PROVO, Utah Kelly Ogden spent much of 14 years in the Holy Land. He photographed Jerusalem, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Greece. The BYU professor of ancient scripture saw biblical sites in difference seasons, different weather conditions and at different times in a day.
Through his pictures, BYU students could visualize the area without ever seeing it first hand. He found their learning was enhanced when they could view a place as they talked about it.
Then in the year 2000, some of Brother Ogden's BYU colleagues approached him and asked him to make his images part of an archive that could be used by all the faculty for teaching. He agreed, knowing that digitizing the images would not only make them more accessible to him, but also to others as well.
Today, what started as that collection of photographs used by BYU religion professors for their class instruction has grown to become an online archive of more than 4,000 religious images available to Church members everywhere.
The downloadable images the result of a cooperative effort between the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, BYU faculty and Church Educational System employees are available at relarchive.byu.edu (and lds.org), and are proving valuable to seminary, institute, Sunday School and other religion teachers all over the world.
"The library, we hope, will support not only the work of faculty at the university and the study of students that come to BYU, but will support the entire membership of the Church in their quest for education," said Randy Olsen, university librarian at BYU.
In 1999, Religious Studies professors Richard Draper, Rex Reeve and Dennis Wright attempted to put all of their photos and artwork into a database that could be shared by all faculty members on campus, not just those in the religion department.
Brother Wright said their efforts came about from a need for a library of visual images. "We determined that we would create a library for our faculty use," he recalled. "We were able to retain funding, research what images were available, collect those images and create a database."
But it soon became evident that such a library of electronic images "would be useful not only to BYU, but for everyone that teaches the gospel in any capacity in the Church," he said.
The university's Harold B. Lee Library was able to help the professors scan, digitize, catalog and post the images onto Web pages for all to see. Through the efforts of the library's digital projects team led by metadata cataloger Kayla Willey and with the aid of state-of-the-art equipment donated by philanthropists Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, the online collection has exceeded expectations.
With additional grant funding, Brother Wright believes the archive can triple in size.
Currently, the Lee Library is adding about 100 new images a month to the database, which can be found through its Web site as well (library.byu.edu).
The archive contains mostly photographs of everything from biblical places to modern-day prophets including historical pioneer landmarks, newly constructed temples and specific theme images. All of them are accompanied by descriptions so that 40,000 Church Education System instructors can choose and use correct images for their 160 or so lessons a year, said Michael Hooper, Harold B. Lee Library Communications Manager.
Those descriptions allow users to search the database for specific images, said Brother Wright. Viewers can also learn more about the images with the help of the descriptions, said Brother Draper.
Brother Ogden and Kenny Mays are two religion instructors who contributed thousands of photographs to the image archive. Brother Ogden, a former seminary teacher as well as a guide, teacher and associate director at BYU's Jerusalem Center, contributed about 2,000 of his aging slides to the archive.
Brother Mays is currently an institute teacher in Salt Lake City and has taken photos of historical Mormon landmarks during the past 20 years. He has recorded the images for the purpose of sharing them with fellow teachers who will probably never get to personally view such places.
"It has been a remarkable and humbling privilege to be a small part of something that has the potential to help so many," he said.
On a recent trip to Mexico, Brother Olsen discovered the potential reach of the archive, which he had no trouble accessing from a small public library there. A seminary teacher in Mexico talked to him about the difficulty in trying to find materials that could enhance his curriculum, said Brother Olsen. "He thought (the Religious Education Archive) would be a tremendous benefit to what he was doing."
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