Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas, USA)

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Mennonite Historical Library of Bethel College (or Mennonite Library and Archives), North Newton, Kansas, had its beginning at the turn of the century, when C. H. Wedel, the first president of Bethel College, engaged in Mennonite research, taught Mennonite history, collected materials, and published books along these lines. The C. H. Wedel Collection and the acquisitions for the college library in his days are evidence of this. Historical books and artifacts were kept in the Bethel College Museum located in the Science Hall. Various faculty members were in charge of this growing collection, which also contained Mennonitica. In 1932-1933 the Museum was reorganized by a committee headed by Abraham Warkentin. The Museum proper was now transferred to Alumni Hall, and the Mennonite books and documents of the Museum, together with those from the college library, became the nucleus of the 1950s Bethel College Historical Library. The cataloging of books was begun on 30 March 1937 by Mrs. P. S. Goertz, who continued this work for a number of years and devised a cataloging system for Mennonite libraries based on the Dewey Decimal Classification system. By 1 January 1940, 1,130 books had been cataloged. Warkentin served as director of the library from the reorganization until 1944, when Cornelius Krahn succeeded him. In 1933-1953 the Historical Library was housed in the basement of the Science Hall, in which a vault had been established. During the summer of 1953 the Historical Library was moved to its 1950s location, the basement floor of the new college library building. Some of the rooms were furnished by friends of the library in memory of their relatives. John and Linda Warkentin furnished the director's room in memory of Abraham Warkentin; Mrs. Elva Leisy furnished the office in memory of her father, H. P. Krehbiel; Cornelius J. and Aaron J. Claassen established the Cornelius Jansen Collection and furnished the vault, etc.

The new rooms housed the following major divisions of the Mennonite Historical Library: books, periodicals, archives, photographs, charts, microfilms, slides, works of art, special collections, and Mennonite Life.

  1. In the book division it was aimed to collect books and pamphlets dealing with any phase of Anabaptist-Mennonite history. The number of cataloged books in 1955 was over 10,000, exclusive of reference books, periodicals, annual publications, etc. The 16th- and 17th-century items were kept in the vault of the library.
  2. In the periodical division all official Mennonite papers, some Mennonite community papers, conference reports, school publications, church bulletins and yearbooks were kept on display for a year, then bound. Some 200 current periodicals were received in the 1950s.
  3. The archives contained church records, diaries, special collections—some of which were special memorial units, such as the Rodolphe Petter Collection, A. A. Friesen Collection, J. H. Janzen Collection, and Cornelius Jansen Collection (see Archives). A large special fireproof vault housed this material.
  4. Several thousand photographs and slides dealing with various phases of the Mennonites covering a period of centuries were being cataloged. Over 2,000 cuts used in Mennonite Life were cataloged and filed. Slides on Mennonites and church history were made available for classes, lectures in churches, etc.
  5. Microfilms were kept in a special room with a microfilm reader. The collection contained over 100,000 exposures in 1955, owned by the college and the General Conference Historical Committee. Many documents pertaining to the Mennonites of America have been microfilmed, but the greater portion consisted of European Anabaptist sources. Most important among them were the Archives of the Mennonite Church of Amsterdam, the largest collection of this kind, which had been completely microfilmed.
  6. The Mennonite Art Collection contained original etchings and paintings by Rembrandt, J. Ruisdael, the Mesdags, D. Wohlgemuth, and many contemporary Mennonite artists. In addition to this there were many etchings of Mennonite leaders, etc.
  7. Several hundred different Bible translations and editions, some going back to the 16th century, were collected. The library had a nearly complete collection of the Mennonite songbooks used in Prussia, Russia, and America.

An increasing number of graduate and undergraduate students as well as interested laymen availed themselves of the research opportunities, for which three special study-rooms were available. Numerous dissertations and theses have been written on the basis of the facilities offered by the library. The Historical Library was constantly in use in the production of Mennonite Life, the Mennonite Encyclopedia, and other publications.

The Historical Library collected books, documents, etc., from the churches and homes of its constituency and purchased rare Mennonitica through funds made available through the college, special donations from individuals, and the allowances of the General Conference Board of Education and Publication. Although it was the aim to collect everything pertaining to the Mennonites everywhere, the library was probably most complete in the areas dealing with the Mennonites of Holland, Prussia, Russia, Poland, and the Prairie States and Provinces. It was the only library of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

After 1947 the director was ably assisted by John F. Schmidt, who was particularly in charge of the archives, periodicals, photographs, microfilms, and slides.


Schmidt, John F. "The Story of a Library." Mennonite Life 9 (April 1954): 68 ff.

Wedel, Peter J. The Story of Bethel College. North Newton, 1954: 489 ff.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius. "Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 18 May 2022.,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=128413.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2022, from,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=128413.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 625-626. All rights reserved.

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