By Allan Ainsworth
“… a book only reveals what it’s ‘about’ to someone who picks it up and peruses it and is otherwise merely a storage device.”
(Sarah Bakewell, in At the Existentialist Café)
The above epigraph is meant to encourage readers to actually open a book to see what it is “about”, and to discourage treating a book as “merely a storage device”. What if a book can do both? The electronic book you are viewing is presented to you as a book to be perused in whatever digital format you have chosen, as well as an electronic archival storage device in the best sense of the idea. The creators of this newest edition of the history of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City offer this book as evidence that both things can be accomplished.
This publication is free, digital, interactive, and readily available to anyone who has access to the internet and an interest in the Church’s history. It is a joint work made possible by a collaboration with the University of Utah’s Special Collections, at Marriott Library. This is the third iteration of the history of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, Utah and is offered as a bridge that began in the Church’s 128-year past and moves beyond 2020.
The first two histories of the Church (The First 75 Years: 1891-1966 (Various contributors); and Unitarianism in Utah: A Gentile Religion in Salt Lake City, 1891-1991 (Stan Larson and Lorille Miller), were offered in the traditional form of a printed documentary history of a religious institution. Readers have used the information contained in the first two books for education, reflection, reference, and further research on church matters, but the information they contain, once published, was static – frozen in time – leaving the reader either waiting for the next publication 20 or more years later, or needing to do her/his/their own research in library archives and other sources that are often hard to access. The history you are viewing is intended for easy, free access not only to the first two volumes mentioned above (cite where they are located on the website), but to selections from the original archives first stored in Special Collections at Marriott Library in 2010 that date back to 1891. The vision of this digital book is that information will be updated on a regular, selective, basis and made available to readers whenever and wherever they choose to access it. Users will also be able to view the Index of the Special Collections archive, entitled First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City Records, 1891-2010 and help make suggestions about what might be added into the new digital archive.
The genesis of this book may have started inadvertently when First Church originally made a donation of about 112 linear feet of archival material to Marriott’s Special Collections in 2011 described in the above Index. An archival resource of this size consumes a great deal of physical space, can be hard to curate and maintain, and is often difficult for the researcher to access in a meaningful way. The idea for the donation of the materials was to make these physical archives accessible simply by visiting the Special Collections area at Marriott Library. While those who made the decision to donate the archival materials could have had no idea at the time, the donation established a special relationship between a state-owned university library and a local community church that had unforeseen positive outcomes for both institutions. Marriott Library and the University of Utah were interested in reaching out to the broader Salt Lake community by making its large and diverse repository more readily available to more people in the Salt Lake area. First Unitarian Church was seeking ways to make its story more readily available to its congregation and to the larger community through the donation of the archives. This e-book is a marriage of the two ideas, and thus to the idea of a book as “about” the history of the Church and as “a storage device.”
The specific idea to make the rather bold move from the traditional self-publication of a new printed book version of the history of the Church to that of a freely accessible electronic book started with a casual conversation with Dr. Peggy Battin, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah. Dr. Battin had partnered with Marriott Library’s Special Collections and Oxford University Press in publishing her edited work entitled The Ethics of Suicide (https://ethicsofsuicide.lib.utah.edu) as a web-based book. The excitement that Dr. Battin expressed about her experience with Marriott Library was contagious, resulting in a change of course just as the writers of this current book were starting the present endeavor as a physical book.
After planting the idea of an electronic book, Dr. Battin introduced our writing group to Ms. Anne Morrow(Head of Digital Scholarship Services at Marriot Library) and after a short negotiation, First Church and the directors of Special Collections signed a contract on July 10, 2018 to move forward with the 2020 Update in a digital format, with the library serving as the website host. The Library understood that their support for this digital book would set a possible stage for other churches, nonprofits, and community organizations to donate archival materials in order to make the library and the University more accessible to the greater public (personal communication, Anne Morrow, July 3, 2018).
The writers not only adopted Dr. Battin’s ideas about collaborating with Marriott Library, but have borrowed from the layout of her edited book and have borrowed liberally in terms of ideas from hers and another digital collaboration that Ms. Morrow introduced to the writers early in the process, entitled the Downwinders of Utah Archive.
Creativity was also a driving force for this digital work. A shared concern on the part of the editors/writers that a traditional, hardbound book on paper would not appeal to a younger population of Unitarians also prompted the decision. The authors were now freed up to write the chapters you see here while making decisions about a much larger array of materials, including photographs, video, audio, copies of Torches, annual reports, and so on that would have been unwieldy in traditional book format. In a true sense, you, the reader, are a customer of our product, and we have made some decisions that we hope will satisfy the majority of readers. We hope this e-book will reach a much larger audience than had we published a physical book. Having said this, we are aware that there are a number of people in the congregation and in the larger public who do still value a physical book. We are open to ideas about how to share the contents of this work to those who prefer not to read in a digital format. We offer special thanks to Dr. Battin, Dr. Gregory Thompson (Associate Dean), and Anne Morrow at Marriott Library, and to the University of Utah for their willingness to guide us to completion of our digital website and to make portions of our digital archives available to the wider public.