The Church History Library’s digital access

"Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing"

“Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?”

Over the last several years, the Church History Library (CHL) has worked diligently to first make their catalog publically available on the internet, and then to make selections from its holdings similarly available. Last year I reviewed digitization efforts across the various institutions contributing to the field. One small and recent change in the CHL catalogue has made me aware of the significant progress that has been made by the Church History Department in this area.

In the past there has been no easy way to know if something had been digitized and made available at the CHL. Looking at the e-shelf feature of the catalog there is apparently the capability to sign up for RSS updates of particular queries, but as far as I have been able to tell, it is not live at this point. Instead one was required to look for specific items to see if they were digitized. However, now once a search term has been inputted into the field, the left sidebar offers the option to limit the search by “View Only Digital.”

Besides imprints, the bulk of the catalog can be divided into Local Records, Corporate Records, and Manuscripts. If one searches for the call letters associated with these categories and then limits the results to digital materials, one finds: LR, 49 items; CR, 3 items; MS, 187 items. This is only a minute fraction of the total CHL holdings, but it is nevertheless significant.

Among these collections are many important items. For example, this weekend I read through John D. Lee’s 1842-43 missionary diary that is really quite extraordinary. I was drawn to it as I have used a typescript blessing purportedly given to Lee in December 1838 and for which I have wanted to find a manuscript source. Unfortunately, the diary has a blessing, but it is dated January 1839 and is quite different. Checks like these are so important, as there are all sorts of sketchy typescripts that float about. But the diary is also a wonderful window into evangelization in the early 1840s. An account of a vision, details over theological debates, liturgical materials, and more.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the fully digitized Zina Card Brown Family Papers (MS 4780). It was in this collection that Kris Wright found what is one of my all-time favorite documents in all of Mormonism. It is a register which Zina D. H. Young kept for a couple of years to record some of the blessings she performed. An extract of this document is available in Table 1 (p. 31) of our article on female ritual healing:

Seriously, this is one of my all time favorite things.  Way better than brown paper packages tied up with string.

Seriously, this is one of my all time favorite things. Way better than brown paper packages tied up with string.

Now you can read through the original manuscript yourself (Box 1, Folder 15), and I can read through the bulk of the collection which I simply haven’t had the opportunity to get through yet, and all from the comfort of my home.

Just imagine for a moment what it was like to lay eyes on this for the first time.  There is a certain euphoria that can not be replicated.

Just imagine for a moment what it was like to lay eyes on this for the first time. There is a certain euphoria that can not be replicated.

I am still holding out hope that the CHL will add a way to receive notification when new materials are digitized, but this is still a huge development. And a massive thank you to everyone involved. Strong work.

Comments

  1. Cool!!! But I’m having trouble getting to the document you mention from the linked text “original manuscript.” When I click there I end up at a menu with no clear submenus taking me to Box 1, Folder 15. Or am I just dense/blind/both?

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Yeah, you have to navigate to get there. Box 1 is “ZINA D. YOUNG DIARIES AND NOTEBOOKS” and folder 15 is “Diary, 1893 April-May, 1896.”

  3. Fabulous J.S.

  4. I love this. Thanks especially for the digital image

  5. Great. As a note, JDLee has a number of patriarchal blessings, I’ll check if I have all the sources.

  6. Hopefully this isn’t a threadjack , , , does the CHL website include catalog entries for items the Church owns but still does not make available to the public (if any)? E.g., I remember reading in Van Wagoner’s history of Mormon polygamy that John Taylor’s journal from his time as Church president is not available to the public. Not sure if this is still true, but some poking around on the CHL website does not reveal its existence.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Great post!

  8. As a regular user of the CHL website, I wish they were moving faster, but I think that is my own impatience, more than any fault of the personnel there.

    We should observe that the lions share of the work that the CHL has done is with imprints — and mostly with material that is NOT available elsewhere. The entire run of the Relief Society Magazine, for example, is available — and is available through the CHL (on Archive.org), where it isn’t available elsewhere (not on Google books, not at BYU, nowhere). And if you are working with Church materials from outside of the U.S., this is doubly true — complete runs of foreign LDS magazines that run up to 100 years are now available online.

    What is available is very significant, and in the long run it should mean that Mormon Studies takes a significant step forward.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Totally agreed, Kent.

    Jake, the CHL catalog includes items housed by the Church History Department. The First Presidency maintains an archive that is sometimes called the First Presidency Vault. Items held by the FP fall outside the purview of the CHL and do not generally appear in the CHL catalog. For a discussion of the FP Archive, see the discussion in this post. There are many items known to be held by the FP, and many guesses. Almost every volume of the JSPP has included material transferred from the FP.

    Now, many of the cataloged items held by the CHL are “Restricted” for either temple, confessional, or legal/confidential reasons. There are some items held by the CHL which do not currently show up in the catalog, but it is my understanding that the CHL staff are working to make sure that everything is included.

  10. I haven’t kept up with all of this, but last year, there was such a volume of Joseph F. Smith’s journals and letters digitized that I was able to do much of my research on his adopted son, Edward Arthur, from home in my PJs (figuratively speaking).

  11. J. Stapley says:

    Yep, the first digital content they made available through the catalog was most of the material from the Selected Collections DVDs, which have some of the extant JFS materials. Also, and I am not sure why, but several items from the DVDs were given their own page instead of being integrated into the catalog system, viz.:

    Joseph Smith Collection, 1827–1844
    Brigham Young Letterpress Copybooks, 1844–1879
    Church Historian’s Office. General Church Minutes, 1839–1877
    Church Architect’s Office. Salt Lake Temple Architectural Drawings, 1853–1893
    William Weeks. Nauvoo Architectural Drawings, circa 1841–1846 – (MS 11500)

  12. Last week I was working on a project which I hope to write up for Keepapitchinin soon, and the help and response from the Church History Library, including additional photographs of the item in question, was excellent and timely.

    There are some amazing additions to the digital collections almost daily. One resource that I usually check separately, even through the items seem to show up in the CHL catalog, is the Family History Books catalog. Books still in copyright can only be viewed at a FamilySearch center, but everything out of copyright, or with copyright released to the library, is viewable and downloadable online. The library has made available many valuable family history materials that would not otherwise be accessible by the general public.

    And then, of course, there are the German-language publications digitized by the Church in the last couple of years, which I am slowly working through. Fascinating materials, and amazing that I can work with them from a semi-rural East Coast community.

    I think I may have gone over BCC’s limit for superlatives in a single comment, but these are exciting times, and I appreciate your notes here, J. It’s good to know about the digital search option.

  13. “We should observe that the lions share of the work that the CHL has done is with imprints — and mostly with material that is NOT available elsewhere. The entire run of the Relief Society Magazine, for example, is available — and is available through the CHL (on Archive.org), where it isn’t available elsewhere (not on Google books, not at BYU, nowhere).”

    I am very supportive of the digitizing work that the CHL has done, but as a point of institutional pride, I have to point out that the Relief Society Magazine was digitized by the BYU Library. (For instance, look under “Digitizing sponsor” and “Book contributor” in this record: http://archive.org/details/reliefsocietymag42reli )

  14. J. Stapley says:

    The BYU Library’s work has been superlative, both on site and with archive.org. Still hate the software upgrade though.

  15. Very cool. J are you involved in any additional follow up to your AMAZING article? And will this digitization of the records assist someone like you that researches the dusty crevices of Mormonism, or will it just help people like me to see what you’ve found. Either way keep up the good work.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    n8c, thanks. Both Kris and I have stuff forthcoming. But to your question regarding these advancements in digital archives, it absolutely helps researchers. E.g., as I mentioned, I haven’t had the chance to finish reading through the Zina Young papers as I don’t live in Utah. Just a year ago, I would not have been able to read the JDL diary in the post unless I visited the CHL in Salt Lake. This is huge.

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