in the last year I missed opportunities to speak with three elderly folks about their memories at these now-closed churches…they were too ill to speak with me and now they are gone!  I did, however, speak at length with one woman in ther 90’s who I thought died long ago!  She is quite alive and lucid!

So from time to time I will highlight on this blog these closed congregations…closed in the recent past…with hopes that someone somewhere might look for them (I get hits on this blog by folks looking for all sorts of things, among them are several Nashville Churches of Christ).  Maybe we can stir up some interest and surface additional information.

A few days ago I posted about one such congregation, the Twelfth Avenue, North Church of Christ.  I have in the queue a post about New Shops Church of Christ in West Nashville.  There are more, several more.

Stay tuned, and remember, save the paper!

Help Cane Ridge Archives

Christmas Eve’s mail brought the Winter 2012 Cane Ridge Bulletin in which Curator James Trader appeals for donations of select items for their archive.

If you have any of these items, please consider donating it to Cane Ridge:

The Christian Hymn Book, compiled and published by Barton W. Stone and Thomas Adams, 1829.

–H. Leo Boles, Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1932.

Magazine of Western History, 1889 [II], The Cane Ridge Camp Meeting; An Unique Page of Early-Time Kentucky History, pp. 134-143.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, byE. M. Carruthers.

–Henry Hare, The Great West 

Herald of Gospel Liberty, New England, Elias Smith, Sept.1, 1808.

–Gloria in Excelsis, (hymnal) 1925, W. E. M. Hackelmen

The Christian Messenger, any issues, any edition.

The Millennial Harbinger. 1987 College Press reprint edition especially volumes for 1832-1836, 1850, 1854, 1857, 1858, 1861, 1865-1867.  Other editions are also welcome (which would be the Old Paths Book Club reprint or the original editions).

Congregational Histories.  Here is James’ note: “We would like to receive copies of Stone-Campbell congregational histories, particularly those with direct links to Cane Ridge, Barton Stone, and especially those from within Kentucky.”

Risograph Supplies.  Again, James says:Cane Ridge has a well-used Risograph RC6300 Duplicator which uses hard-to-find supplies.  If you would like to donate any of the supplies please contact us.  Need are: Masters 56W; RA and RC inks (any color, esp black); color drums for the RC6300 (this machine can print up to 11 x 17 paper).

Contact info is:

Contact James Trader at:  curator [at]

Mailing address is PO Box 26, Paris, KY  40362

Make it a New Year’s Resolution to visit the Cane Ridge Shrine.  They open for tours on April 1.