Libraries at Bethel?

“I asked Barbara Anderson, by way of email, a question about the Bethel libraries, in particular, those that the writers had access. I had hoped, based on her experience and perspective, she would jump in on one of our threads where the library topic had been raised. I didn’t know until several days ago that she and Joe had been away on vacation. Well, she emailed me an answer about those libraries which I thought to be very interesting. I asked her permission to share it all of with you, which she granted. I also decided to create a thread of its own – this one. As an aside, one of the posters to the original thread had made mention of a secret room. Barbara addresses this as well.” [From a thread posted by Len Miller. Republished at Freeminds.org.] 


Barbara’s Response:

As to information about the libraries in Bethel, I’ll try to answer your questions. However, I don’t think I can confirm that there was a “secret” room to hide Watch Tower literature that the organization doesn’t want people to see.

When I was in Bethel, the Writing Library was located on the 8th floor of the 25 Columbia Heights office building. It was under the control of librarian and senior writer, Gene Smalley, and his secretary/assistant, Sarah Hall. My office was also on the 8th floor, at the East River end of the building.

A lobby and elevators divided each floor in the building in half. The library was in the central part at one end of the 8th floor. Private offices for staff members were located around the library. I recall that there were about eight to ten offices of average size on each side of the library, along with Klein’s very large office on one side.

To me, the Writing Department’s library seemed huge. I have no idea how many books were there or the area they all occupied.

Use of the library was limited to the Writing, Art, and Graphics Departments – which were all under the control of Writing. Bethelites who were not connected with these departments and wishing to use the library for research, needed special permission to do so. For everyone else it was off-limits.

Special tours could be arranged by staff to bring friends and relatives into the Writing Department and staff guides could show them the library. During the nearly four years when I was in that department, I brought a number of visitors into the library. I showed them interesting items on the shelves and told them how the department operated. There were no prohibitions for taking pictures that I can remember. In fact, many visitors took pictures during my tours.

To the best of my knowledge, every Watch Tower Society publication could be found in the Writing Department’s library. There were also hundreds of books not published by the Society. There were Bible commentaries galore along with shelves upon shelves of old and new books on religion, Bible history, and archeology. There were also books about current events.

One of the assignments from my overseer, Karl Adams, was to list every publication which J. F. Rutherford had written. I was able to do that because I had also had access to every book the Society published. Because Karl wanted a fresh look at the number and titles of Rutherford’s books I did not use any previously published lists.

All of my assignments involved the Society’s publications in some way or the other. How could I have done my job unless all the books were available to me?

I cannot accept that there was some secret room where Watch Tower secret books were hidden. Since I was researching to create a compilation for a history book, I was given unlimited opportunity to go anywhere in the Bethel complex and talk to anybody about the Society’s history. I had no reason to suppose that there were “hidden and secret” books. If there were, I believe I would have found them or heard about them during my three years of research. During my detective-like investigation of the Society’s history, I found material no one knew about, so why would the Governing Body and the Writing departments try to hide anything like that from me?

I remember a storage closet at the end of the 8th floor near my office that contained only “apostate” books. That was open to the Writing staff. All the publications we are familiar with that are in opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses could be found there. At the time, I was too busy to read any of them. I might add that I was not interested in them because at the time I believed they were filled “with lies about Jehovah’s organization.”

Located all around the Bethel homes were smaller libraries like those you would find in many Kingdom Halls. Inside, there usually were a few chairs, lamp tables and a couch. The shelves would generally contain all seven volumes of the Reprints of the Watchtower journals from 1879-1919; many Bible translations, and miscellaneous Watchtower Society books. There were other books that Gene thought could be of some importance and which Bethelites might need for personal research.

In all my Writing Department tenure, I never heard of a hidden library, but I knew of a private archival storage area that only Gene and his secretary/assistant frequented. I don’t know where it was because I didn’t think to ask – and because it was none of my business. It was likely behind one of the locked office doors on the 8th or 9th floor of the building. In such a room, Gene and his assistant stored old Society correspondence and duplicate copies of some very old Society publications which Gene would use to replace excessively worn copies found on the library shelves.

I had access to the contents of the off-limits archival room but only through a formal request. All I had to do was ask to see an item and it was checked out to me within a few hours. Here are some examples of what was kept inside:

  • Any or all the letters that C. T. Russell wrote on a particular subject
  • The Russells’ divorce court trial transcript
  • C. T. Russell’s appeals of the divorce and other papers to do with those events
  • Rutherford’s and the Society’s private papers related to the Watch Tower directors’ sedition trial which took place in June, 1918
  • Anything to do with the Photo-Drama of Creation.

In the Russell and Rutherford eras it was common for the Bible Students to publish one-page, newspaper size tracts, which were then handed to people outside of conventions, etc. Some of these papers strongly resembled newspapers or large advertisements. That, I believe, was the Society’s intent, for people would be more inclined to accept a free copy. I have a copy of one that, at first glance, appears to be a union newspaper. But upon closer examination, it was actually announcing the Kingdom as the hope of mankind — not the news about any union. During those years, there were many of these produced. The Writing Department kept the original, yellowed, and fragile copies in the Writing Department’s archival room rather than on some library bookshelf.

Writing staff member, Ciro Aulicino, was there to give us any books we wanted for research from the huge downtown New York City Public Library. He went there every Wednesday to fill our orders.

Don Kommers, of the Building Office, kept a warehouse storage area which contained huge quantities of old Society literature and other material associated with the Witness work. That unfinished room was on an otherwise empty and unfinished floor of the 30 Columbia Heights building. There, I saw plenty of raw wooden shelves that held many, many sets of WT Reprints; sets of Millennial Dawn and Studies in the Scriptures; sets of the Rutherford “Rainbow” series books; Russell and Rutherford wax records; old record players, and anything else connected with the early activities of the religion.

There was a large basket filled with “Cross and Crown” pins; plus other miscellaneous items that the Bible Students wore, or used. These included little books which they would fill with names and birth dates of other Bible Students. They also included cards with Bible texts that they would send to each other.

Kommers was Vern Wisegarver’s assistant. Vern managed the Building Office. That office, among other things, oversaw the upkeep of the interior of both Columbia Heights buildings. During the course of going to estate sales and warehouses during furniture auctions, Kommers and his assistants would bring back to his storage area any old WT literature they would find. Estates, which Watch Tower was beneficiary, supplied plenty of old literature that went into Watch Tower trucks to be returned and stored in that room.

Kommers once showed me a 2” x 2” (that’s teeny) Bible that he claimed belonged to Russell and that he obtained during one of his ventures. He also told me he had a large private collection of personal Russell and Rutherford letters.

A memorable experience

I once went into a small room on the Writing Department’s floor which had thousands of file folders containing the submitted final copy of each author’s last draft of material that ended up printed in WT literature. Attached to each manuscript was the source material.

In that room there also was this huge (wide, not tall) metal file cabinet. One of its drawers contained quotes from letters that were from those who claimed to be of the anointed. Before the publishing of the book, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, a request had gone out from the Society to every congregation in the US. Whether it went around the world, I don’t know. The letter asked for the names and addresses of the most loyal of the older “anointed” ones. If that person was a pioneer, better yet. These “old” faithful folks were asked to send to the Society any of their experiences which demonstrated their loyalty, etc., as Witnesses throughout their years of service. Some of these people even lived when Russell was around and the Society certainly wanted to hear all C. T. Russell experiences.

Thrilled is not adequate to describe the feelings expressed by these people that they would actually get such an invitation. They responded by the thousands. The letters (many of them were very lengthy) were cut up according to experience and all of them were found in that cabinet. The manila file folders which contained the experiences were broken down into subjects. Each experience, by being cut from the original letter, had no identification on it, so the name of the letter writer was reattached. It must have been a huge undertaking to do that work.

These experiences made up the ones found in the Divine Purpose book and the 1975 Yearbook. For what it’s worth, Karl Adams wrote the 1975 Yearbook. I was told that John Wischuck was the author of the Divine Purpose book and that Divine Purpose had so many errors in it, that’s why they came out with Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom.

In conclusion – and making an educated guess – I think that during a personal tour given by some long-time Writing Department staff member for friends or family a group walked by the archives room maintained by Gene Smalley. It was probably a tour guide’s remark about the “secret room” filled with “old, never-seen” material. That is my only possible explanation for claims made by some Witnesses about such a “secret” room actually existing.

Barbara


Comments

Libraries at Bethel? — 7 Comments

  1. Great read. Thanks for the detailed history. It seems quite “thrilling” to have been a member of the “cult’s” HQ! I would have been in hog heaven to see/be in those libraries in my pre-awakening (to WT-falsehood) days!

  2. Barbara, it’s my recollection that the main library for research was in the 124 Columbia Heights building. Was it since moved to 30 Columbia Heights?

  3. An informative article Barbara.

    It’s interesting how The Society hoard’s Apostate Books – yet tells everyone not to read them. A bit of double standards there in my opinion !
    The secret hoarding of Apostate books I got told about in the 1980s was going on in the Australian Bethel and such got me questioning both The Society’s sincerity and honesty.
    If these books are truly filled with lies – why keep books inspired by demons in Jehovah’s house ? It would be like having a false idol, or image, in the Kingdom Hall. I simply can’t fathom out the Witness ” logic ” if there is such.

    [ Regarding such logic – I was told by one congregation Elder when I criticised them for having Apostate books at Bethel, his reply was: ” The Society has more holy spirit than the local brothers and that’s why they can read apostate books and we can’t.” So for him to say that he knew they were reading them as well.
    It would explain why the head of the Australian Bethel ( John Wilson ) simply walked out and quit the Society just before 1975, as well as our own Presiding Overseer ( John Allen ) from Keon Park congregation In Melbourne. They may have known about the chronology which was a hot topic in some Australian congregations and circulating within the Seventh Day Adventist community and with certain regular Pioneers.]

    Yet I always thought Jehovah was not discriminatory, in that every man was seen as equal in his congregation and that why we are all called BROTHERS & SISTERS, plus 98% of the Bethel Members are not of the Anointed and therefore no more worthy of reading Apostate books that I was, when a witness in the local congregation.

    I know Bethel does read the apostate books – because when one comes out with an argument – a counter argument comes out in the Watchtower pages to refute it and is painted up as ” Meat in due season “. And that’s not hard to prove !

    I was also told by a former Australian Bethel member during the mid 1980’s – the Australian Office was burning old Society books to keep them out of the hands of apostates, yet they had big book collection gather-ups from time to time in the early 1980’s advertised in the Kingdom Service/Ministry to get old books donated for the Quickbuild Kingdom halls and Assembly halls. This was the case – because the Bethel member who told me was the same one asked to burn the books by his immediate Overseer.

    To me the Head quarters is hoarding them, hence only pushing the prices up on the collector’s market.
    Fortunately now, we have a number of websites with the same available on the internet.

    • Kimbal Summers, really ! I was a JW in Melbourne for 20 years. John Wilson from Bethel walked out, really ! I didn’t know about that, where does he live now ? I wonder if he can be contacted ? and your PO did also ! When did this happen ? I know hundreds of JW in Melbourne. Do you know Lou Wilcox ? He was at one time in Bethel and I know he saw problems but don’t know if he’s in or out. Is Keon Park near Plenty ? Thanks for your info, we appreciate knowing that.

  4. Thanks Barbara, that was a very interesting account of what you know. I appreciate the common sense, matter of fact way that you present information without being overly dramatic or incendiary about it. Mostly, I appreciate the honest and balanced approach you take, not unlike our friend Ray.

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