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:
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.
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.