Passing of John Abernathy Smith

John Abernathy Smith, minister and historian, passed away on February13, 2011. He served the Tennessee Conference in several capacities over the years, not the least of which was as a pastor and Conference Historian. He was the author of Cross and Flame: Two Centuries of United Methodism in Middle Tennessee‎ and a recent book on the history of First Methodist UMC in Pulaski. John will be greatly missed.

Published in: on February 24, 2011 at 6:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Apologies For Absences From This Site

I apologize for the lack of past posting and any future inconsistencies in the frequency of my posting. Besides the start of a new job in another city from the one where i live, there have been death and care-giving issues in my family that have hindered my abilities to do this work as well as i would like. As these issues resolve themselves and I adapt to changes that I do not control, I expect to come back up to speed. Feel free to express your own opinions through comments, adding to the blog content. I will note that we screen comments, but not so much for opinion (i.e. you may disagree with me to your hearts content) but so we can eliminate posts that seem to encourage debate if you follow them to their Website, but the link actually leads to buy-new-homes-for-no-money.com or something worse. In short, the delay in posting comments is to remove spam.

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Disaster Planning and Action for Your Historical Collections

In Tennessee and adjoining states, in general, and in the Nashville area in particular, we have just suffered major flooding and loss of property. We should first remember that we have had loss of life as well, and the bottom line on the property is that it is just “stuff.” Even if it is irreplaceable, it is still just stuff. Nothing is more valuable than the lives, so pray for those who have lost loved ones.

I still opened this post with the property issue because I have had some contacts from church folk who want to know what to do about their damaged records and historical items. Here is a preliminary list of responses to some questions.

  • Unfortunately, in some cases there will be little that I can do to help. In others, I will send (and have sent) basic preservation information or offer advice. I will be meeting with a couple of folks regarding their collections later in the week. I am willing to help as much as I can if time allows, but I do work full time and have other responsibilities as well. If you are trained in such things and able to help, please let me know. If you are in need of help, contact me via e-mail, archivist@tnumc.org.
  • If you can’t reach me, try to reach a trained archivist, curator, or conservationist immediately!!!! Time is vital! Chances are I will send you to someone with more training than I have anyway. I have had or conducted workshops and seminars, passed my conservation and preservation section on my certification exam, and have some practical experience, so I can help. If you can find someone better at it than me or I can direct you to a better authority, that will be in everyone’s best interest. Those who work day-to-day with this are the best. I consult them when I can myself, so I suspect you will wish to as well.
  • There are copies of suggested disaster plans and recovery methods used by the UMC available. I will try to get them to whomever needs them.
  • If you are a member of another denomination or confession, I will happily help if help if I can, but I also will try to put you in touch with your structure. They may know of resources available to you of which I am unaware. They will certainly know better than I what is the biggest priority in your collection based upon types of records kept, what is most valuable to your practices, and where there may be other copies.
  • Remember that anything that has been submerged or exposed to flood water should be treated as toxic!!!! Gloves, protective clothing, clean-up well afterward. Tetanus shots are in order if there are any scratches or open wounds, no matter how small the injury or contact.
  • COW-MMM, Clouds of Witnesses-Memory Ministry and Missions, will be refining its “Basket or Bag” training to help people prepare for personal disaster by learning to prioritize and prepare what records and documents one most needs to take along in an emergency and how to prepare to minimize damage to the rest. It will be available again soon. There will be more on this as we develop a larger staff, but if you know of someone in need of this, please contact me. (Basket or bag refers to getting things down to what will fit in a large handbag or a basket that can be carried in one hand. We work on that, steps than can be taken to help preserve other items or the history they represent, and developing a mindset that helps us let go of the rest. I say “us” because I’ve been there.)
  • I have spoken with a colleague who is an archivist for a large church connection and with whom I have worked on other projects in the past. We hope to work out plans for special workshops or training for local churches on disaster planning and recovery. The idea will be to pool resources, hopefully including experts from different fields and professionals from different confessions who work at multiple levels of organization (local church, diocese, convention, denomination, historical society, etc.) We are archivists and historians, so records and historical collections are our focus, but we may work out ways to present this in a larger context of disaster planning and recovery for life in general. More to come.
  • The Society of Tennessee Archivists has potential resources that may be accessed as well. There are professional conservators among our membership.

Stay tuned for updates. Email if you need to.

Jim

Jim Havron, MA, CA

Archivist- TN Conf. UMC

Alert! Reference Delays!

Because of the recent flooding in the Nashville area, there may be some additional delay in reponse times to reference requests. The Conference Archives is okay, but there have been some requests for advice and help on issues relating to preservation and damage recovery that will take priority. In addition, the primary researcher, a.k.a. me, has had to spend time dealing with other urgent issues relating to the storms and flooding. Please bear with me if you are in line for answers to reference questions. I will help as soon as I can and as best as I can.

Jim

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 5:29 am  Leave a Comment  

Random Personal Thought

There are no archivists in Heaven.

Think about it.

(Historians might be another matter, though that would be debatable I think.)

Jim

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Paper or Plastic, er, PDF.

During a dinner with some other historians the other evening, we had a very short discussion about whether or not to publish historical journals online as pdf documents. One of the party, a publisher, was adamantly opposed to the idea, at least as a sole source of publication. One of his arguments was that paper documents will survive longer than digital ones, a concept with which I agree, up to a point. I see the discussion as part of a couple of larger issues, however, and one has some bearing on the issue of preservation. I hope that there will be some open discussion about this.

The first of the two larger issues I see is that of the purpose of a historical journal, or for that matter any publication. Are we producing it for communication in the present time or as a part of the greater historical record (communication over a long period of time?) If the former, should we not seek to provide the publication in a form that will most efficiently communicate what, and to whom, we wish to communicate? A pdf file is certainly an option. Readers may read or print the pages as they desire. There are, of course, potential  issues concerning copyright and distribution, maybe unauthorized people easily obtaining copies, things like that, but those exist if someone scans a hard copy as well. If you have an open license and wish to distribute to as many folks as possible, this would definitely be an advantage.

Libraries have found that electronic versions of journals are economical and provide greater access than print copies. In many cases, the journals also exist in hard copy, but it seems likely that, just as many other documents have ceased to be published in non-digital formats, this will eventually be the case for journals. But on-line publishing is not new, nor, in my opinion, is it likely to go away any time soon. The e-zine is already well established, and many news publications are online only. Some strange folks publish blogs. Go figure.

The point is that if a journal is published to reach as many people as possible, it seems unlikely its mission will be met by paper publishing only. [Aside: I am assuming that if my publisher friend reads this, he will excuse my use of passive voice because he has already made it through various other anomalies of style and grammar by now.] Now if the purpose of the journal is to create a historical record that will last, that is another matter. Or is it?

The dilemma that many archivists are likely to face in the not too distant future is one of how many resources they will be able to devote to preservation of physical documents when more and more of the records in their care exist in digital formats. If enough of the documents in their care are in these seemingly more fragile media, it will become “economical” (in terms of all resources, not just financial ones) to find better ways to preserve them and migrate them to new media where they can be accessed more readily. Published materials, not unique as are original records, will be just as easy to preserve as records should this happen, since the methods used will be the same or similar. The inclusion of published, mass produced material in the mix will increase the quantity of things to be preserved, increasing the pressure to find ways to accomplish that feat as well as making the per -item cost (again, in overall resources) decrease.

There is also a built in aspect of preservation with digital publications that may not be there for records. That is redundancy. The lower cost of making and distributing digital copies of journals, as well as the practice of backing up digital files,  allows more copies to exist in more places at a time, thus increasing the chances that at least a few copies of a journal will survive should a mega disaster occur. The relatively small amount of space that such files take up reduces the chances that they will need to be discarded to make room for others.

So why not do on-line publishing for all such journals? Well, the negatives I see are that, first, there is a difference between reading a physical book and a digital one. I tend to print the parts of pdf file journals that I want to peruse and read them in hard copy. Second, paper is unlikely to become obsolete anytime soon, unlike many file formats that exist in the digital world. It will not have to be migrated to a new format. Third, I believe that for the present there is a sense of added value to paper products that is not attached to digital ones. This last is, perhaps, enhanced by a perception based on the difference in a concrete item vs. a virtual one, but there just the same.

All this being said, I think that as more and more people accept the concept of digital communication and publishing, more people will begin to demand it. The challenge for the preservation minded historian, archivist or librarian will be to remain alert and be sure that the published material migrates from format to format, assuring its continued existence. There will always be specialty publishing that will put out print copies, but these last will be paid for at a higher rate than their digital counterparts. And as anyone who has worked in or studied archival management or library sciences knows, they will still require conservation and preservation.

Today at the library where I work my “day job,” I had a couple who wanted me to show them how to use our microfilm scanner to scan copies of articles from a newspaper so they could e-mail them to themselves and others. They were in their 80s. Yesterday a woman in her 70s wanted to know if she could just download a book because we, as a non-circulating collection, could not loan it to her.  Imagine how things will be when the majority of our readers are folk who grew up using computers. (Imagine what we might want to do if we wish to attract such people now!) If we produce material for publication, particularly if we are non-profit and want to get the message out to as many people as possible or we have a very limited budget, I think we should consider the advantages of publishing at least part of our material online.

Response &/or rebuttals may now begin.

Jim

Tennessee Conference Oral History Project to Record Preachers and Preachers’ Spouses (Spice?)

The Conference Archives has long collected biographical information on clergy. Now they will be expanding the target of the information as they accept the donations of oral histories recorded as part of a new project to document the clergy through oral history. A small team of oral historians has decided to undertake the recording of both clergy and their spouses as part of a project that will produce broadcast quality, digital format, audio recordings of the interviews. Copies of the recordings will be donated to both the Conference Archives and Southeastern Jurisdiction Heritage Center for research purposes. The participants will get copies and the team will keep archival copies on hard drive and disk, planning on migrating the recordings to newer formats and storage methods as technology advances. The focus on the spouses of clergy is a new thing and will hopefully fill a gap in research material that has existed for some time.

On a related note, the SEJ will be offering its bi-annual preservation training November 14, 2009 at Lake Junaluska, NC. One of the sessions will be on oral history. Should you know of anyone who would like to start such a project, this might be a good opportunity to learn more about it. More contact information will be available here in the future or at the Tennessee Methodist Historians social network. Visit and join at http://tnumchistorians.ning.com.

Tennessee Conference Archives News

Beginning

Welcome to this blog for people who have an interest in the history of Methodism in Tennessee, particularly Middle Tennessee. It is an experimental process at this time. I have had mixed success with past blogs, so this will be a test at first.  I will initially use it as a means to communicate information from the archives/library of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. I will also pass on pertinent information from others. I have set this up under my own volition, so in a sense it is unofficial, but I intend it to be an avenue for communication in my official capacity as archivist for the Conference.

I have the comments enabled so others can comment, but at present the comments must be cleared by an administrator before posting.  If you wish to pose a question or start a thread, the administrator may post your comment as a new post at your request, rather than leave it as an unrelated post.

This whole process may change as we go along, but we will try it this way for now. In my past blogging experience, I have had this method be both successful and more trouble than it is worth, so we will just see.

More to come.

Jim

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.