October 20, 1978
Southern Seminary Audio Visual Archives
Sherwood: This is the Leo T. Crismon tape, and this is Tom Sherwood who is interviewing Dr. Leo T. Crismon, retired librarian of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This interview is taking place in room 303 on the 20th of October, 1978. It is a project for the history A611, Oral History; a class I am taking at the University of Louisville. This interview is to be deposited in the archives collection of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Crismon, first for a little background information about yourself. When and where were you born?
Crismon: I was born in the central part of Missouri, Miller County. It's about 125 miles west of St. Louis, and I was born on the 24thday of February, 1906.
Sherwood: What did your parents do for a living?
Crismon: My father was a farmer during most of his life. He spent some of his later years serving in the post office at Jefferson City, Missouri as an employee and also as a guard at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Sherwood: What is your educational background?
Crismon: Well, I started out without a very good foundation. You see, I never had any eighth grade work. I had some seventh grade work, but then went to an academy maintained by the Congregational Church of St. Louis, which was located in Iberia, Missouri. My mother had attended that school in the late 1890s, so I was taken in there on a trial basis and completed one year of work there. Then, I was out of school for about five years. Then attended high school at Elvin, Missouri and at Jefferson City, Missouri in 1927, and I was at William Jewell College from the fall of 1927 to the summer of 1930, staying there only three years and one summer. Then I came to the seminary in September of 1930, and was a student here from September of 1930 to April of 1935.
Sherwood: Did you finish college in three years?
Crismon:Not exactly. I did some correspondence work with the University of Kansas after I came here as a student during, say, the first two terms of the 1930-'31 session of seminary.
Sherwood: You are a graduate then of?
Crismon: A graduate of William Jewell College. That's right, with an A. B. degree.
Sherwood: One of my questions is what caused you, what was the background that caused you to be interested in coming to Southern Seminary?
Crismon: Well, I became interested in the ministry after I left Elvin, Missouri, say during the last year of my high school work at Jefferson City, Missouri. My sister and I were members of the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, and the pastor of the church, Dr. Paul Webber, Senior, he was very much interested in me and directed my interests to the work of the ministry. So that, by the time I went to William Joe I had pretty much confirmed the fact that I wanted to be a preacher, so to speak, and then after I got there I learned something about this seminary. A.T. Robertson came to William Jewell College, and I guess, in the fall of 1929 I met him. By the time I had become interested in the language, especially the Greek New Testament, and I'd decided to come here a year or more before I'd finished William Jewell College.
Sherwood: Dr. A.T. Robertson was the Greek Scholar.
Crismon: The Greek scholar. Professor of New Testament interpretation here at the seminary.
Sherwood: What took place that you got into library work?
Crismon: [laughs] That was rather accidental as far as I'm concerned. When I graduated from the seminary in April of 1935, I had tried to get located, tried several places, but I was primarily interested at that time in teaching, but you know those days in the depression every man who had a position in a college teaching held onto it whether he liked to teach or not. [laughs] So there wasn't much opportunity there. I had an opportunity to go back to Missouri. Dr. Edward Godbold was the state secretary at that time, and Dr. Paul Webber was interested in getting me located in Missouri, so I had an opportunity to go to the Glasgow Baptist Church. It's on the Missouri River, about 100 miles east of Kansas City. So I went there in May of 1935 and stayed there for a little more than two years. I was looking in correspondence in the library just today and I found a letter that Dr. Sampey wrote me dated June 6, 1937 where he invited me to come back to the seminary as a kind of an understudy at the library to work with Dr. Thomas A. Johnson, who had been in the library since 1917. So that took me by surprise, but it was so near the teaching area which I had been interested for for so long that it didn't take me long to make the decision to come back here. I thought very highly of the seminary, of course, also.
Sherwood: You mentioned a Godbold? Spell his name.
Crismon: Dr. Edward Godbold, G-o-d-b-o-l-d. He was later president of Louisiana College at Pineville, Louisiana.
Sherwood: You mentioned Paul Webber.
Crismon: Dr. Paul Webber. He's not a graduate of this seminary. He was born in Switzerland but grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and trained at William Jewell College. Then went down to Andover Newton Seminary, then came back to Missouri. He was pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Missouri when I was delving into school and when I went on to Jefferson City.
Sherwood: Now his last name is spelled?
Crismon: W-e-b-b-e-r, Paul Webber.
Sherwood: What were the dates of you being a librarian at Southern Seminary?
Crismon: I came here the first of August, nineteen-hundred and thirty-seven, and had position title Assistant Librarian. I remained in that position from August 1, 1937 until June 30, 1941. And then they stepped me up to Associate Librarian July 1, 1941 until April 19, 1949. Then on that date I became acting Librarian until March 13, 1951. On that date I became Librarian. If you don't recognize the dates, that was after Dr. Fuller's death and while Dr. Gaines S. Dobbins was serving as interim President. He stepped me up to the position of Librarian. I remained in that position until I retired July 31, 1971.
Sherwood: You mentioned under Dr. Dobbins being made Librarian. Who were all the presidents under whom you have worked at the seminary?
Crismon: I never knew Dr. Mullins. I had heard of Dr. Mullins, of course, but he died in November of 1928 before I came here. I had never had the opportunity to see him or meet him at a convention or any gathering of that sort, so I just never knew him. But as I say, Dr. A.T. Robertson came to the William Jewell College. I met him. I had not met Dr. Sampey, and did not know him until I came here. I served under Dr. Sampey from 1937 until his death in 1942. Then I served under Dr. Fuller as president from 1942 until October of 1950 when he died. Then under Dr. Dobbins, of course, for about a year. Then under Dr. McCall from 1952 to 1971.
Sherwood: Mainly for the record, those presidents' names were John R. Sampey...
Crismon: John R. Sampey, Ellis A. Fuller, Gaines S. Dobbins, and Dr. Duke K. McCall.
Sherwood: One of the interesting thing I noticed in your comments, was the fact of being assistant librarian, associate librarian, acting librarian. Were these faculty positions or were they staff positions, or do you know what they were?
Crismon: [laughs] Its hard to define them. They're certainly not faculty positions until I became Librarian in 1951, but then I wasn't named a member of the faculty until a few years after Dr. McCall came as president. I was made faculty member in May of 1956. It was no more than just a staff position during those early years in the library.
Sherwood: I know you gave a faculty address in 1960 in which you gave something of the history of the seminary.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood: For this interview, would you mind reviewing briefly some of that? I've looked through your faculty address briefly and I'll just mention a few things. You may want to speak more on others. The seminary opened in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina. Did it start off with a library or not?
Crismon: Yes, it started off with a library of about two-thousand volumes which had come from the theological department of Furman University.
Sherwood: Was that donated?
Crismon: That was donated to the seminary.
Sherwood: When the seminary moved...well, do you have any idea of the library facility size in Greenville? Was there a separate room for it? Was it one side of one room? Do you have any information on that?
Crismon: We do not have any exact information about that. The seminary during those years, from 1859 to 1877 was located in the building of the First Baptist Church at Greenville, which had been erected in 1826, but had been abandoned by the church congregation in 1857 when they erected a new building. So when the seminary then started in 1859 that building was taken over by the seminary. Dr. Broadus makes reference to it in some of his writings and then I have had to estimate the building, perhaps measured about twenty-eight feet by forty feet, and Broadus said it was divided by partitions into two lecture rooms and a library. Then in it he stated that there were two-thousand volumes in the library at the beginning, which had come from the theological portion of Furman University. By the time the seminary moved away from there in 1877 the collection had grown to about seven-thousand volumes. That had included a very valuable and historical collection which had come from Columbia University at Washington, DC. Not a very large collection, only about two-hundred volumes, but a great many of those can still be identified here in this library.
Sherwood: Do you have any information, as you have looked up things in the past, of the actual moving of the library from Greenville to Louisville, Kentucky? In other words, do you have any idea what it came by? I assume it came by train. Have you ever seen anything on that?
Crismon: I do not have anything recorded here in regard to it. But it seems, my recollection is that things, items belonging to the seminary were shipped here by train, at that time, being packed in boxes. I believe that I have read that, but I can't locate it at the present time.
Sherwood: Was there much study space for the students in the library?
Crismon: At Greenville, no. I'm only estimating. The student body at that time ranged from about seven students at the beginning until about sixty-eight when they left there, so they would have had to have seating for only maybe ten to twelve students to accommodate them in the library. That was a minor factor in connection with the space allotted to the library there.
Sherwood: When the seminary moved to Louisville in 1877, where was the library located?
Crismon: Downtown on Fourth Street, there was a building called the Public Library Hall or Polytechnic Building, which later, when I came to Louisville in 1930 was called Kaufman-Strauss Building, and then later Arroway placed a store in there for a little while. I do not know how the building is designated at the present time, but the building is still standing on Fourth Street just north of the Starks building, just two or three buildings removed from the Starks building, east side of Fourth Street.
Sherwood: The whole seminary, I think, was located in that building.
Crismon: That's right. The classrooms, the library, and what offices were necessary were located in that building.
Sherwood: Was there any relationship with the Louisville Free Public Library that you know of?
Sherwood: Or was there such thing as the Louisville Free Public Library?
Crismon: Not at that time. It was this Polytechnic Society that maintained the library during all those years. But the Louisville Free Public Library was not organized until about 1902, I believe it was. At that time, after it was organized, there was, well not immediately, but say from long in the 1920s in the seminary catalog references were made to the fact that the seminary was located close to the Louisville Free Public Library and that students were welcome to use any materials in Louisville Free Public Library. Those statements remained there until the seminary moved out here in 1926.
Sherwood:The seminary, I know was located at 5thand Broadway before it moved to the present location. There were several buildings at that time. One of them happened to be New York Hall. Was that a classroom building or a dormitory or...?
Crismon: Yeah. New York Hall was the first one that was erected downtown. It was on the east side of 5thStreet just south of Broadway. During its early years it had served for the library. The library was, I think, located on the fourth floor. Then the classrooms were there and the offices were there also. Until Norton Hall was erected a little bit later-- I'm having difficulty locating these dates right off here--but Norton Hall is described as being on the south side of Broadway between 4thand 5th. See, from the time I remember Louisville, Warren Memorial Presbyterian Church stood at the corner of 4thand Broadway. Then there was a little space in there just west of Warren Memorial. Then Norton Hall was placed in there. Then there was a space, a kind of an empty space, along the south side of Broadway, just a little longer than the width of New York Hall which ran north and south along the east side of 5thStreet so that when that second building was completed, Norton Hall, the library remained there. And a little later in 1891 a special library building was erected at the corner of 5thand Broadway--west of 5thStreet, south of Broadway. I never did see that building. That had been torn down when I came here. It is where the Bank of Louisville stands at present time.
Sherwood: In other words it was across the street from...
Crismon:Across 5th Street from New York Hall. That building was erected and dedicated in May of 1891.
Sherwood: So that was the first time that the library had a building of its own?
Crismon: That's right. That was the first library building
Sherwood: Do you have any idea of its size?
Crismon: No. There are pictures of that building, but no architect's drawings can be found anywhere and no layout of the inside of the building. So I have estimated that the building must have been about, extended about forty feet along the south side of Broadway, and perhaps thirty to thirty five along the west side of 5thStreet. There were two stories and a basement in addition.
Sherwood: At that time, I assume, there was much more reading room for the students.
Crismon: Yes. Yes. I'm sure that there was, though, as I say, we do not have any layout of it.
Sherwood: Do you have any idea about the number of volumes it had grown to at that time?
Crismon: Yes. By the time they came out here, the library collection had grown to about thirty-five thousand volumes, so I suppose that there were somewhere around twenty thousand volumes when they moved into that library downtown, and they had grown to about thirty-five thousand volumes when they moved out here.
Sherwood: For the sake of this interview, when you say moved out here, you are referring to the campus at 2825 Lexington Road.
Crismon: I'm referring to 2825 Lexington Road or the beeches, as it was often referred to, in the earlier accounts.
Sherwood: Do you have any idea about the system used for shelving back in those days? The Dewey Decimal system?
Crismon: Yes, we do. The library was in Greenville, SC, and when it moved from there here, they had only a system whereby they were placed in the shelves and then the shelves were designated in numbers, and then the books were numbered by cabinets, I mean. Say there were eight or ten cabinets and say five or six shelves on each cabinet. Well the cabinet had a number and each shelf had a number, and each book had a number as it stood on the shelf. Now there is a manuscript catalog still in the collection here which shows how those books were designated on the shelves.
Sherwood: You mentioned cabinets and shelves. This makes me think that there must have been glass encased cabinets rather than open shelves the way we now have.
Crismon: Yes, that is true, and I think that there are four of those which are still in existence and are still here in this building. I believe that there are in the small rooms at the south end of this third floor of the library, there are cabinets there with adjustable shelves and they have had glass doors on them in the past. So that I'm sure that they came out of the library.
Sherwood: I know you've done research in this, and one thing I wonder is have you found anything in your records of any problems back in those days of students taking books unauthorized from the library or mutilating books or anything of that nature?
Crismon: Yes. Dr. A.T. Johnson, my predecessor kept rather extensive notes in the little notebooks that he had, and there are records going back, certainly as early as 1917, when he came to the library, giving a lot of the details in regard to how books were missing from time to time and even naming persons who were involved in such methods of dealing with the books, and I think if I remember correctly, referenced are made to that also in the faculty minutes. I had occasion within the past few months to go back over the faculty minutes in the 1910s and earlier than that, and I remember a few places where the faculty had to deal with students who had violated the regulations of the library.
Sherwood: You didn't happen to see what kind of penalties had been attached to some of those.
Crismon: No, I do not remember that. Now while I see a record here that I was looking for. You asked me how they were cataloged or arranged on the shelves. The method which I indicated was used in Greenville and during the early years here. Dr. Sampey says in his memoirs that in 1890, when he was responsible for the library, that he introduced the Dewey Decimal classification system to the library, and that he with the help of some of the student assistants cataloged the books according to the Dewey Decimal classification, and that system has been used up to the present time. We have considered going to other systems a time or two, but we concluded that no system is perfect; no system is complete. They all have their faults, and we considered this had about as few faults as any others.
Sherwood: You refer to a Dr. Johnson, your predecessor. Do you know whether the seminary had fulltime librarians before yourself?
Crismon:Dr. Thomas A. Johnson was the first fulltime librarian. I have checked on the record and found the names of men who came into the situation as students, and then worked part-time--studied part of the time and worked in the library part of the time--long before Dr. Thomas A. Johnson came in 1932 under Dr. Sampey. Dr. Sampey was called librarian but he didn't do the work of the library. He used students so there was one student by...[end of side one, cassette9]
...I worked with him until his death on November the ninth, 1939, a little more than two years. Then I was on my own as far as directing the work of the library.
Sherwood: The seminary moved to the present campus in those days called "the beeches" presently located at 2825 Lexington Road. When the seminary moved here where was the library located?
Crismon: When seminary came out here in 1926, a specially constructed library facilities had been erected at the extreme west end of Norton Hall, the area which is called Broadus Hall at the present time. Then the arena type of auditorium there, with the post office and the bookstore beneath it. That was the stack area there. There were three levels of stacks in that area, and the offices were in the area between the long Broadus Hall and the area which is the arena at the present time.
Sherwood: Did students have access to the stacks area?
Crismon: It was a closed stack operation when I came here. It was erected with that in view. We opened up the stacks before we moved out of that building in nineteen and fifty-nine.
Sherwood: Now you referred to moving out of that building, Norton Hall in 1959. What happened in 1959?
Crismon: In 1959, in November this building, which is called the James P. Boyce Centennial Library had been erected, and we moved over here at that time.
Sherwood: Why is it called Boyce Centennial Library?
Crismon: As you indicated a while ago, the seminary was organized in 1859. A drive to collect funds for the building of a new library was begun in the middle 1950s. The planning was done in the later 1950s. The building construction was begun in 1958, and completed in '59. That made it a centennial project, and they named it for James P. Boyce. That gave us a little added publicity, an incentive in the fund drive for completing the building.
Sherwood: I noticed in your inaugural address introductory remarks you refer to many libraries named after donors. There lies individual's libraries. I was wondering if that was any relationship with the Boyce Centennial Library, but apparently that's not the case.
Crismon: Of course Boyce gave a lot of books to the library. He had built up a personal library to the extent of about 10, 000 volumes when he died late in 1888. That collection was divided in two: the more secular books in one collection and the theological books in the other. So 5,000 volumes came into the seminary library. Of course that was while it was still in New York Hall downtown. That was one of the incentives, of course, in naming it for Boyce, and then also the fact that he had been the first president of the seminary.
Sherwood: Who approved the plans or who designed the plans for the present library building?
Crismon: In 1950, before the death of Dr. Fuller, some of us--members of the faculty with myself--had visited other libraries, looking toward building a separate library building. At the death of Dr. Fuller, of course, that planning stage stopped. Then about 1957, Dr. McCall became interested in the planning, and we visited several libraries. We went to Atlanta, Georgia and looked at Georgia Tech library. We were at Albany, Georgia and looked at the University of Georgia library. And then we were all sent to Florida State University, Tallahassee. That was a library building that impressed us more than any of the others. We'd also seen others, members of the faculty who were involved knew of others. We were so interested in that, that we had a man by the name of Kilpatrick, I believe was his name, who was librarian there at the present time to come up here and to help us in designing a library. Of course this is not nearly so large a library as that is. I was very much interested to hear this past summer when Andy Rawls had been studying at Florida State University in his work in audiovisuals and so forth, when he came back here he said to me, "I get the impression that this library is very much like Florida State University library." [laughs] I told him he was right; that served as a pattern for the planning of this library and that the librarian there helped us in the planning.
Sherwood: Do you know if the plans of the library as they were executed and this library was built provides for expansion either up or backwards? To the back or any direction?
Crismon: Yes. There were very definite provisions made for that. As I indicated that we were patterning after the pattern of Florida State University, much bigger than this. We saw something of the possibilities for a much larger library with practically the same number of stairwells, the elevators in the same location, and so forth. So, we made provision so that we could build onto the back of this building forty feet out. That would be two modules wide. See these modules are twenty-five feet long and twenty feet wide, so that we could go back forty feet. All of the utilities serving the building were installed back beyond that forty foot limit, so that there's only parking area there. All that would have to be destroyed would be parking area. None of the utilities would have to be moved, so that by building proper foundations, four levels could be placed back there--one-hundred seventy-five feet long, forty feet wide--which would be a tremendous increase over the space in this library.
Sherwood: Do you think this library has proved adequate or at least relatively adequate since it's been built?
Crismon: Yes, I think so. The greater problem has been the other areas of the seminary work which have been planned and placed into the library. Gheen's Lecture Hall, of course, was planned in there so it could hardly be changed. The museum has come in and been pressing for more and more space all along. The music library came in, of course, in the planning but late, so that has been planned all along. So that there have been a few things that have come in that way which have taken up space. We've had to be very careful, to very diligent to see that those things don't get out of hand. But generally, the library areas and facilities have served the purpose for which they were planned. One further statement also in regard to the building. The buildings here on the seminary campus at the present time are just a little more that fifty years old. I had in mind when I was planning this library, and I do not want to take away from Dr. McCall--his interest in the building and perhaps that as many of his ideas went into the building as there were mine--my idea was that this building was planned to be used for a hundred years and after we've been in it here now for almost thirty years, I see no deterioration any where that would indicate that the building is not going to last for a century or longer.
Sherwood: Do you recall...of course I could ask you how many volumes were in the library when you moved from downtown to this campus and how it had increased from then until the time it moved into its present building, and you might want to just mention that.
Crismon: There were 35,000 volumes that were moved from downtown out here to the west end of Norton Hall. Then when we got ready to move out of the Norton Hall area over here, I cannot see that figure before me right at the present time. By that time we had gotten into a kind of a contest, a kind of a conflict as to how you number and what you number with individual numbers and so forth. So that Southwestern Seminary was claiming a library of way over 150,000 volumes and so forth, and in competition with them we were padding our figures to some extent. It's hard to determine that, but I would say in the area, a good solid count of bound books and periodicals, we were somewhere in the general neighborhood of 100,000 volumes. Now that wouldn't be counting individual minutes of district associations or individual scores of music numbers and things like that which could be used to run the count up to 200,000 volumes or something like that.
Sherwood: You indicated a contest type of counting of volumes with Southwestern. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is located in Fort Worth, Texas. It's one of the other Southern Baptist seminaries. I mention this for the sake of the interview. I gather there must be among librarians some question as to how you count volumes.
Crismon: That is true. Librarians in their organizations have tried to set out standards for what is a volume, what is a pamphlet and so forth. Southwestern Seminary got their count way beyond any reasonable number. For instance, there for a while, they were publishing as their total number of volumes that far exceeded the total number of volumes at Union Theological Seminary Library in New York City. Well in the 1950's, the 1960s, everybody knew that Union Theological Seminary had to have a far better library than Southwestern Seminary had. They were claiming that and at one time claiming to be the largest theological seminary library in the world. They may be still claiming that. I don't know. [laughs]
Sherwood: Do you recall the actual mechanics involved in moving the library volumes from Norton Hall to present Boyce Centennial Library? How was that done?
Crismon: Yes. We considered several different methods. For instance, putting them all in the large boxes and hauling them over by trucks to the back door, basement door, and bring them up on the elevator. Then at one time we considered a kind of a conveyor belt from the north end of the stack area over at the Norton Hall Library into the second floor here in this library. But we finally decided that by packing periodicals and things of that nature, that these other methods would take so long that the students would be deprived of the use of the basic books of the library over too long a period of time. So we decided then, that we would use the students, as many of them who would volunteer and that we would start with the zeroes and then go to the one hundreds and the two-hundreds in the Dewey decimal classifications, taking them out of the old library building, carry them over here in the main door and onto the main floor and then some of us who were acquainted with the library materials would direct to where they would be placed on the shelves. So that it deprived the students of the use of the books for a brief period. I believe it was all done in about two days. Maybe it didn't take all of two days to get them over here.
Sherwood: So students brought them from the Norton Hall library facility over to this one.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood: And went directly from one shelf to the other shelf.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood:Changing the subject somewhat. Can you tell us something about the financial backing or funding of the library as you recall it?
Crismon: You mean the building, the erection of the building?
Sherwood: I'm talking about the general operation of the library. In other words, you said the building of this building was by solicitation. I'm thinking about the year in and year out funding of the facility. Is it built into the regular budget? Or is it....?
Crismon: That is true. I have some interesting notes here about the early years when not very much money was extended for the library. I read here just brief note from Dr. James P. Boyce in June of 1884 to Dr. Broadus. Boyce was in New York raising money and he wrote to Dr. Broadus:
I intended to warn you lest you should purchase any books for the library this summer. I am anxious to cut down seminary expenses.
So there seems to have been at least one very extensive period when no funds whatever were extended for the library. Yes, there was a budget. I really didn't have anything to do with that for even long after the death of Dr. Thomas A. Johnson. I indicated, or I don't know whether I did or not, that Dr. Hersey Davis called himself librarian of the seminary. That was the reason why I was called assistant librarian up until '41 and associate librarian until '49 and acting librarian until '51 because Davis held onto that position as librarian of the seminary. Well he also controlled...
Sherwood: You said Dr. Davis. Is that Dr. Hersey Davis?
Crismon: Dr. W. Hersey Davis. That is right.
Sherwood: He was a faculty member.
Crismon: He was a faculty member.
Sherwood: and he held the title of librarian.
Crismon: He held the title of librarian. So that he then had gotten involved with the making of the budget, and I really didn't have anything to do with the budget until, well certainly until way up into the 1940s. I don't remember definitely that I did under Dr. Fuller's administration or not. I guess I did later. But we operated on the budget there for many, many years of only about $2500 a year for the purchase of materials.
Sherwood: I can recall some years back when there was an emphasis on allowing more budget to go to the library, facilities and purchase of books, and etc.
Crismon: That was when we got in trouble with the accrediting agency of the American Association of Theological Schools, and we were spending a lot of money there for books and periodicals in order to erase a notation which the accrediting agency had placed against us.
Sherwood: What kind of notation was it?
Crismon: All the information I've ever got in regard to it was that we had an inadequate library. That never satisfied me because I was persuaded all that time if they had gone to Southwestern Seminary and had examined that collection, they could have said that that library was an inadequate library. So there are reasons that I better not get involved in right here [laughs] which I would use to explain that. [laughs]
Sherwood: Has there always been a, well you referred to a faculty member as a librarian, so I'm assuming that part of the time the librarian's job was a part time job rather than a full time job.
Crismon: Yes, but see, even after Thomas A. Johnson came in as full time librarian in 1916, he was called Assistant Librarian until 1929. That was after Mullins had died, after Sampey had become president. Then Davis had been brought in in the relationship that Sampey had retained so long in relation to the library. So then a little later in 1929, about that time, Dr. Johnson was called librarian. For ten years he was called librarian. At that time Dr. Davis was called Chief Librarian.
Sherwood: To whom did the library, Dr. Johnson for instance and yourself, report to in the organizational type structure? Was it to the president or was it to some faculty members?
Crismon: It was always Dr. W.H. Davis. He was over Dr. Johnson; Dr. Johnson reported to him. Then when Sampey came in as President, and after Dr. Johnson died, Dr. Sampey began to edge Dr. Davis out and he dealt with, I know, with Dr. Johnson directly a lot. Then he dealt with me directly a lot. And Dr. Davis didn't like that arrangement too well. [laughs]
Sherwood: In other words, was that sometimes a problem?
Crismon: Yes. Oh, yes. It was sometimes a problem. That is true. Really I never got along very well with Dr. Davis. I was a student under him from 1930 to 1935. Then when I entered into the doctoral program under Dr. A.T. Robertson, Robertson died before I finished my work and I finished under Dr. Davis. I didn't like too well the way Davis had dealt with me. So relationships are very unpleasant, especially after Dr. Fuller came in 1942.
Sherwood:After Dr. Fuller came in 1942, structurally who did the librarian, yourself, report to?
Crismon: I still reported to Dr. Davis, except when Fuller would step in and bypass Davis and deal directly with me. Not too happy of a situation. [laughs] Even there.
Sherwood: Dr. Fuller died in 1950.
Crismon: 1950. September of 1950.
Sherwood: But Dr. Davis had left here before 1950.
Crismon: Yes. Dr. Davis left, I believe, in '49, about a year before that. So he'd had to give up...well my notes here indicate that in 1949 I was made acting librarian. Well Fuller wasn't willing to go all the way and call me Librarian. Dr. Davis wasn't on the scene you see, but still I didn't get to be called Librarian until Dobbins came in in 1951 as acting president. That's after the death of Dr. Fuller.
Sherwood: Then you reported to Dr. Dobbins as acting President.
Crismon: Yes. There was the library committee, but it was an advisory. Some of the committees later on were not too much advisory. They stepped in and assumed the authoritarian role, but I reported directly to Dr. Dobbins.
[Archived Cassette 10]
Sherwood:This is a continuation of the Leo T. Crismon tapes in connection with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library. This is on the 24th of October, 1978.
When Dr. McCall became President, did you report to him or did you still report to a faculty committee?
Crismon: I don't have that material before me at the present time, and haven't reviewed it. As I recollect, since I'd been reporting to Dr. Dobbins, when McCall came as President, I was reporting directly to Dr. McCall. There was a library committee, but that committee was only advisory at that time.
Sherwood: That continued until your retirement?
Crismon: No. When the structure was reorganized at the seminary--and I have difficulty here; I'm not sure whether it was with the organization of the seminary into three schools, or just when it was. I began to report to Dr. Peterson, but I think maybe that was later. I believe that in the 1957-1958, during the period of controversy, I was still reporting to Dr. McCall in regard to library matters.
Sherwood: The seminary organized into three schools, you mentioned. That was in 1953, I have.
Crismon: 1953, yeah.
Sherwood: You referred to Dr. Peterson. That's Dr. Hugh R. Peterson.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood: He was what in the seminary?
Crismon: He became Academic Dean at the time, I believe, of the reorganization, but I can't recall exactly when the library was placed under his supervision.
Sherwood: We could probably go on with that some more, but at this time....What about the emerging of professionalism in the library? Has there been such a thing?
Crismon: You mean the requirement that the librarian be professional and receive training and such as that in order to be prepared for his work?
Sherwood: I assume that's what I mean because I hear comments in different areas about professionalism in different places.
Crismon: Yes. I came to the library in 1937 without any training whatsoever in library work. I remember when I came, Dr. Davis telling me that no two libraries are alike; no two libraries are operated alike. We brought you in here to learn this library and to operate this library. So he had no thought at that time of my taking any time out to study library science or get a degree in library science. But a little later they began to think of it differently and I became interested in it also. So that in 1945, while the war was still going on, I went to New York City and studied during the summer session in the school of library science at Columbia University and then came on back--and had the thought or hope of going back and finishing it, to get a degree in library science. As I indicated, Dr. Fuller was President at that time, and he had indicated that I would go on during that summer of 1945, but then by the time 1946 came around he had changed his view for some reason or other. He indicated that a lot of work here in the library that needed to be done, and he didn't see any use in my going back to Columbia University to complete that work in library science.
Sherwood: I know present librarians all have degrees, I think, in library science in addition to their other work. Do you think you had anything to do with that?
Crismon: Well, yes. Yes, I do. Because I did eventually go back and complete that work. Dr. Dobbins was progressive in those things, but he was here such a short period. Though I advised with him from time to time, he was here as president for such a short period of time. I advised with him in the matter and he suggested my following through on the opportunity that I had. In 1955 after McCall would come in as President, and more and more librarians were receiving degrees and there was more and more emphasis on qualifications for librarians. So he indicated then that I should make an effort to go back and complete the degrees. In January of 1955, my wife and I went to New York City. I attended the school of library service from January to May in a spring semester. Then she came on back here and I was back for a while. Then in the summer of 1955 I went back again and worked, and then in the summer of 1956. So I finished the required studies for a degree in library science and got my degree in October of 1956.
Sherwood: Do you think that helped in upgrading your relationship with the seminary and your status with the seminary as far as the faculty is concerned?
Crismon: I don't know whether it did or not. As I indicated, Dr. McCall had made me a faculty member in 1956 and--I'm not sure--maybe that had been part of the agreement to complete that work related to it. I don't recall, and I don't have any notes on that.
Sherwood: Somewhere I understood or have seen that the Southern Baptist Historical Commission was a part of our housed or something in the seminary library. Do you know anything about that?
Crismon: Yes. That is true. The historical interests of Southern Baptists were revived in the late 1930s; I believe 1939. And the Southern Baptist Historical Society was organized. Dr. W.O. Carver advanced at that time some in his years and leveling off somewhat within his teaching, and became extremely interested in the history of Southern Baptists. So he was, as I say, was a member of the Southern Baptist Historical Society and on the historical committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and looking toward the publication of a history of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was eventually written by Dr. W.W. Barnes. Dr. Carver had treated me very kindly from the time I came back to the library in 1937. He had been kind to me as a student, though I'm sure that I wasn't the kind of a student who always made good grades in his courses because his thinking was far beyond my ability to think in certain areas in which I was not trained either. But, I became interested then, also in Long Run Association work and Kentucky Baptist Convention work and Southern Baptist Convention history. Dr. Carver led then in making me the custodian for the collection, which was being built up of materials by the historical interests of the Southern Baptist Convention. That was housed in the basement of the west end of the library, Norton Hall.
Sherwood: Is it still housed in the seminary library?
Crismon: Yes. No. Part of it is. There was, well from back in the time of W.H. Whitsitt and W.J. McGlothlin, there had been historical interest at the library, especially in Kentucky Baptist materials. Materials were designated property of Kentucky Baptist Historical Society back in that day. That had been housed separately, and some of it had been cataloged along with the main library collection. So that, then, along with what had been built up for the Southern Baptist Historical Society, that was moved away from this library in--I'm having difficulty recalling the dates here--1953, I believe. It was after Dr. Norman W. Cox came as the secretary of the Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the collection then was moved to Nashville and was joined with the Dargan library of the Sunday School Board. And then they named this collection that went from here down there, the Carver Collection, so it was called the Dargan-Carver Library of the Sunday School Board and of the Southern Baptist Historical Commission. It was called at that time.
Sherwood: Dr. Carver, Dr. W.O. Carver was responsible for some of this.
Crismon: That is right. He was a leader. I guess the most active leader in it. Dr. Barnes was becoming aged at that time and was not working too energetically, even on his history. So as far as energetic leaders, Dr. Carver was at that time.
Sherwood: Back to the relationship, more specifically your relationship with Southern Seminary Library. Before you retired in 1971, did you have any successor or an assistant helping you, associate librarian or librarians?
Crismon: Yes. Dr. Ronald Deering came on to the library staff in 1953, I believe. Do you have that date or not?
Sherwood: I do not.
Crismon: 1953. 1963. As a staff member in the area of research, and he was then...One of the requirements when he came in was to complete the work for the degree of library science. He chose Columbia University, so he spent two periods of study. The last one, I believe, in 1964 or maybe '65. When he came back then, he was made Associate Librarian and worked in the library until I retired in 1971 when he became the librarian.
Sherwood: His last name is spelled?
Crismon: D-double e-r-i-n-g
Sherwood:There are some others in the library now. Did you get them started when you were still working?
Crismon: Yes. Nancy Robinson, of course, has been here since--I should've looked these up--I believe since 1953 or '54. She worked over in the old library for several years and then was with us when we moved over here. She has been catalog librarian, or head of the catalog department, now for several years. Ms. Elsie Miller has training, and she came in after I left. Dr. Paul Debusman came in. He was in the library. No, I believe he was not a member of the staff. He was working as a student. He helped me in getting the materials together for moving them over here in 1959. I remember he spent weeks and weeks boxing up and packing periodicals on the third floor in the stack room of the other library. Then he came on in the library as a staff member somewhere around '61 or '62, I believe; I can't recall that date exactly.
Sherwood: Do you know what was his title?
Crismon: He was--[laughs] well, I haven't reviewed these things. Research Librarian, I believe, for a while, or Periodicals Librarian. I just can't recall.
Sherwood: You referred earlier in the interview to Dr. Andy Rawls who is now at the seminary library with audiovisual aids.
Crismon: That is right.
Sherwood: Had that started before you retired?
Crismon: Yes. When this library was planned in '56 and '57 and '58, the audiovisuals was in the picture and we planned this audiovisuals area, which is as it stands at the present time, I believe it's going to be enlarged considerably. Or that is the work is going to be enlarged considerably. So, yes, we were making definite plans for that. I have a reference here in regard to the first microfilm that was bought by the seminary library. It was a microfilm of the minutes of the Mussel-Shoals Baptist Church down in south Kentucky in 1787 to 1874. We bought that in 1940, long before we had any reader or any provision for reading it at all, on the old perforated film.
Sherwood: So audiovisual aids have been a part of the library.
Crismon: Since that time, yes. That's right.
Sherwood: So when you started in the library you were Assistant and then Associate and then acting and then Librarian.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood: Whom did you have helping you in the early days? Students? Students' wives?
Crismon: During that period, there were all students and students' wives. The secretary, the--of course I did the cataloging until Nancy Robinson came--but the typing was done by the students' wives and the students took care of the desk, circulation, kept the library open at night, did the janitor work, and things of that nature. I, myself, had worked in the library as a student during my last year, during session 1934 and '35. I'm trying to avoid saying what my job was. [laughs] My job was really janitor. [laughs] But I learned a lot about the library. [laughs]
Sherwood: Starting off as janitor of the library during some of your student years, you wound up later to be called back to be Assistant Librarian and then eventually Librarian.
Crismon: That's right.
Sherwood: Do you have somewhat in conclusion--in a sense I'd like to carry on with this, but--any significant observations? Have you observed any significant changes in the relationship of the library to the other facets of the seminary life in your time as librarian?
Crismon: Well, yes. There have been some rather hard-fought battles that was to try to get a recognition of the place of the library in the seminary setup. For instance, I was told that the library did not rank with the three schools of the seminary, that I had no hope ever of being stepped up to a place where I would ever rank with the deans of the seminary. That's not won yet, I'm sure. But I hope the time will come when the place of the library and the librarian will be recognized. There are, and along with that of course, goes to the position, goes also to the matter of salary. If you've got a low position, you've got a low salary schedule. For instance, during the last few years of my tenure here, there were four men in the organization, not deans, but in the organization, who were here for a shorter period than I was and whose work I didn't consider any more important than mine to the life of the seminary, and who had never had any prescribed direction: Now you go take this particular course to prepare you for your work. But I was aware during the last few years that those men received, well $1000, $1500 a year more in salary than I was. It's a practical thing, not only just a matter of position, rank, so forth. That was one of the more disheartening things that I had to contend with.
Sherwood: Do you have any recollection, if you do, do you mind expressing what your salary was when you began?
Crismon: Oh, yes. I looked at the letter this afternoon from Dr. Sampey. Dr. Sampey, in that letter--June 6, 1937--when I was at Glasgow, Missouri. He would offer me $75 a month and the place to live, and he said that amounts to about $100 a month. Well, that was big money compared to what I was getting where I was at that time. So I lived in one of the brown houses on the side of the hill that slopes soft towards Grinstead Drive on the north side of Mullins Hall. We lived in that brown house for 22 years. So then the salary began to step up a little. After I moved away from there in 1959, of course, there was the--well, there was a time when say $100 a month or was it $50 a month that was figured in and then there was salary based otherwise--but then when I moved out in 1959 to my present home at 404 Pleasantview, the salary was stepped up, then, some more.
Sherwood: Do you think it kept up with inflation?
Crismon: Well, I guess so. But the value of the house. You see, I paid $16,500 for the house in 1959 and here almost 20 years later, the tax people evaluate the house at around $30,000. That means I have to pay more taxes on it. [laughs]
Sherwood: Somewhat in conclusion, do you think of any important events, stories, or something in your tenure as Librarian?
Crismon: [laughs] Well, the fact that I did get elected to the faculty and had the opportunity to sign the book with James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus. Now there's the fact that I did get to deliver a faculty address in March of 1960. That was a very great accomplishment from my point of view, coming from central Missouri and working here to rise to a point such as that.
Sherwood: You don't consider a librarian's work as being working with dry, dusty things, then?
Crismon: No. I do not. It has not proved that way with me. One thing I wanted to emphasize, what was my added interest. Dr. Carver was a very great influence to me. Dr. Carver, although he was very busy, would take time to go to the Louisville Baptist Pastors' Conferences every Monday morning because nobody else in seminary represented the seminary. I got interested and was going, and so at the time of Dr. Carver's death in 1954, before that time, I said to myself, "Now, I'm going to do what I can to represent the seminary along with the Louisville pastors at this conference." So I kept this up as long as the conference continued. Its dead at the present time. One time I was the President of Louisville Baptist Pastors' Conference, and it was a very strategic time. That was in 1957 when the controversy arose in regard to Dr. McCall's relationship with faculty members. And I remember at that time that a student at the seminary, and one of the pastors, tried to get a motion passed whereby the Louisville Baptist Pastors' Conference would condemn Dr. McCall and his role in the seminary. And I there had the opportunity to maneuver a little bit. I never--well I was on secondary groups, you know, and I never got to serve often as a presiding officer. We did steer to the point where they were not able to pass a resolution that would have been embarrassing to Dr. McCall. I think that was some contribution to the seminary and to him as a personal, in a personal relationship.
Sherwood: You refer to 1957 and a controversy, and I have no desire at this point to get into all of that. Could you in just a sentence or so express what the gist of the controversy was?
Crismon: Well, 13 members of the school of theology banded together and went to the trustees or stated to the trustees that they were all going to resign unless Duke McCall would/should be removed from his position as president of the seminary. I may be stating it a little too strong, but that's about the substance of it. They all followed through on it. Twelve of them, one of them did not follow through and he is on the faculty at the present time.
Sherwood: But the controversy did not kill the seminary.
Crismon: Well, no. It did not. Losing twelve members of the faculty. There were fewer faculty members there for a year of two, but the faculty was built up again rather quickly and the faculty is strong, was strong again within a few years.
Sherwood: I certainly appreciate this opportunity to talk with you, interview with you tonight, and I hope it has been pleasant for you. It has been pleasant for me.
Sherwood: There are some other things we could explore maybe sometime.
Crismon: Yeah. Thank you, Tom. I have steered to the point where I have not said anything that would be embarrassing to anybody that is on the faculty at present time or around at present time, or that would cause any controversy. As I have indicated, my unhappiness with a lot of things that developed, but I have not named any names. Of course, I could do that personally with anyone who wanted to know exactly what my relationships are and how I feel. [laughs]
Sherwood: I don't think that'd be necessary at this time.
Sherwood: Thank you very much.