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Joseph Smith Papers website debuts

By R. Scott Lloyd

Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

A new website aimed at making the entire content of the Joseph Smith Papers project accessible online free of charge in interactive form is being introduced this weekend.

The new site, www.josephsmithpapers.org, will be formally unveiled at a Friday afternoon session of the Mormon History Association Conference in St. George, Utah, by Elder Marlin K. Jensen, LDS Church historian and recorder, and three of his associates in the Church History Department.

Since last fall, it has had a quiet presence on the Internet as a beta site while developers cleaned up glitches and generally readied it for its public debut.

That debut is part of a general restructuring of the Joseph Smith Papers documentary editing project, initially conceived as the publication of 30 letterpress (or print) volumes, three of which have been published so far by the Church Historian's Press and distributed by Deseret Book Co. The intent of the project is to compile, transcribe, annotate and publish all of the known papers of Joseph Smith, including his revelations, journals, sermons, correspondence, business documents and other papers written by him or by others under his direction.

But since its inception, the project has been restructured. The plan now is for a total publication over the next several years of 20 published letterpress editions with the website playing a more prominent role.

"We will still deliver all that great material but on the Web in a very efficient and cost-effective manner," said Patrick Dunshee, manager of marketing and communications for the Church History Department. The changes, he said, are for the benefit and blessing of the project and the scholars and church members who are served thereby.

In an exclusive Mormon Times interview, he and two of his colleagues, members of the project team, discussed the new website and demonstrated some of its features recently at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.

"The restructuring, really, was to put the website as the central repository for what we're doing," said Matthew J. Grow, products division director in the department. "The letterpress editions are important but in some ways subsidiary to the website. There will be more on the website than will ever appear in print, and certainly all the scholarship that goes into the print volumes will appear on the website."

Indeed, all of the Prophet's papers will eventually be published on the website, amounting to some 2,500 unique documents, said R. Eric Smith, production manager. These will be viewable on the screen with a photographic image of the manuscript document on one side and a transcription of that document on the other side.

"Before this website was available, if someone had wanted to access all these documents, they would have had to come here, they would have had to go to the Community of Christ archives (in Independence, Mo.), they would have had to go to the Huntington Library in California or to the Yale University Library in Connecticut," he said. "And a lot of these documents they could never have gotten access to because they are not researchers and don't have the right permissions."

Moreover, the content will always be free to everyone, Smith said, contrasting that with other documentary editing projects in which printed volumes normally cost $100 or more.

Joseph Smith Papers letterpress volumes are competitively priced and have proved to be popular. "But we might sell 40,000 to 60,000 copies of each, if we're fortunate," Smith said. "With the website, you don't have to buy a whole volume; you can access just one or two documents, if you prefer."

Like the printed volumes, the website is directed primarily to scholars and, secondarily, to LDS Church members. "The quality standards are the same," Smith said. "The same people are doing the website as are doing the printed books. It's just a different way to deliver the content."

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