Billy Graham Center

A Heritage at Risk - Report of Group B: Communication Networks and Cooperation Between Archives and Users



Group B considered the problems of cooperation among archival institutions engaged in the collection and preservation of evangelical records, as well as cooperation and communication between archivists and users of such material. The group consisted of both archivists and users, and it agreed from the outset that not enough evangelical archives collections were being preserved and that use of those collections in a variety of research, while already significant and likely to grow in the future, should be encouraged to expand even further.

Focusing its primary concern on users, the group first tried to consider such questions as the following: Who now uses evangelical archives? How and why do they use them? Who does not now use evangelical archives? How and why could they be interested in doing so? What kinds of material should be collected that would support broader and more interesting research projects? In these areas, as in many others discussed, the group's conclusion was that evangelical archives are not different in significant ways from other kinds of small, independent archives. Evangelical archives have a small core of researchers. They wish that group were larger and more inclined to funnel undergraduate and graduate students into research projects. They wish that more "non-traditional" researchers, including evangelical administrators and church members, would take advantage of their facilities and resources. They generally do not restrict access to their collections unnecessarily, though many researchers seem incorrectly to assume that access is more restricted in religious archives than in other kinds of archives (public and business archives, for example). There were no categories of users of evangelical archives that could not be found in other kinds of archives, with the possible exception of those using archives for some personal or pastoral purpose. For all the differences that may separate evangelical archives from other kinds of repositories, therefore, the group concluded that there were at least as many similarities.

In considering the question of cooperation among archives, the group's early conclusion was that there were simply too few archives of any kind that were actively collecting this kind of material. The Billy Graham Center is virtually unique in the active solicitation and preservation of nondenominational evangelical records. Other recent efforts to gather material in specific subfields--Pentecostal and charismatic records, for example--have proved unsuccessful. Some materials of this kind have been deposited in other types of archives (local historical societies, for instance), but this arrangement has not always been entirely satisfactory. Clearly the Graham Center has neither the resources nor ability to collect, store, and make available everything in this field, and the group concluded that more repositories for evangelical collections are needed, whether in-house archives for evangelical churches and organizations or special collections in outside, pre-existing archives. The multiplication of collecting agencies, a goal that will not be easy to accomplish, will necessitate improved means for cooperation among them.


Based on these considerations, the group suggested the following recommendations in each of the two broad areas under discussion.


A. Among the areas and kinds of records which are not now being collected but which should be collected are materials on such subjects as women in evangelical churches, Black evangelism, music, sermon manuscripts, connections between evangelism and politics (including both the right and the left), and the processes of disaffiliation and secularization. Archivists should actively seek these records for preservation and researchers should aid this process by encouraging the deposit of such records when they encounter them in private hands. The larger goal should be the documentation of both evangelical phenomena and evangelical institutions.

B. A directory of archives already collecting in the area of nondenominational evangelism should be prepared. Since an understanding of what is already being collected must serve as the basis for future cooperative collecting activity, a comprehensive directory of archives interested in this field would be useful to archivists as well as to potential researchers. Any plans for a directory of this kind should be carried out in cooperation with larger efforts at describing archival repositories, such as the forthcoming second edition of the directory of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

C. Archivists should explore the use of existing communication networks or the creation of new ones to allow for easier sharing of information about their holdings in the area of evangelical religion. These include the use of existing archival newsletters and clearinghouses (not exclusively those devoted to evangelism), as well as professional archival associations. If necessary, new clearinghouses and newsletters might be established to focus on this particular subject area.

D. Archivists interested in greater preservation and use of evangelical documentation should consider making or improving contacts with subject research and discipline history centers in areas that include American religion.

E. Archivists should consider providing at-cost processing and/or microfilming services for important collections that would not otherwise be organized and available. The processing and microfilming of the Billy Sunday Papers by the Graham Center (the originals were returned to Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana) may offer a model for other archives to follow in this.

F. Archivists should consider applying for grant funding to support any or all of these activities.


A. Archivists in evangelical archives should make greater efforts to establish contacts in the scholarly research community and to expand research. They should consider using such means as preparing articles in professional journals describing archival collections that are available and work that needs to be done, contacting graduate departments with lists of topics that might be profitably researched in those collections by faculty and students, appearing on program sessions of professional association meetings to make their resources more widely known. They might also consider contacting granting agencies for names of grant applicants and recipients who might be interested in using their collections.

B. Archivists should consider means for tying researchers into the process of archival appraisal. Archivists should solicit feedback from researchers in formulating and revising collection policies, and they should actively encourage researchers to make specific recommendations of materials that ought to be collected and will be lost if not deposited in an archives.

C. Archivists should promote the use of their collections by "non-traditional" researchers. These include church administrators and pastors, as well as church historians and family researchers. More important, archivists should reach out to students, especially in high school and college, by developing programs aimed at using primary sources from the archives in the classroom to understand church history. A sufficient number of models exist for this kind of program to warrant its application on a broad scale. Finally, archivists should promote the use of their collections in adult eduction and continuing education programs. These may have the additional benefits of preserving family collections that would otherwise not survive and of opening up new sources of archival volunteers.

D. Archivists should continue to encourage the broadest possible use of their collections as is consistent with the protection of legitimate rights of privacy and confidentiality. In particular, they should minimize the restrictions on access that result from unidentified and unorganized collections either by arranging and describing those collections properly or by assisting in the deposit of those materials in an appropriate repository. When records are deposited in an archives, archivists should continue to work to keep restrictions to a minimum.

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Last Revised: 2/4/00
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005