As a chemist, if I want to perform a literature search on a specific compound, reaction, or system, there are several different databases to mine. These resources catalogue articles, patents, dissertations and books dating back to the nineteenth century. Now, my adviser in graduate school is something of a legend, and I was his last graduate student. I remember him describing his graduate studies not too long after the war. He remembered his own graduate adviser saying that he was completely up to date on every article published in chemistry. Today that is an impossibility. There is simply not enough time in one individual’s life to process the flood of information. The databases are now not simply a matter of efficiency, like a word processor, they are an absolute necessity.
Mormon studies is not the publishing deluge that chemistry is; there is, nevertheless, an impossible amount of articles, books, and dissertations (though, as far as I am aware, not patents), with which to be completely current. When I wrapped up graduate school back 2004 and I began taking a more academic approach to Mormonism and its history I was generally oblivious to the published literature. One of the things that helped me to get up to speed was a database hosted by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU. It was initially an updated digital appendix to James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker’s, Studies in Mormon History 1830–1997: An Indexed Bibliography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000). It contained the works published after the inclusion threshold of the Allen, Walker and Whittaker volume.
At the end of 2005, the database was taken offline during an upgrade process and by February of 2006 it was relocate to a BYU subdomain: http://mormonhistory.byu.edu/. With the upgrade came the entire content of Allen, Walker and Whittaker’s important volume and regular updates. Initially christened “Studies in Mormon History and Culture” it has since been perhaps the single most important finding aid in Mormon Studies. I personally am grateful to the people that worked hard to index and digitize the vast collection of materials. It has allowed me to research in ways and at levels of efficiency that would not have been otherwise possible.
I encourage those not yet familiar with the database to check it out. I also encourage regular users to take a short survey about it. One of the questions in the survey is “Should the Studies in Mormon History Database cease to exist, what effect would this have on your work?” I can only hope that this question does not indicate a real possibility of the database’s future. The field would be much worse for such an eventuality.