Named for the founder of the archive, the William A. Wilson Folklore Archives began as a stack of cardboard boxes in Professor Wilson’s office at BYU. Comprised of materials submitted by students of anthropologist John Sorenson and folklorist Thomas E. Cheney as well as Wilson’s own students, the materials lacked the organization and accessibility to make them useful for students and researchers.
In 1978 Wilson accepted a position at Utah State University where he developed the Austin and Alta Fife Folklore Archives. He established a template for organizing folklore archival materials which was adopted at BYU upon Wilson’s return in 1985.
Upon his arrival at BYU, Wilson was provided with a small office space and limited student labor to open a folklore archive. Eager folklore students embraced the opportunity to work for Wilson in the archives and increase their knowledge of folklore under his direction.
In 1995 the first permanent archivist was hired. Upon Wilson's retirement in 1996, the archive became part of the Harold B. Lee Library. In 1999 with the completion of the new addition to the library, the folklore archive became the William A. Wilson Folklore Archives, part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections.
Committed to collecting and preserving folklore, the William A. Wilson Folklore Archives focuses on families, religious life of Latter-day Saints, university students, and regional life in the Intermountain West. Home of the largest collection of Mormon folklore, the archive also houses significant collections of legends, customs, speech, beliefs, songs, material culture, tales and jokes, games, riddles, and personal narratives. The Archives also house the papers of prominent folklorists Louise Pound, Thomas E. Cheney, and William A. Wilson, as well as a variety of printed material dealing with folklore scholarship.
“Folklore usually is expressed in and is given color by the groups to which we belong; it can serve, therefore, as a means of understanding and increasing our sympathy for these groups. But the source of the lore, we should always remember, lies not in our differences, but in our common human struggle to endure.” - William A. Wilson