In 1956, while Duke McCall, former president of Southern Seminary, and Billy Graham, the famed evangelist, were playing a round of golf, Graham casually mentioned that Harvard University had expressed interest in housing his archival materials, but before the end of the round, McCall was able to persuade Graham to give his materials to SBTS. This plan did not fully come to fruition for another three years, at the completion of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library in 1959. Graham delivered a Baccalaureate address at SBTS on May 9, 1960, and formally dedicated the Billy Graham Room on the same day. (Recordings from these events are available at digital.library.sbts.edu.) This new facility — on the second floor of the library, where it has been ever since — was used to hold materials like crusade scrapbooks, photos, and other artifacts from Graham’s ministry.
This relationship continued until 1980, when Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, opened their own Billy Graham Center. Yet SBTS has retained much of what Graham had already donated. These materials are still available for research and study. After Billy Graham’s death in February, the collection at SBTS remains an important resource for learning about his life and ministry.
The seminary’s own archives were not formally organized until 1975, when the library hired a part-time worker, Clara McCartt, to bring order to its archival materials. This original archives office was located in a small room in the basement, and it held the papers of the past presidents, trustee reports, manuscripts, and studies related to seminary history, photographs, and seminary publications. During the 1978-1979 school year, the Archives office was relocated to the second floor of the library, near the Billy Graham Room, but still a separate facility.
For many years, a series of part-time workers were tasked with cataloging and indexing archival materials. The staff also funneled time and resources into restoring some of the seminary’s old portrait paintings and preparing exhibits and displays for the library. In 1985, archives workers helped install the Haldeman Bible Collection room in the first floor — a significant feature of the library even to this day.
It wasn’t until 1994 that the seminary hired a full-time, professional Archives and Special Collections Librarian: Gregory A. Wills. He led the effort to merge the Archives office with the Billy Graham Room, arranged the adjacent Rare Book Room, and expanded the staff to include additional full-time and part-time assistants. This move also involved taking responsibility over the library’s collection of Baptist Minutes, which at the time included materials from over 2,200 state and local Baptist associations. Wills’ team made great efforts to use better archival storage materials and practices, and they established a better system for organizing and cataloging the photograph collection, a system still in place today. Wills transitioned to teaching full-time in 1999.
The Archives’ current staff includes full-time archivists Adam Winters and Chris Fenner and a part-time assistant. Much of the same work continues that was started under Wills, but with more acquisitions and donations of materials and a greater emphasis on digitizing materials for an electronic, internet-driven generation. Starting around 2009, the Archives office took on the responsibility for preserving and digitizing the seminary’s extensive collection of audio and video media, and in 2012, it assumed oversight of the library’s rare music collection.
Currently, the Archives serve researchers of all kinds, including students, faculty, campus offices, alumni, Baptist churches seeking records, and genealogists studying family history. The office still receives historical donations of various kinds. Staff members give presentations to seminary classes, both in-office and in-classroom, and prepare historical displays for the library. The library’s two full-time archivists contribute to scholarly research and publication, represent the seminary at professional conferences, and digitize materials for the Boyce Digital Library.
Materials in the Archives and Special Collections are available for research Monday through Friday, 9-5, on the second floor of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library.