Social Media and the Church- Ongoing Commentary

This (here) could be an interesting part of the ongoing discussion about the role of the new social media in the church. Although not directly addressing history, the subject of how that media is used in the church will have an impact of records, archives and history.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

 

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org. He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

Though I May Be Found Wanting, Let Me Not Be Found Clueless

I would like all to consider the effects on both our study of history and attempts to preserve it that have been brought about by what “appears” to a very rapid change in technology and its use in business, government, education, and occasionally, even the church. I have, over the years, read many books and attended many seminars on growing the church, defining mission, preserving our past and integrating our past into our present worship. One thing I have often heard, and in fact it was recently reinforced by a statement made by my current pastor at a meeting, is that the church is about 30 years behind when it comes to utilizing technology. I find this to obviously be true in spirit, if not provably so in the numerical value.

The odd thing for me about that statement, is that so many meetings I have attended at the church on all levels (I serve, locally, at conference level and at jurisdictional level) seem to be almost identical to those I attend in my professional organizations, at least with regards to technology. At one meeting of a board of professional archivists, a friend and mentor, Jay, said “Jim is trying to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.” I responded, “No, I am trying to drag us kicking and screaming into the 20th Century! The 21st would be biting off more than I can chew.”

For those of us involved or interested in the stuff of history within the church, we should remember that it is necessary to at least be aware of the current means by which information is created, stored and accessed if we wish to be able to preserve it, understand it, or use it in our research. As Tennessee Conference Archivist, I regularly explain to people that the information they want for their research does not exist in our collections, at least not in an accessible format. They, in their turn, regularly fail to understand why not. Why did people not save the records in a manner in which they could later be accessed? Why are the records in a form one cannot understand? What does this document mean? (This last usually a question about the group that created the document, the structure of the organization, how it held its meetings, kept its minutes, communicated, etc.) The ability to preserve, interpret and make information available to researchers of the future requires that we have some understanding of the answers to these same questions regarding records created today.

Does your church use PowerPoint, video, recorded audio in its service? Does it have a Website, a listserve, use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media? How do you save e-mail correspondence for future generations? Do you distribute your newsletter by e-mail, put it on the Web, send messages by phone tree? I know that there are those who communicate by Skype, send files via fttp protocols, and create documents collaboratively through online software such as Google Docs (no endorsement should be implied here.) Thank goodness there are people who choose to put their ministries online in podcasts, through Webcasts and on Youtube, where people who would never have otherwise been exposed to them can now be. The question is, will anyone looking back on these days know about it?

Many churches are not interested in the mindset of those who use such media. The mindset is there, however. Although a relative few people have joined our TN Methodist History social network and those who view this blog are not legion, more than half of those who contact me with reference questions expect me to be able to use a digital index to find the records they request and expect me to be able to transfer the desired records into some form that they can readily use with my computer. Easily a third dos not understand why our records are not online and available for them to search for themselves. They do not understand why the records are not available in a way that they desire.

Of course, many churches do not use the new technologies that are available, mistaking them for just tools that someone designed to provide different means of communication where the present ones are just fine, rather than seeing them as new media and tools designed because of the new ways that people choose to communicate and form relationships. If you are with one of these churches, I encourage you to examine some of these new methods and look for ways in which your folk might choose to use them. By that, I don’t just mean look at, for example, Facebook or Second Life, and try to think of how you can effectively use them to spread your message, though that may certainly be a good idea (and one I have advocated elsewhere.) No, I mean also look at them and get a feeling for what they are, so that, should someone else choose to use them, you will be familiar with and to some degree understand them.

As I posted earlier, I was thrilled to have a chance to see a representation of an archival document in Second Life a few weeks back. This may not be the way that relationship and communication will go, but I have little doubt that during my professional life I will have to deal with some type of document that requires my understanding what virtual interactive technology is. I will likely be found wanting, but hope not to be found clueless.

Jim

TN Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org

My Experience in Second Life Archives

The other day I had a fascinating experience. During my lunch hour I created an avatar ( a computer generated image that represented, but did not look like, me,) visited Second Life (not heaven but a computer generated world inhabited by such avatars, controlled, of course, by “real” people,) and examined “documents” in virtual document cases in a virtual archives/special collections library. Sound exciting to you? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I found it so.

You see, I work in a special collections division of a public library as well as work as the TN Conference archivist. I have become very aware of the desire, in many cases demands, of patrons to have their research needs met in a manner that they can understand and find useful. In the case of the Conference archives we can offer them only what we have, which often means we can help them when staff is available and often means they must go away disappointed. We are trying, at both locations, to find ways to make our collections more accessible and to do a better job of reference through the use of technology. We are also trying, to varying degrees at both locations, to find ways to make our collections more accessible and to do a better job of reference through the simple method of trying to see things from the viewpoint of the user. We live in a culture where methods of communicating and interacting are rapidly changing. Requiring our users (not just those who make use of our archives but also those who make use of our church facilities; e.g. our congregants and community) to approach us on our terms only is more and more a case of asking them to use languages they do not understand and enter places where they are uncomfortable. Some may argue that this is a good thing, and I can see how it may be sometimes, but on the whole I would say not.

That is what I found impressive about Stanford University’s (CA, west coast, definitely not from around here) use of Second Life(SL) as a means to offer a new way to demonstrate its special collections to folks. I was totally unaware of their presence in SL (despite the search engines that many in the church tell me will turn up Websites that will then direct me anywhere I want to go; like church) even though I have researched use and users of public history institutions for years. I had missed, (okay, overlooked, sorry,) the post about their open house in one of my favorite blogs and stumbled back upon it the morning of said open house. I quickly took my laptop to the Conference library, activated the software I had downloaded awhile back, set up my avatar and went to visit the archivist in OZ. Or so it seemed. She explained to me that the SL archives was, in part, a way to introduce folks unfamiliar with closed stack material in a way that was less intimidating than the real thing. Great idea! Wish I had thought about it.

I don’t know how many folk use SL. It may be that few people will see the archives. I do know a lot of folk play video games. I know that many homeless folk who come into the public library I work at are unhappy that SL is blocked from our computers, so I know they use it when they can. I know youth regularly use technology that the church ignores and that there is affordable technology that can let people who would otherwise be out of reach of churches’ libraries, archives, and missions out there and using it might make sense from the point of view of the “user” should we choose to look through their eyes. I have said elsewhere, including this blog, that I am an advocate of use, of facilitating communication and knowledge, and try to advocate for those on the other-side-of-the-desk. As an archivist I struggle to balance the traditional needs of maintaining traditional records with the more modern needs of maintaining modern records. At all times I look for ways to increase the value of those records by facilitating use. Stanford’s work has shown they are also focused on finding ways to increase the value of their collections simply by providing new means of access. More access, more use, more who judge the items to be of value. Simple. Brother Occam would be proud.

Jim Havron

TN Conference (UMC) Archivist

(Note: Since posting this originally, I was asked about the last comment. Occam’s Razor, in one popular form: When 2 competing theories produce the same outcome, the simpler of the 2 should be preferred. I don’t mean to imply that this applies specifically to the above situation, but it might in a larger context of what makes records valuable and why we should keep them. I was also suggesting, a bit tongue-in-cheek, that the “simple” was by definition the friend of William of Occam – Jim)

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org

Blog: Modern Pamphleteers?

David Crumm at Read the Spirit speaks about the “good” mention of the serpent in the Bible by Jesus (“…be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Mathew 10:16). Interesting read, I think.

There was a point he made in passing to the effect that the pamphleteers of Wesley’s day may be equated to bloggers of our time. He was using blogging, something with which many of us are familiar, as a means to explain pamphleteering, something with which many in some audiences may not be familiar, rather than the other way around. I, on the other hand, speak with many people who are uninterested in blogs, social networks, wikis, or similar forms of communication. So I think it would be good to note these similarities with the understanding that communication to and by the common man, through unofficial channels, was a vital tool of the 18th Century in general and of Methodism in particular.

In a like manner, blogging is the common man’s method of communicating on whatever topic might be close to his or her heart. It is the way we speak out on issues of importance of the day, be they political, social, religious, or what-have-you. It is the way you can get your message out. Not long ago I sent a single e-mail invitation to join a social network and with in 48 hours, 72 invitations had been issued from those who had joined. It is true that only 15 of the 72 joined, but then I had only sent 1 invitation, and it was to someone who uses the Net minimally. It is not unusual for a blog post that is indexed with search engines or to which folks subscribe through a feed to reach thousands in minutes. Okay, in that respect it is not like pamphleteering. It is much more powerful.

Indeed, I think bloggers are the pamphleteers of the present. Opportunity and responsibility.

I think I’ll put the verse on my desktop for when I blog.

Jim

Web 2.0/Archives 2.0 Opinion Piece

This is primarily for those who work with archives and manuscript collections. It is an opinion piece that I wrote awhile back and is solely my opinion. I do wish to hear comments from folk, so feel free.

I will add that this was originally written as part of a piece that discussed the importance of folk, in this case religious folk, making sure that our history is preserved and also conveyed to others in a language that they can understand.  Because the methods of communicating and recording activity is changing, as is the “language” (including format and technology) used to access those pieces of history we record, we must actively seek to be aware and adapt. It is not a stretch to say that we are in days that might have as much impact as the printing press and vernacular Bible.

And now for our feature presentation.

Jim Havron

 

Not-Just-a-Buzzword 2.0

(or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Web 2.0)

 

Twitter. Flicker. Youtube. Digg. Second Life. Avatars. Social bookmarking. Tagging. Picassa. Open-source. Boxes.com. Wikipedia. Wikis. Scype. del.icio.us. stumbleuopn. Ning. Facebook. Facebook.

 

A few years ago the term Web 2.0 came into being. Shortly thereafter I saw a proliferation of similar terms: Library 2.0, Archives 2.0, Oral History 2.0, Records Management 2.0. The numerical part of these frames suggests an upgrade from a previous version, but in many of the articles I read and seminars I intended the term was just loosely applied to mean that whatever group was hosting the event was acknowledging (usually grudgingly) the existence and (sometimes) importance of digital technology. I have trouble with accepting that the struggle with dealing with archiving e-mail, or digitizing photos. however important these issues it may be, is Web 2.0 when these issues have been discussed since the advent of Web 1.0. The Web 1.0 ( as we will refer to the earlier methods of using the Net with which many of us have become familiar over the past few decades and some of us are just beginning to know) issues, dealing with the increased use of the Internet and digital technology in records and communication, are still with us, but I hope we as archivists will also consider the importance of Web 2.0 to our profession. I am not a Web expert, though I have spent the last several years studying information use and users and have personally embraced many of the “2.0” applications and ideas, and there is not enough room in this post to discuss all the aspects of this phenomenon, but I would like to put out a few thoughts I have on the subject for your consideration.

Web 2.0 is essentially a change in mindset, (I am trying to avoid the term “paradigm shift,”) a new way of approaching things using the Internet as the platform for activity. It is interactive and social in nature and both shapes and is shaped by the users of the Internet. Users of the Internet are no longer satisfied with passive roles as receivers of whatever is placed on the Web by some entity, but instead participate in the process in ways they previously had not. In Web 1.0 on-line newspapers published stories, now they are accompanied by blogs, comments, tagging, and digging. Virtually anyone can place their own video on Youtube or similar sites, self publish their own music, design their own surveys, and add their own research to collective Wikis. People tweet with Twitter and it is now being used in addition to or in place of committee meetings or other activities that support basic functions of organizations. There is what looks like to an outsider to be an entirely new language in text messaging. Avatars (virtual representations of real life individuals) can now do research in Second Life (a virtual world existing in cyberspace) at a virtual library, as well as do business with virtual representations of “First Life” businesses.

If any of these concepts seem unfamiliar, consider that they are things with which an old fogey like me is already familiar. Just imagine how much more there is out there. Perhaps it is time we take a look at the phenomenon of Web 2.0 and discuss among ourselves and with others how it may affect archival theory and practice. Like it or not, we will soon find (if we have not already) that our users’ expectations are shaped by this world. We will have to deal with it.

I suggest three areas for you consideration. First, there are big challenges in issues of appraisal and preservation. The Web 2.0 world offers many choices and methods for communication and interaction. There is a challenge here for archivists. The methods of communication now include not only e-mail and electronic documents, but text messaging, video conferencing, and communication through computer generated surrogates. Many documents found online were specifically designed for or generated by software through, Web sites, and it might be argued that they would have to be viewed in such a format to retain the context of the record. The creator of content is no longer just the organization that hosts the records but might include a variety of different entities that the archivist knows nothing about. All of this will affect how we collect, arrange, describe, and preserve documents from the Internet or that are in some way related to the Internet.

Second, there are challenges in reference services. The Web 2.0 user expects ready access and quick answers. More than ever we will find it difficult to explain the way archives are used. There are almost unlimited sources of information, much of it of dubious quality, far more easily available to researchers than that in many of our collections. If we wish to be a relevant source for researchers, we will need to study them and find where we have the ability to meet their needs in their way, or what means we can use to persuade them to come over to our turf. For that matter, we should honestly re-evaluate “our turf.” Are our ways of doing things, historically derived from a study of records and how they were created and used, still valid in a world where the sources of our theories and practices derived have changed so radically? A tough question, I think.

Third, there are many opportunities for archivists with Web 2.0, perhaps particularly for smaller operations with smaller budgets. Because Web 2.0 encourages active participation by all, there is a strong emphasis on open access software and community Web sites. One of my archives jobs is with a repository with virtually no budget. I have taken advantage of free, on-line seminars. We have used open-source software to edit audio and photographic images. We have plans to add training and informational videos to Youtube and samples of some of our material to other sites where they may be easily found by search engines. We blog, participate in social networks, are planning podcasts, and intend to conduct a survey of users and potential users to see how we can best meet their needs. I have already received reference requests from individuals who found out about our collections through a social network for people researching of similar subjects. I conducted a cross-country reference session through the use of Skype. Perhaps I will place some images at a photo site and invite people to help identify people and places in the images. In my own research I followed directions from other researchers’ tags and was able to find three sets of records that were once part of a single collection but have since been divided. I have “virtually” restored some of the context that was lost. Web 2.0 provides tools that can be used by archivists practicing their craft in more or less traditional ways as well as helping us interact with users who are rapidly moving away from some of the traditional means of doing research.

I have been told that “serious” researchers will still come to archives because they have to. I think that is also a good topic for discussion. As a researcher myself I have often weighed the value of visiting an archives against other alternatives; and many more such alternatives exist today than not so long ago. There is also the question as to whether our obligation is only to the “serious” researcher or does it include the person wanting a quick answer or even to just browse collections?

Perhaps all this is rooted in what we see as our mission as archivists. If our value is in any way connected with our knowledge of the records in our care and the functions of organizations that created them, we must seriously study Web 2.0 and related technology. I suspect we will also have to take part in all of this to some degree in order to understand it. For example, I was in a room full of archivists and historians the other day when someone brought up Twitter and asked if someone else “tweeted.” At least half the faces were totally blank or openly confused, in spite of the amount that has been in the news regarding Twitter recently. From many of the others, I heard mutterings of things like “I don’t do Twitter!” When working on my thesis (on studying use and users in archives, mind you) I was told by one professor that I shouldn’t talk about all these things so much because they were not things we needed to deal with right then. I had brought up the fact that a teenager had wanted to know why she couldn’t access our collections through Second Life. (The young lady did, by the way say come back to tell me that she had found an answer to her question on the Internet.) If we know nothing of the technology, we can not help others use it. As important, perhaps, if we know nothing of the technology that creates the records, we cannot preserve, arrange, describe, or provide access to them.

There are commercials for PCs out there that use children from ages 4 to 10 doing all manner of things that are beyond the skills of most people my age. These children will be in business, designing technology and producing records before I am able to retire. Depending on what years you use to define it, the Internet generation may be larger than that of the Baby Boomers. If they only affect the world a fraction as much as that last mentioned group, I think the Net.Generation will make the life of the archivist interesting, to say the least.

Like Web 2.0, Archives 2.0 isn’t just about technology and how we deal with it but is a mindset, an approach towards who we are and what we do as a profession. These are ideas that deserve discussion. I would welcome the opinions of others.

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 3:55 pm  Comments (31)  
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Some Fun With Technology and Reference

I had an e-mail reference question from a lady in CA the other day. We really needed to talk in person for me to be able to get a sense of what she really wanted. It turned out we were going to have to communicate during a time when I was not going to be at the archives (Tennessee Conference Archives) and would not have access to long distance phone service. I was going to have access to broadband Internet, so I asked if she Skypes. She did indeed, So I plugged in my mic and video cam (these came standard on my wife’s computer but mine is older) and I conducted my first video reference session with someone across the country. There were glitches, of course, but it was a neat experience. Particularly for someone old enough to still use “neat” as an adjective. My intention is to add Skype, including camera and mic,  to the repository computer if it will handle it. This may provide better access for our users.

For those unfamiliar with Skype, it is a voice over Internet protocol software (free) that allows one to communicate from one computer to another over the Internet or even to make phone calls. “Calls” from one computer to another are free. There is a charge for calling a phone number, though so far it seems to be cheaper than long distance services. The neat thing from my point of view is that it also supports video images. My camera is cheap (money and quality), as is my mic. Their combined cost was about $50, but they do serve. I was able to discuss the reference question face-to-face without the cost of the airfare.

Jim

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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