The Nelson Memorial Library collection grew out of the individual libraries collected at the three schools which eventually merged to form Southwestern Bible Institute (now Southwestern Assemblies of God University): Southwestern Bible School, Southern Bible Institute, and Shield of Faith Bible College.
Reverend P. C. (Peter Christopher) Nelson oversaw the library while it was initially housed at Southwestern Bible School in Enid, Oklahoma, where he collected over 30,000 volumes. Nelson built the collection by taking a trailer with him every time he spoke at revivals. He visited the secondhand bookstores in each town in which he spoke to browse their religious books section. After ascertaining the usefulness of their books, he purchased their entire stock of religious books to be brought back to Southwestern Bible School in his trailer.
Reverend Guy Shields saw the need for a Christian environment where children, teenagers, and adults could earn an education while gaining a deeper knowledge of the Bible. He started a Bible school training class in his church in Amarillo, Texas, which later became known as Shield of Faith Bible School. In 1931 the school added a high school. The school’s library, which he supervised, consisted of his personal library of about 500 volumes. In 1935, the school board decided to move the Bible school to Fort Worth, Texas, at which time he brought only part of his library. In 1936, the high school joined the Bible school in Fort Worth, bringing the remainder of the library - now totaling between 600 and 700 volumes.
Brother Raymond T. Richey, along with others, started Bible study classes in their church in Goose Creek, Texas; these classes went on to become Southern Bible Institute. Eventually, Richey thought it best to consolidate schools, so he joined Shield of Faith Bible College in Fort Worth, which then became South Central Bible Institute. Richey brought about 150 volumes of his personal library to Fort Worth. South Central Bible Institute now had a library of 800 to 1,000 volumes, maintained by students Mr. Billy McQueen and Mrs. Joseph Gutel. The library was housed on campus in the same building as the high school study hall.
In the summer of 1941, after much prayer, the decision was made to consolidate Southwestern Bible School with South Central Bible Institute in Fort Worth. At this time the merged Bible schools took the name of Southwestern Bible Institute. P. C. Nelson's library of 30,000 or more volumes were moved to Fort Worth and stored in a wooden building on North 25th Street, about ten blocks from the campus. Nelson and some students visited the storage facility occasionally to bring some of the books to the campus and then house them in his office. Students had access to the books in his office with the help of his secretary.
In June, 1943, at the North Texas District Council in Dallas, the North Texas District agreed to move Southwestern Bible Institute to the new Waxahachie, Texas, campus, which they purchased from Trinity University.
In June, 1943, Reverend M. E. Collins (who was then in charge of hiring faculty and staff at Southwestern Bible Institute) asked Ms. Pearl Ellis to be the librarian and to continue her education at North Texas State Teachers College at Denton, Texas. At that time Southwestern offered three years of Bible school and four years of high school.
P. C. Nelson retained ownership of his 30,000 books until the time of his passing. Arrangements were made with Mrs. Myrtle Nelson, his widow, to purchase 10,000 of the books for 25¢ per volume, which Southwestern Bible Institute paid in monthly installments. When she and their son Paul Nelson came to the institute to pick up the payments, she always made a point to visit the library and pray for both the library and the school’s employees. M. E. Collins, Klaude Kendrick (then president of the institute), and some students used their personal cars to transport the purchased 10,000 volumes to Southwestern Bible Institute in Waxahachie. The books were housed in a first-floor room in the northeast corner of the Farmer Administration Building. As the books were unloaded, they were placed in rows on the floor since no bookshelves were available.
In September 1943, Mrs. Grace Kendrick and Ms. Pearl Ellis took over the high school study hall and began accessioning and cataloging the books by hand. They merged the Southern Bible Institute and South Central Bible Institute libraries, placing them in rows on the floor. During the Christmas vacation of 1943, Collins, his daughters Emily and Elaine, Pearl Ellis, and a student built bookshelves for the school’s library. Collins found enough free lumber to make ten free-standing bookshelves.
In the fall of 1946, Southwestern Bible Institute secured four wooden army barracks and erected them together as one building to serve as a library, located east of the Farmer Administration Building. The front two sections of the library contained study tables and shelves built around the walls, and the two back sections contained more bookshelves, an office, a workroom, and a restroom. The faculty, staff, and students formed lines across campus and transferred the books from the Farmer Administration Building to the new library.
After a small fire in the library caused by bad wiring, the administration saw the need for a fireproof building. The school board agreed to build a new library and started making plans to locate it where the barracks library then resided. By this time in 1958, the library collection had grown too large to house in one temporary location: 1,250 boxes of books were housed in the northeast corner of the M. E. Collins Hall basement and the rest of the collection in the southeast corner of the Farmer Administration Building basement for the summer semester students to use. In July the barracks library was moved across campus to the area in front of the Student Union Building (now called the Barnes Student Center), and the library collection was moved for the second time that year back into the barracks library. The collection stayed in the barracks library until the new building was completed.
In the fall of 1960, the Nelson Memorial Library hosted its grand opening. Classes were let out for half a day while the faculty, staff, and students formed lines across campus to help move the books to the new Nelson Memorial Library. While the library initially used only the first floor, the library later went on to take over most of the second floor, as well. The rest of the second floor housed faculty offices and a classroom, and in 1995 additional classrooms and faculty offices were built onto the east side of the building.
In 2013, the library was remodeled and expanded to the rest of the second floor. The remodel focused on updating the library’s aesthetics to be more modern and to show off the architecture. Additionally, the library acquired new, matching furniture/study carrels. The library also added ten individual study pods located in the Foster Center and two annex storage rooms located in Bridges Hall. The library additionally expanded into part of the post-construction classroom addition to the Nelson Memorial Library building. This new expansion became home to the Pearl Ellis Archive Center, the most beautiful addition to the library.
As of 2018, the Nelson Memorial Library has grown from employing only one librarian to four full-time librarians and 12 student workers. The library collection now consists of close to 90,000 volumes and an ever-expanding digital collection of eBooks, databases, and digital journals.
For more details on the Nelson Memorial Library and its employees, look in SAGU yearbooks, the Pearl Ellis Archive Center, or the library webpage at www.sagu.edu/library.