From May 22-24th, I attended the annual conference of ALABI in Richmond, VA. (In case you’re wondering, ALABI stands for Association of Librarians and Archivists at Baptist Institutions). This was my first time taking part in this conference, and it was very well organized and informative. The theme was “From Church to Battlefield and Everywhere in Between: Documenting the Civil War in Baptist Libraries and Archives“. Sessions ran all day, and looked at a variety of topics in our different collections. Here are some of the presentation titles to give an idea of what we learned about:
*Grace and Glory: Documenting and African American Baptist Identity after the Civil War
*War Comes to the Churches: The Civil War as Documented in Baptist Records
*War Comes to the Home Front: The Civil War as Documented in Special Collections Materials
*Citizens, Saints, and Soldiers: Strategies for Researching Baptists and the Civil War (A shout out given for the Biblical Recorder digitization in this presentation! Woo Hoo! )
*Digitizing Dixie: Strategies for Placing Baptist Civil War Collections Online
I was happy to be part of the “Digitizing Dixie” session, along with the Assistant Archivist from Mercer University and the Director of Special Collections at Baylor University. We all described the Civil War materials that we had digitized from our collections, along with why we chose them, how we “made it happen” and the challenges and benefits of the projects. You can see examples of their work here: Mercer Special Collections and Baylor Special Collections
While the materials we digitized were similar, the projects themselves were very different. Mercer’s collection has a staff of three, a very small budget, and limited equipment. They have done a great job of getting started with digitizing and they plan to continue digitizing as much as they can with what they have. Baylor, on the other hand, has quite a large staff and budget (comparatively) as well as more equipment. They made a video for YouTube and unveiled their materials in a dramatic way. On each Monday, Wednesday and Friday from January through March, they launched one Civil War letter on the YouTube site. This created a loyal following who tuned in to read the letters, each of which was transcribed, digitized and “recorded” for the viewer to hear and see.
After the sessions we were able to tour the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, which is on the campus of the University of Richmond. The director, Fred Anderson, told our group about the facility as well as the history of the collection. Currently they have an exhibit called “Free Indeed”! which tells the story of African-Americans and Whites in antebellum Virginia. Original documents, church records and artifacts are on display and tell amazing stories of the history of this area. They have also compiled a name registry of over 51,000 names of slaves, freedmen and white surnames. The special projects assistant, Mike Whitt, researched over 200 antebellum church record books from the archives there to find and list all of these names! The names have been put on the public computers in the VBHS for people who want to research their ancestors. It is an amazing amount of information!
In addition to the ALABI conference, I attended the final session of the Baptist History and Heritage Society. This group always meets in conjunction with the ALABI group, either just before or after the ALABI conference. I had attended the BH&H conference last year to share the Biblical Recorder project information with them and they were quite excited about that resource! This year, there was a special reason for me to be at this meeting as well. Our very own NC Baptist Collection received the Davis C. Woolley award which is given in by the BH&HS in conjunction with ALABI! I was invited to receive the award at the luncheon that day, and was very proud to represent the WFU Special Collections and Archives Department. We received the award based on our efforts to use technology to make our materials accessible more widely (i.e. the Biblical Recorder project, our current partnering with Chapel Hill and Duke on the Religion in NC grant project) , the progress made on processing important Baptist collections and having finding aids available online (Wayne Oates, Bill Leonard, Warren Carr and Henlee Barnette specifically) and the amount of reference questions related to the Baptist collection that we answer (over 125 so far this year). It is so affirming to be recognized for the work that we have done and continue to do and know that it benefits researchers from all over.
*Side note* After I received the award, a gentleman came up to talk to me. He was a Wake alum (’64) and very excited to hear about our projects. He also mentioned that he took part in the MOOC that Kyle coordinated and enjoyed it very much! Small world…
The final day of the conference included a session on preservation of materials presented by a rep from Metal Edge and a conservationist from the Virginia State Library which was very informative and then a business meeting and “lightning round” where we each had a minute to tell what we are working on in out collections. There was talk of a possible Baptist Digital Library in the works to consolidate Baptist resources in one place, ongoing efforts to continue digitizing materials, hopes to digitize church records, and interest in future publishing opportunities. We covered a lot in two days and it was well worth the trip. If you would like information on anything I’ve mentioned here, I would be happy to share more with you.