hours and location
The historical library is located on the top floor of EMU’s Hartzler Library. Hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – noon and 1 – 5 p.m. Noon hour available only by appointment. The Menno Simons Historical Library is closed whenever the Hartzler Library is closed.
Menno Simons Historical Library staff includes:
Lois Bowman (center), librarian, 432-4177
Cathy Baugh (right), library assistant, 432-4184
and Harold Huber, MSHL volunteer & archivist for Virginia Mennonite Conference.
links to resources
Sadie, the library catalog
Index to Vertical File Collection
Index to Selected Obituaries from the Daily News Record
Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, IN
Mennonite Library & Archives, Bethel, KS
Directory of Mennonite and Related Church Historians and Committees
Sample sound clips on file
Listen to a sample of the audio selections we have on file: two selections from a singing of Joseph Funk’s Harmonia Sacra and two from a recording of the cantata David the Shepherd Boy. Harmonia Sacra, which was recorded in 2003 at the old log Mauck Meeting House at Hamburg, Page County, Va. David the Shepherd Boy is an older recording, captured at EMHS in October 1969. Listen now…
The 2nd edition of Heatwole and Sutter Pottery by Stanley A. Kaufmann (2008, 47 pages) is now for sale in the historical library for $8.50 plus $4 shipping. Call 540-432-4177 for more information.
a valuable resource
One rare book that stands out in the library’s collection is a 16th-century Erasmus New Testament, especially significant because the text is in three languages: Latin, Greek and Latin Vulgate. Sprunger’s “Renaissance and Reformation” class studies the time period in which the New Testament was printed.
“The historical library is extremely important,” stresses Sprunger. Students have used the library to research topics ranging from the connection between South American Mennonites and the Nazis to the 18th-century Mennonite migration from Prussia to Russia. Community organizations also use the library frequently.
The exact number of books and materials in the library is unknown, “but it’s well over 40,000” says Librarian Lois Bowman.
Menno Simons Historical Library
The primary purpose of the Menno Simons Historical Library (MSHL) is to collect, preserve and make available for study and research the recorded history, doctrines, life, and arts of Anabaptist and Mennonite groups. The Library also collects materials on Shenandoah Valley history, culture and genealogy.
Policies: Materials housed in the historical library do not circulate. Please contact the staff, listed at right, to access materials after hours. The MSHL collection development policy (PDF) lays the ground work for materials acquired by the library.
What is the Menno Simons Historical Library?
“We at EMU talk about living in a global community, peace and our Anabaptist heritage, but somebody has to collect it so we know what we are talking about,” says Menno Simons Historical Library’s librarian Lois B. Bowman.
Bowman has been a part of the historical library for over 45 years. She began as a student assistant in the historical library, then after leaving for graduate school where she studied Germanic languages and literature, Bowman returned to EMU as professor of German in 1963 and continuing involvement in the library.
Eventually Bowman received a master’s degree from Catholic University in rare book librarianship, giving her the skills to care for the library’s collection of aging materials. She became librarian after Grace Showalter, librarian since the late 1950s, retired in 1990.
“Asking me to pick a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child,” exclaims Bowman.
The official mission of the Menno Simons Historical library is to, “collect, preserve and make available for study and research the recorded history, doctrines, life, and arts of Anabaptist and Mennonite groups.”
The library goes beyond just Anabaptist history as well, collecting materials on Shenandoah Valley history and genealogy.
Humble beginnings in 1926
It began taking shape in 1926 when faculty member Ernest G. Gehman started acquiring books on Mennonite/Anabaptist history. The historical library’s most influential benefactor, Irvin B. Horst, began adding to the library’s collection in the mid-1940s.
Horst, EMU professor of church history, collected books dealing with Anabaptist/Mennonite heritage and local Shenandoah Valley history. In 1967 Horst moved to the Netherlands to become professor of Mennonite history at the University of Amsterdam. He continued his searching and collected books for the historical library on the European market.
According to Bowman, because of Horst’s collecting during his time in the Netherlands, the historical library’s area of particular strength is its collection of books and related materials dealing with the Anabaptist movement in the Netherlands.
“We are fortunate that Irvin collected so many books when it was still possible,” said Bowman explaining that the rising cost of collecting rare books has prohibited the library’s ability to add to its collection as much in recent years.
As the collection grew it moved to several different locations on campus, including the “Crow’s Nest” in the former Administration building and several classrooms. In 1971 the library was moved to its current home on the third floor of the Hartzler Library.
“When the library was built we were full, when we moved in we were full, and we’ve been getting fuller ever since,” exclaimed Bowman from her office, where every available space seems to be crammed with books.
Tens of thousands of books available, some very rare
The exact number of books and materials in the library is unknown, “but it’s well over 40,000” says Bowman.
One rare book that stands out in the library’s collection is a 16th-century Erasmus New Testament, both for its age and rarity, but also because of an unfortunate nine-year absence from the library beginning in 1996.
The Erasmus New Testament was sent for restoration to a Holmes County bookbinder who had done successful work for the library previously. After two years, the book still had not been returned and the library staff began attempting to contact the bookbinder.
By this time the bookbinder had moved several times around the country, and in 2004 Bowman received word that the bookbinder was in jail in California, charged with selling books that were not his own.
“When I heard that my heart just fell,” said Bowman.
The case broke in 2005 when Bowman received an email from a man saying he might know something about the rare New Testament. Bowman contacted him immediately and learned that the bookbinder had sold the book to him for $8,500.
The man agreed to return the book, and after a nine-year absence, the Erasmus New Testament was returned to the library where it is now on display.
On display for all to see, including EMU history professor Mary Sprunger’s Renaissance and Reformation class, which studies the time period in which the New Testament was printed. The New Testament is especially significant because the text is in three languages: Latin, Greek and Latin Vulgate.
Sprunger uses the library both as a teaching tool and for her own research. While recognizing EMU’s budget restrictions, Sprunger believes strongly in the value of the historical library.
Many of Sprunger’s students in Seminar in History, a capstone history course that requires students to conduct original research on a historical topic and present it in a twenty-page research paper, use the library.
Valuable resource to students
Especially for students choosing Mennonite/Anabaptist topics, the historical library has proved to be a valuable resource. Students have used the library to research topics ranging from the connection between South American Mennonites and the Nazis to the 18th-century Mennonite migration from Prussia to Russia.
“The historical library is extremely important,” stresses Sprunger. “It provides a valuable community service by helping the university develop good relationships with the public.”
One community organization that utilizes the historical library is the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society.
“Over the years, the EMU Historical Library has had a mission to collect all the local history possible, from books, to articles, to genealogy,” said president of the historical society Dale MacAllister. “To me, the Historical Library is an essential source for anyone interested in local history and genealogy."
(The library also has sound clips on file. Listen to a sample of the audio selections on file, like a recording of the cantata David the Shepherd Boy. Harmonia Sacra, captured in 2003 at the old log Mauck Meeting House at Hamburg, Page County, Va.)
MacAllister himself has spent considerable time researching Singers Glen’s hymn book publisher and printer Joseph Funk, claiming, “I have long considered EMU as the best archives for information related to this topic. They certainly have one of the most outstanding collections of early hymn books in the nation.”
The Menno Simons Historical Library is open Monday through Friday 9 am – noon & 1 – 5 pm. Noon hour by appointment.
By Dan Landes, EMU class of 2009