The Methodist Center at Drew University houses the world’s leading collection of Methodist periodicals. There are roughly 2000 titles (spanning more than 2 centuries), of which 1500 are “dead”, meaning that they are no longer being published, and about 550-600 continuing. Accounting for nearly three-quarters of the Center’s total book collection, it is the most important single part of the Methodist collection, for a high percentage of its titles and issues are listed in no other library.
Historically, Methodist periodicals served a highly programmatic function. Often entertaining as well as instructive, they provided church news and opinions, guided their readers through moral and social issues, and built denominational solidarity, thus enabling the Church to grow and to raise money for home and overseas missions. Foreign publications in particular were geared toward stimulating interest in the Church’s work overseas. Circulation numbers were extremely high. In 19th century America, for example, publications such as The Christian Advocate enjoyed a national readership at a time when secular newspapers were still local.
The Methodist periodicals collection is notable for its range and depth. Encompassing two “families” of newspapers, British and North American, it is truly global in scope. British Methodist publications came from the British Isles and from all parts of the Empire, while those of North American origin were published in the United States and in those countries where American Methodists had penetrated. Many of these publications, some still uncut, came to Drew in the late 19th century from the office of the Board of Foreign Missions in New York, where they had been sent from churches and missions around the world.
Holdings range from a full run of the most prominent and widely circulated periodicals to a few issues of the most ephemeral, and a comprehensive collection policy assures continued growth and depth. For example, in addition to receiving publications from all agencies, conferences, seminaries, and affiliated groups of the United Methodist Church, Drew also subscribes to newsletters from 30-40 unofficial special interest and advocacy caucuses. Current international holdings span the alphabet from Angola to Zimbabwe, and include publications from the Caribbean, Cuba, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Poland, Samoa, Tonga, and several dozen other countries.
The research potential of this collection can not be overstated. To take one example, the popular Ladies’ Repository, founded as a Christian alternative to Godey’s Lady Book, provides a window on 19th century American social history and popular culture. Implicitly or explicitly, it addressed the changing roles and responsibilities of women, political and social issues such as slavery and temperance, changes in literary taste, and the contemporary educational curriculum.
Though Drew’s Methodist periodicals have not been fully catalogued, titles, brief bibliographic descriptions, and holdings information may be accessed through the Library’s online catalogue. Volumes do not circulate outside the Methodist Center. About 10% of the collection is on microfilm. The Center occasionally collaborates with other libraries on microfilming projects. There is also lists of Methodist Conference Journals and Periodicals on Microfilm.