The Bethany Archives and Technology

Erling Teigen (Mankato, Minnesota, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Erling T. Teigen is a professor emeritus at Bethany Lutheran College where he taught religion and philosophy from 1977-2015. He is a graduate of Bethany (AA), the University of Minnesota (BA), Bethany Seminary (MDiv) and the University of Minnesota (MA in Philosophy). As College Archivist he has written numerous articles on the history of Bethany and has published numerous articles on church history, particularly on the Reformation.

The author and Shelly Harrison of the
Blue Earth County Historical Society
displaying capsule contents to visitors
(Mankato Free Press photo)

In 2011, one-hundred years after the cornerstone of Old Main, the original building on the Bethany Lutheran College campus, was laid, it was decided to remove the time capsule placed there. When the metal container was opened, it was found to contain mostly paper documents – German and English newspapers published in Mankato and elsewhere in Minnesota, German hymnbooks, and medallions celebrating the founding of the college. In addition, there was an inventory of the contents written in the very difficult German cursive script. The contents made it clear what the original institution, Bethany Ladies College, was intended to be: a conservative Lutheran school for girls.

Those cornerstone contents are now stored in the climate-controlled vault housing the college archives. They were replaced with books and other printed material telling the story of the college since 1911. Rather than trusting these materials to the passage of time, digital copies of much of the printed material were placed on computer disks and flash drives. The thought was that the technology might have a better chance of surviving, though one may speculate that in one-hundred years the paper products will still be readable, but there will be no technology remaining to recover the information on the electronic media.

On the Bethany Lutheran College campus, there are two archives and a museum. The oldest of them is the museum, having come into existence in the early 1930s when the libraries of several pastors and memorabilia of some churches and households were donated. Later, the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod which has owned and operated Bethany College since 1927 was established to give more order to the acquired materials, and to the official documents and records of the synod. The newest is the Bethany Lutheran College archives, located in the college library. This archive came into existence on the occasion of opening the 1911 time-capsule, and the retirement of two long-time professors both of whom had accumulated papers from service in many college positions and committees over the years. A few years earlier, the third of Bethany’s twenty-year presidents had retired, leaving a substantial collection of papers. Until that time, the college’s presidential papers and been included in the synodical archives but accessibility to those materials was limited.

Time Capsule contents are sorted
(Mankato Free Press photo)

A suitable space in the college library was dedicated to the development of an official archive for the college, and much of the material pertaining to the college, including significant photo collections, were moved to the new facility.

Today, materials in the college archives are cataloged in an electronic, searchable finding aid. Some of the archive’s material is accessible through an electronic photo-archive on the college’s website. It contains digitized photo collections, school yearbooks, school newspapers and other materials which tell the story of the college. You can view it here.

The two archives and museum have provided valuable resources for those who examine the history of the church body and the college. A recent book celebrating the centennial of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a strong testimony to the usefulness of systematic preservation of historical materials. A history of the college is also being prepared. In both cases, the major resource is archived material communicating the histories and the missions of the synod and college, both of which exist to communicate the Christian, Lutheran faith which is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The development of the college archives and a close cooperation with the museum and synodical archives across the campus has led to a more intense discussion of the nature of the archiving task for the college and the church. Behind these discussions is a desire to preserve the history of these institutions and to make that history accessible as a testimony to their beliefs and values.

The college’s extensive use of information technology dates back to the late 1970s, but only since 1990 have computers been used extensively by the administration, staff and faculty. Today, both the synod and the college present a public face on the internet and use technology to confess the Christian gospel to others. As a result, material needing to be preserved exists in both paper and electronic form.

Norwegian language hymanls and a Catechism
(Mankato Free Press photo)

Twenty years into the twenty-first century, those who work with archival materials have a great wealth of technology to use in the organization of materials they are asked to care for. In the last three decades, computers, scanners, and various types of electronic media have increased in capacity to store huge amounts of material in a relatively small space. For the most part, electronic media provide a way to save and store images and text that neither fade nor turn to dust. But that does not mean that technology and electronic media resources are without problems, especially in regard to durability.

In the face of all the resources available, archivists have had to ask many questions about their mission and how they carry it out. In most cases, the mission statements of archival departments contain two essential elements: Preservation and Accessiblility.

Those two elements present some challenges. For one thing, they are distinctly different. Both have limitations. Not everything can or should be preserved. All material things are unstable in the sense that they decay, but in different ways. Thus, some types of paper, like newsprint, have a very short shelf life. Photos, especially colored photos, by the very nature of their chemistry fade and lose their value. Today, paper and printer’s inks have been developed that last much longer. But they still don’t last forever.

Similar limitations must be placed on accessibility. Not all materials can be made accessible for anyone and everyone. Accessibility must often be conditioned on need personal privacy and to know. Distinctions need to be made between public and personal-private materials. And yet, those limitations are often in tension with the importance of historical scholarship.

Century-old newspapers were remarkably well perserved
(Mankato Free Press photo)

Furthermore, in some respects preservation and accessibility become contradictory. In the case of much archival materials, full accessibility for the public, or even for a limited public, makes the preservation principle of the mission difficult. On the other hand, the best way to preserve some materials would require that they be sealed up in a vacuum.

Many of the problems that have arisen for archivists have been solved in various ways by modern technology. Paper making has improved. Original materials, for many years, have been made available by film or paper copies. But most forms of film storage are short lived. In many cases the original will long outlive the media to which the original has been transferred. Short of returning to stone and clay tablets, paper remains the most likely to be accessible for longer periods of time.

Much of the weakness of committing materials to various physical media were seemingly overcome by the development of electronic digitization. Just in the years since the mid-1980s, materials electronically recorded can no longer be read because of the media they are preserved on, or because of the constant evolving of programs and computer languages. Given the speed of change in technology, the life span of materials produced or recorded electronically only a decade ago is short.

There are no simple answers, but for our purposes here, we can only suggest that electronically produced materials serve best to make materials accessible; but for preservation, the old technology, physical storage under the best conditions is probably the most dependable – at least for now.

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Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2020-10-20 4:47:52pm
Erling, your article was very interesting to me and I personally understand the challenges of preserving history in both print and especially in technology that cannot be accessed to read now or won't be in the future. Also family members in the past that considered items and materials important to be preserved are donated to historical archives and museums that no longer have them or can find them. I've tried to locate wooden objects in the Norwegian museum in Decorah (an intricate carving of a skilled great, great grandfather) and in the Wisconsin historical society museum in Madison (a wooden grave marker said to have his epitaph). I am posting two questions - one short one and another asking for advice. When I was a high school student at Bethany I was asked if I would dust a small "museum" at the top of the stairs of what was then called the 4th floor of the women's dorm. I was given the key. The Anina Christiansen "museum" was a series of tables of memorabilia from her missionary days. She was retired and I met her once at Bethany. Do you know whatever happened to those materials or if I'm even remembering her or her name correctly?
Erling T Teigen (BLC) 2020-10-21 2:47:42pm
Thanks Judy. The Museum that was on the fifth floor of Old Main above the girl's dorm, as far as I know, would have become a part of the present museum on Browns CT. The Museum actually dates back to the time in the 1930s when after the death of Hannah Ottesen (daughter of Pastor J. A.l Ottesen) was given to the reorganized Norwegian Synod. Becky DeGarmeaux can correct me if needed.
Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2020-10-22 12:51:12am
Oops - that was probably the Hannah Ottesen museum, not the Anina Christensen museum I was clean every other week? I'll talk to Becky. Thanks.
Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2020-10-20 5:42:55pm
Second question – from 1945-1965 there was a Synodical Conference grade school (Madison Lutheran) that was supported by 7 different churches that are all now LCMS, WELS, or ELS. I have the names of over 1000 children who attended. I had a website (which I recently needed to delete). More than 120 former students currently participate in a private FaceBook group, sharing memories and photographs of classes. ELS teachers that I remember that were supported by either Holy Cross or Our Saviour’s were Quinten Urban, Gudren Madson (married John Moldstad, Sr), Margerie Lillegard, Ernie Geistfeld, Ione Geistfeld, Eleanor Lester, Ruby Hougan, Caroline Berg, Grace Seebach, Norma Seebach, Vic Theiste, Margarie Tanke, and Gene Hoyord. There may have been others. Fred Bartel later joined the ELS and was the last principal of the school. Harriet Maakestad, Emil John. Ada Sievert, Naomi Birkholtz, and Raymond Branstad were teachers at the earlier Holy Cross (ELS) school before it merged in 1945. ELS pastors at the beginning were Erling Ylvisaker followed by George Orvick and Adolph Harstad, followed by Nils Oesleby and A.V. Kuster. My father was on the board when the school started. My brother and I both attended and graduated from the school. Before he died, the schoolboard secretary Norman Marozick from Holy Cross gave me boxes of materials which I still have. I need to resolve two big problems.
1. Where can I find a new permanent home for the online MLS website I’ve developed and maintained for many years and need to be able to add a lot more materials to?
2. Where can I place the papers that Marozik gave me that will be preserved?
Erling T Teigen (BLC) 2020-10-21 2:52:25pm
Judy, I'm not sure I can give a good answer to that question. If Holy Cross in Madson has a web site, they could have some interest in it. If there is no interest there, You can talk to the ELS Archives and the ELS historical society, to see if there is some interest. Contact Ted Gullixson at the Archives, and Becky DeGarmeaus at the museum.
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2020-10-24 7:27:27pm
Erling, I understand that significant portions of the material in the archives are being digitized, and that this is an ongoing project – am I right? Could you (or someone you enlist to tell this story) describe this project more fully? How do you decide what to digitize, and what to do first? What is the technology you are using? What cameras? What scanners? What formats (PDF, JPG?)? What storage media (DVD, flash drives, cloud?)? What is this digitizing project costing in money, time, and personnel? And how is it paying off in regard to both preservation and accessibility? Finally, could you use more support (like, donations)?
Erling T Teigen 2020-10-29 7:57:42pm
Hope I can touch on all of your questions.
Until a few years ago, archival material was included in the Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which has been housed in various places, but is now across campus and seminary and synod offices. It wasn't very accessible for those working t the college. When I got close to retirement, I was also working on the history of the college. Over the years, I had become the go-to guy for questions about the history of the college. I was able to convince the synodical and college leaders to set aside some space for college archives that would be accessible to those who needed to consult the historical records--one of them being me!

The materials had been catalogued, but the system wasn't helpful to the kinds of material the college would deposit, so some changes were made, and the material was indexed down to the box level, and in cases, to the folder level. The index was placed into a searchable spread sheet. The outline for the index essentially follows the colleges organization.

Of the materials in our collection, we asked who would benefit having access to them. Not so much present day students but past students would have an interest in school pictures, yearbooks (Fidelis), school newspapers (Scroll) programs and tapes or videos of drama production, choir recordings. There was a large collection of photographs, and they were sorted by various categories. When we had the opportunity to work with a consortium in setting up a web site with materials, our library, where the archive is housed, took the opportunity and after a couple of conferences, the site was up. Over two or three years, we (the archives and the library) purchased some useful scanners --a regular flat bed scanner that will scan up to 1200 dpi; a roll scanner that will scan a documents 8.5" wide and 200 inches long, an over size flat bed scanner, and an overhead book scanner. The roll scanner was used to scan panoramic pictures of the student body in the 1940s and 50s. We were able to scan all of the year books the students had produced, and have scanned to older college papers.

A large collection of photos are tagged so that one can search them by year or subject. In that way, our archive is especially serving the alumni and we have found that they are using it.

Very little of the administrative and faculty material in the archive is digitized, except for materials that would not have interest to the public. However, staff from various departments often need to consult past records, and when there is a request the material is sometimes scanned and sent electronically. We have a large collection of athletic photos and often have requests for specific items there. Recently a faculty member was doing research on a past policy, so I was able to provide a box of past faculty handbooks which would answer the question.

When we digitize materials that are to be placed on our website, photos are scanned at 600 dpi, otherwise 300. Written material is usually in pdf form. The archive holds many video recordings, and some of them may need to be digitized, but we would have to have the media department do that for us.

Over all, I think the digitizing is serving us more for making materials available, but certain types of material will have to be digitized in order to preserve -- newspapers on high acid paper, tape records, reel and cassette. But in my paper I discussed that problem. Of course digitizing and other preservation is time, labor, and money intensive.

The college archives is a budget item for the college, but there is also an archive fund to which interested parties can donate.
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2020-10-30 6:55:06pm
I learned a lot from this answer; thank you, Erling. Your work is important and much appreciated.
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2020-10-29 3:14:06am
My father A. V. Kuster left me a lot of his papers from all the years of his ministry. They didn't so much deal with his congregations, but rather with his activities with synods, which increased their historical value. During his 25 years as a LCMS pastor he was active with the Confessional Lutheran Publicity Bureau and there was a lot of correspondence involving their struggle for pure doctrine during the difficult years of 1935-60. When he joined the ELS in 1961 he became Foreign Mission Secretary and led the synod's foray into its own world mission. I felt these papers should be preserved and decided to entrust them to synodical archives. Those during his LCMS years (six or eight boxes) are now at the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis. The ELS years reside in its synod archives in the Seminary building in Mankato. But I wanted my own family to have access to all these documents so I scanned them. ALL of them. Many thousands of pages. It took me more than a week, scanning many hours a day. I used a marvelous little device, IRIScanTM Book 5 Wifi. It's about the size of a foot-long ruler except a half-inch thick with buttons and a tiny screen on the top. I simply roll it over a page and it stores a .PDF copy of that page in its memory and then I transfer those files to my laptop. Time-consuming, yes, but quite easy, and now I have digital files of all my dad's papers, while the originals are safe in synodical archives.