Memory: Goshen College, 1894-
(Third in a
by Dennis Stoesz, Archivist
In the last column, I wrote about how East Goshen Mennonite
Church is working with its congregational records (October 1998).
In this column I review records management at Goshen College.
The question that I am testing in this series of articles
is whether a records schedule can be a useful tool for working
with active, non-current and archival records. I have come across
only one or two Mennonite organizations that use such schedules.
Currently, the Mennonite Church provides its boards and agencies
with Guidelines for Retention and Disposition of Records
(1989). Although it is a more general philosophical statement,
it points to the heart of the matter in its opening paragraph:
Records are important. However, the long-range retention of
all records is not important. Since not all records have equal
value, discretion must be exercised in determining what records
are retained, what records are destroyed, where records are located,
who becomes the archivist for non-current records, and what are
the archival functions.
My proposal is that creating such a records schedule would
help managers decide which records are retained and which are
destroyed. A schedule is basically a list of existing records.
These records include a) those currently being used in the offices,
b) those inactive files found in closets or in specified storage
areas, and c) those permanent archival files found in a vault,
or in an archives. Next to each sets of records on this list
is the decision on how long these records are to be retained,
1-2 years, 3-10 years or permanently. The Guidelines document
affirms my proposal: "the person in charge of records management
at each institution needs to set up retention schedules for all
materials based on the Guidelines.
As one who works with older records, I tend to keep things.
I have seen too many old and valuable records destroyed. In talking
with someone recently who works at managing current files, I
learned that she tended to throw things away. Too many records
can become a burden, especially in this information age. So what
would help us "keepers" and "throwers" to
work together? I believe a records schedule would help govern
both the retention and disposition of records.
At the fall meeting of the Society of Indiana Archivists,
I tested the idea of using record schedules with four other archivists.
The result was a tie: two - two. Two archivists were in favor
of such schedules, and were using them in their specific organizations.
The other two archivists thought there were other ways to manage
records. One pointed to the problem that offices did not use
such schedules even if they were created. Another archivist said
that a more general agreement with each organization that donated
records to the archives was sufficient.
I broke the tie by voting in favor of using record schedules
(this is, after all, what I am proposing!). The real test will
come when we see how such schedules work. Will such schedules
help us manage records through their life cycle from active use,
to non-current status, to destruction or to their designation
as permanent archival files? This is what I have called the three-five-year
In what follows, I am giving you a window into how one organization,
Goshen College, is currently working with its records.
Survey of Goshen College's Records
In 1990, John D. Roth, Director of the Mennonite Historical
Library, asked a history practicum student, Steve Nolt, to survey
the college's records. It was timely since Goshen College was
preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1994.
Nolt identified records at three different locations: a) Mennonite
Historical Library, 174 sets of records; b) Union Building Basement,
168 sets of records; and c) Archives of the Mennonite Church,
Newcomer Center, 176 sets of records. Nolt also identified 24
artifacts in the Mennonite Museum Committee's collection. In
addition, 23 sets of older records were also housed in 15-20
different departments on campus.
Nolt's concluded that "the school needs to ... plan for
archival storage for Goshen College's second century." While
the holdings at the Mennonite Historical Library and the Archives
of the Mennonite Church were clearly identified, the biggest
need focused on the materials housed in the Union basement.
The Union Basement, 1948-82
The basement of the Union Building was first designated as
a "Temporary Archives for Goshen College" in 1948.
The Union had just been built, and the college wanted to establish
a more permanent place for its non-current records. The initiative
came from Business Manager C. L. Graber, and two faculty members,
John Umble and Guy F. Hershberger. Before this the records had
been stored in the old railway sub-station.
This repository was to be a place "to receive ... all
materials no longer currently needed in the official files of
Goshen College faculty and officers." Curator Nelson Springer,
now retired from the Mennonite Historical Library did much of
The minutes of that 1948 meeting also state that it be "a
fixed policy to destroy nothing in the official files of the
College faculty and officers, and that when any material is no
longer needed it be turned over to the temporary archives".
After the materials were transferred to the basement and identified,
decisions would be made about their final retention and disposition.
Two rooms in the Union basement came to be designated for
specific offices. Room A housed the papers from the President's
Office, Dean's Office, College Relations, and Teacher Education
Department. Room B housed records from the Business Office, Personnel
Office, Registrar's Office, and the Bookstore.
After several decades, these two rooms were full and overflowing.
By the early 1980s, an "Ad Hoc Committee Concerning Archival
Storage and Space" was set up to respond to this situation.
Under the guidance of Provost John A. Lapp, Chairman Kenneth
King, and Business Manager J. Robert Kreider, it was decided
that the President's papers be moved to the Archives of the Mennonite
Church, in Newcomer Center. This included the papers of presidents
from Noah E. Byers (1903-1913) to J. L. Burkholder (1903-1982).
Once transferred, Archivist Leonard Gross took the initiative
to have the early presidential papers organized and listed. By
the 1990s, however, the two rooms were again full and overflowing,
and something needed to be done.
Vice President for Finance / Business Manager
Organizations look to different officers for managing their
records. In the case of Goshen College, it has been the Business
Manager. Today that officer is James Histand, Vice President
for Finance. Other persons who have occupied this position are
C. L. Graber (1924-27, 1933-49), Leland Bachman (1949-57), Ralph
Gunden (1957-70), J. Robert Kreider (1971-86) and Mardene Kelley
During the 1990s Business Manager Mardene Kelley took steps
to deal with the accumulation of records in the Union basement.
When Jim Histand came into the office in 1997, he implemented
the building of additional shelving in the middle part of the
basement. This new shelving more than doubled the space available.
Summer Project, 1998, Union Basement Archives
With the new shelving in place, Histand hired Rachel Rupright
in the spring of 1998 to bring some order to the records. Rupright
had seen the need for this when she worked as an Administrative
Assistant to the President, and had transferred inactive president's
records to the Union basement.
Rupright worked throughout the summer to identify the various
sets of records. One goal was to establish a connection between
the records and the department that had placed them. Another
goal of the project was to designate specific shelf space for
each department. This was to counteract the general feeling that
the Union basement was not a place one would want to visit.
In the fall 1998, Histand reported that not only was the Union
basement organized, but that each administrative and academic
department on campus would be given space for nine boxes of materials.
The shelves were built so that three two-foot banker boxes could
fit on each shelf.
Histand also raised several good questions: "How should
departments regularize their archival processes? What are the
kinds of things that should be kept in that space? What kinds
of things should be either destroyed, not kept at all, or culled
out after a period of time? And how long should stuff be kept
in the Union basement before it is transferred to the Archives
of the Mennonite Church?"
My general answer to Histand's questions is to point to the
use of a records schedule. The first step would be for each office
to list its records as found a) in their offices, b) in the Union
basement, and c) at the Archives.
The second step would be to go over this listing, and make
decisions about what records can be destroyed and what records
should be kept for the long term. Part of this answer includes
having someone work with each department on such a schedule.
Another part is for someone to work with the records during their
inactive stage in the Union basement.
John S. Umble Center and Other Departments
Even though the Union basement was the central repository
for the college's older records, some departments stored inactive
records in their offices. One example is the Communication and
In the summer of 1996, Gerald Pauls, Technical Director and
House Manager of the John S. Umble Center, asked me what to do
with all the old boxes of records he had found in the orchestra
pit. After examining a few items from the pile of 20-30 banker
boxes, I concluded they were the official files of this department.
These records dated back to the time when Roy H. Umble served
as Professor of Communication, 1946-1983.
I suggested that a first step would be to identify the dates
and series of records found in the boxes. This initial survey
would provide handles on how to tackle this mound of material.
The files could then be transferred into new two-foot banker
Pauls picked up this work again in spring 1999. This time
he had the help of Alfred J. Albrecht, who served as Professor
of Communication at the College from 1964-1987. Albrecht was
concerned that the history of this department be preserved and
known. He also brought a keen interest and knowledge to the task.
Records from several other departments and programs have also
been identified: the Center for Discipleship, 1962-1982; Division
of Nursing, 1954-1997; English Department, 1930-70; Hispanic
Ministries, 1979-90; Home Economics Department, 1926-1988; Information
Technology Services - Media, 1950s-1990s; Lecture-Music Series,
1905-1985; Music Department; Peace Society, 1935-1981; Peace
Studies Program, 1970-97; Public Relations, 1940s-1990s; Student
Development Division, 1944-1974; Student Organizations; Women's
Studies Program, 1975-98; and the Weather Station, 1915-1998.
Mennonite Historical Library and Archives of the Mennonite
Steve Nolt's 1990 survey also identified two other places
on campus that contained historical materials.
Nolt identified 174 sets of material at the Mennonite Historical
Library, which is located on the third floor of the Good Library.
Rather than listing the books which were published by the college
or contained information about the College, he concentrated on
a) the published periodicals that the college has produced since
1894, b) the vertical files of items collected by the library,
and c) the photograph collection. Also included were the artifacts
in the Museum Collection, housed at the Historical Library.
At the Archives of the Mennonite Church, located in the Newcomer
Center, Nolt identified 176 sets of materials: personal papers
of 19 persons, who had taught or were students at the college;
14 photograph collections; many historical sound recordings;
artifacts; official records of the college, such as the Elkhart
Institute Collection, 1894-1903; the Presidential Papers, 1903-1982;
Faculty Minutes, 1901-1981; Board of Overseers; Building Committees;
Although quite a few of the college's historical records have
ended up at the Historical Library or the Archives of the Mennonite
Church, the impetus for managing the college's active and non-current
records rests with the college's administration.
One of the newest developments at the college has been to
tackle the question of how an organization archives its electronic
records. The initiative came from Nancy J. Miller, Assistant
to the Academic Dean, in 1998 when she requested that all official
minutes of committees be sent to her by electronic mail. Academic
Dean Paul Keim asked, "why work in both the paper and electronic
medium?" This department is committed to work in the electronic
medium as much as possible. Nancy said there has been a good
response to her request.
Through the efforts of Curator Joe Springer of the Mennonite
Historical Library, the use of electronic records was discussed
at a special ad hoc meeting in September 1998. After hearing
the report from the Academic Dean's office, the next question
was "how do we archive these computer files which contain
the official minutes of committees?" Keim wondered if there
wasn't a place where they could "once a year dump all the
Michael Sherer, Director of the Information Technology Services,
indicated that the up-and-coming medium was the World Wide Web.
It would be fairly easy to establish a centralized archival site
on the web server, which could be called "archives.goshen.edu".
This archival site could be managed in such a way that departments
could continue to access their "inactive computer files".
Each department's files would remain restricted to that department
until the records had become archival, maybe 10-30 years down
the road. The records that have been marked "archival"
could be transferred to the public archives section of the web
server, where they could be accessed. The computer data at this
site would be migrated into newer software and hardware when
they become available, so the information would continue to be
Sherer also talked about the new "mennonite.net"
site on the web, which serves over a 1,000 Mennonite congregations.
In addition to the college, congregations can also archive electronic
John E. Sharp, Director of the Historical Committee and Archives
of the Mennonite Church, indicated that the archives is committed
to working at this question of archiving electronic records.
The Historical Committee is currently raising funds to place
older historical documents on the web, so that researchers will
have direct access to them.
I have to confess that this computer language and technology
is new to me. The question of "managing files", however,
seems to be similar to working with paper records, photographs,
tapes and artifacts. Having an archives site on the web actually
reminds me of what the Goshen College archives committee decided
back in 1948 when they established a centralized archives place
in Union basement. I am sure that committee could not imagine
that 50 years later the college would consider a centralized
electronic archives site or that this site would also be located
in the Union basement.
I hope I have been able to provide you with a window into
Goshen College's record management. As I wrote the article, I
felt that I was sometimes a participant and sometimes an observer.
I am sure the participant part comes out of my excitement at
seeing the college move ahead on various fronts, and from my
desire to test the idea of using a records schedule.
What are some of your experiences in working with records
in your organization, committee or board? Do you have suggestions
or answers to the questions that have been raised in this article?
I hope to continue this discussion in the October 1999 issue
of the Mennonite Historical Bulletin.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, April 1999