Inauguration-week sermons would be videotaped to highlight Barack Obama's rise to power in an unprecedented quest by the Library of Congress to capture this transfer of power for posterity.
The folks at the library's American Folklife Center are soliciting churches, synagogues, mosques and others for copies of sermons or passionate speeches that focus on the significance of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Obama as the country's first black president.
The Folklife Center is looking for both video and audio clips, all to be preserved in a public collection that includes interviews after Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"If a historian asks 'How did Americans react to Obama's inauguration,' we'll have immediate responses to this powerful event," said Dr. David A. Taylor, head of research and programs at the American Folklife Center.
The "Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project" marks the first time the library has gathered this sort of material from a U.S. presidential inauguration. Taylor says the project is especially timely — with the inauguration coming a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — and as it ties into King's reputation as a great orator.
Nearly 70 percent of the 4,000 collections at the center involve the spoken word, whether it's on paper, audio or video.
Michael Taft, head archivist at the Folklife Center, says it was decided to collect inauguration-themed sermons because that speech form is poetic, dramatic — and at some churches, "an important art form."
One Washington church is already planning to answer the library's call.
Foundry United Methodist Church, where President Bill Clinton and his family attended services, says that it plans to invite the Obamas to attend services and will contribute to the project by providing tapes and a manuscript of the inauguration-centered sermon to be delivered by guest Illinois preacher Bishop Gregory A. Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
After Obama's election, Foundry senior pastor Dean Snyder and others gave their sermons on the historic occasion. With the inauguration approaching, the churches want to make sure they've got this subject covered, too.
"Every inauguration is a new beginning," Snyder said.
Among The Folklife Center's vast collection of songs, pictures and speeches, are children's drawings commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and recorded interviews with 23 Americans who endured slavery.
The center is asking churches and others only for video and audio clips of speeches given Jan. 16-25. Contributors are encouraged to provide complementary items, such as written texts, photographs or church programs. The items will be copied and preserved in acid-free folders and in climate-controlled areas.
The collection will be open to public, including historians and scholars who want to research Obama's inauguration. The center plans to post some of the material online.
"They will be snapshots of people's reactions to this event," Taylor said. "It's a rare special documentation that can never be obtained again because it's of that moment."