Celebrating Archives Month! – 10 Reasons for Methodists to Save Documents and Historical Objects

October is both National and Tennessee Archives Month. I have spoken with a good number of church historians (sorry if I haven’t gotten to you; feel free to email me at archivist@tnumc.org) and encouraged them to establish records management programs and archives if they did not already have them. I have also encouraged them to use this time to make a concerted efforts to recover the church records that were in “Granny Williams’” trunk and celebrate their return. I also noted that the Conference archives will gladly take copies of such records for preservation or keep the originals, if the charge has no ability to do this.

One thing I found, (not surprisingly, actually) was that many folk do not see the importance, in the grand scheme of things, of keeping all that stuff. Will it help feed someone? Will it bring someone to Christ? Will it support someone’s faith as they deal with the death of a loved one or some other tragedy? Is it that important?

As someone who wrestled long and hard with the idea that a person could be called to “memory ministry,” I answer unequivocally, “Yes!” (I will cover this idea later in another piece, as I have written a more extensive document on the subject and will extract passages to make it appropriate for this forum.)

There are many reasons I give this answer, but below I have a sort of “Top 10 List. They aren’t necessarily the top reasons, but they are quick, easy to understand, and cover several areas of use of records. They come, with the exception of number 10, from the conversations I have had with church historians and staff of different kinds, secretaries, clergy, and laity, regarding this topic. I particularly like the last one, which is just a quote, but which I use frequently enough to have printed on a business card. So here they are. For Tennessee Archives Month:

“Ten Reasons Why Methodists Should Actively Pursue Keeping Records and Preserving Their History”

1.       Records and church documents are testimony. Can you imagine the Bible without the testimony of Peter and Paul through the Epistles? Our historical documents are the testimony of saints.

2.       What is not history today will be tomorrow; what is not important or unusual today, may be tomorrow.

3.       Preservation of our history is a gift to our descendants. I have seen tears of joy in the eyes of many people when they found evidence of the activities of their ancestors or the early days of their congregation.

4.       Documents may help us discern and explain the truth. In a world where our youth (and older folk as well) are bombarded by opinions about all manner of things, through all manner of media, there must be some place that they can go to see original sources, allowing them to base their opinions and beliefs on less filtered information. It is amazing how many people get incorrect ideas about Christianity and other things from the opinions of other people whom they have never met and about who they know little.

5.       Record preservation helps resolve disputes. More than once in the past few years disputes regarding past actions of the church were resolved by consultation of records. By the same token, I have seen the absence of records leave arguments unresolved and seen dissension grow.

6.       Historical documents show our relationship with the Methodist Church as a whole and the Church Universal. They also help us see our relationship with the world at large and how we both affect and are affected by it.

7.       Maintenance of church records is part of our tasks as Methodists, outlined in the Discipline and further defined by the actions of various Commissions and Committees.

8.       Maintaining our records is a good idea for very practical reasons. As of this writing, 3 times in the last 6 months, I have been asked as conference archivist to search for records that would prove changes in the structure of a congregation or support actions they have taken with distinct legal and monetary repercussions.  In none of the 3 cases had the records been deposited with the archives, so I was unsuccessful. In 2 cases we were able to find some things that helped, but in 1, there was nothing.

9.       In many cases, records maintenance is required by law. In many more cases, a well implemented records management program may save a church from severe consequences in a legal action. The presence of such a program is a defense, its absence a tool for a plaintive against the church.

10.   “Biblical faith takes history very seriously because God takes it seriously”Frederick Buechner

One last thing. I work in the secular world of archives. In the past several years I have had the pleasure of doing outreach, helping people with their own programs, and just generally working with folk regarding history on different levels. In a secular world (e.g. working for the Nashville Public library, my former employer) if someone looks at you and thanks you for your ministry, you know it makes a difference.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Masters in History and is a Certified Archivist, working in the public sector in addition to his work with the 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 practice focusing on religious history, oral history, and user advocacy. His primary area of historical expertise is the creation, preservation, perpetuation, dissemination, and use of information and technology, as well as religious history. 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.

Methodist History Rebuilt (Literally) In Lebanon TN

The Asbury-Babb House

The Asbury-Babb House as it looked in late Dec. 2003

The Asbury-Babb house, long associated with the last known place where Francis Asbury, the senior bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, formally preached is rapidly rising again in Lebanon, TN. (Well, rapidly is a relative term, as much of the work on this historic log home must be done by hand, and the hands of specially trained and qualified people at that. Still, it is progressing much more rapidly than has been possible until recently.) The log home was the owned by the prominent Babb family and was used by circuit-riding preachers when they came by. Asbury stayed there when he presided over the Tennessee Annual Conference shortly before his death. He was headed for other conferences when he died, but never reached them. He was ill during the Tennessee Conference, held at Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church (currently Bethlehem UMC, located directly in front of the present site of the home.) Some circuit riders reported that he preached and confirmed from the upstairs window of the home. Accounts vary a bit, but it is known that he stayed in the home during the conference and was taken there while ill. It was from there that he departed the last annual conference he ever attended.

The Babb home was moved from its original site a few hundred yards up the hill behind the church to its present location in the 1970s. Recognizing its historical significance to the history of both the church and the area (Methodism played an important role in the settling of the West, the Babbs were prominent in the area, and the home had unusual, if not unique, architectural features) the Tennessee Conference made it a historic site and transferred the management of the property to the Conference Commission of Archives and History (CAH).
The CAH administered it as a museum, where artifacts were displayed and history was interpreted to visitors by a volunteer curator/docent. Because the building had been occupied until the 1950s, it had some modern features. Electricity had been added and it was also used on occasion as a meeting place. Unfortunately, the building deteriorated during lean budget times. Experts were consulted regarding the historical value and preservation needs of the structure as far back as 2004, but it was not until fairly recently that the funds were found to restore the building.

The manner of the restoration was the subject of much discussion, as history professionals know often occurs in such cases. The decision finally agreed upon was to disassemble the home, marking and saving the logs, treating the materials, and then reassembling them with an eye to trying to be as true to the original design as possible. It was known upfront that compromises would have to be made, but as the home was not in its “original” state at the time of the dis-assembly, and indeed had not been for over a century, this was not, in the end, a big issue. Once the structure is completely reassembled, it may be a part not only of the interpretation of the early frontier life, but of the changing nature of the region, the church, and even of the process by which we choose to preserve and present history. It has the potential to be a great asset to the church and the community.

Michael Gavin, log structure specialist

Michael Gavin, log structure specialist, evaluating structure in 2004.

Michael Gavin, characteristics of house

Michael Gavin, log structure specialist, speaks of characteristics of house in 2004.

The Asbury-Babb restoration process has been long. Besides financial issues, there have been the inevitable delays in the different phases of the project caused by bureaucracy as decisions were made through various formal processes. (The CAH is, after all, a commission of the church; full disclosure, I am a member) as well as those attributable to weather, the health of the contractor, and the fact that volunteers were being used for much of the unskilled work. Local people and businesses contributed work, equipment, or gave discounted rates for a variety of things, which helped get the job done, but such processes take time to arrange and often require adjusting the work to fit the schedule of the contributor.

All that being said, the walls are rising and the rafters will soon be in place. We anticipate the frame, minus the chinking, roof, and some details, will be completed by the fall. I went to Lebanon to see the progress today (28 June 2010) and was astounded at the progress made. I hope to visit more often and post updates here.

Log home specialist hand-shapes logs

Mark, a log home specialist, hand-shapes logs during re-assembly

Re-assembly1

Re-assembly of Asbury-Babb House moving right along

David Collier has been the CAH’s project manager for this, at least officially. His wife, Linda, is the curator of the home, as well as a member of the Tennessee Conference Historical Society and the CAH (it is she that has been baking the brownies for the Historical Society luncheon at Annual Conference, I understand) and so they are pretty much a team. Two for the price of one. They have sought out, or been sought out by, a myriad of volunteers and experts over the past couple of years. After we have a chance to get “thank yous” to those folks, we will have to record the story of the house for posterity. Larry Marshall is presently the chair of the CAH, although the project predates his tenure.

In the meantime, if you have any comments on the project, please let us know. Several proposals have been made regarding the home and its use both for the benefit of the church and the community in the coming years.
Check back for updates.

[Unedited video of trip on Youtube, here. Quality poor, but gives some idea of where things are- Jim]

Jim

A Question of Time for Historians Planning Programs

Ah. The perennial question (here.) Or at least the decennial one.

This is a dilemma for many folks in doing planning for church historical events. When it comes right down to it, from the point of view of the age of, say, a congregation, it probably doesn’t matter if you celebrate the advent or completion of it’s 100th year.

But it is an interesting conundrum for others when determining decades, centuries and millennia as to whether to use one’s instincts (if they run that way; mine do not but then I’m peculiar) and say that the year 2010 was the start of a new decade and what went before was the first decade of a new century, or to follow the logic of the Heretic archivist and see that 2010 is the last year of the decade and therefore next Dec. 31/Jan. 1 is when we should look back.

I guess that the fact that so many people have trouble grasping this one is partly a “right-brain, left-brain” thing, but is not helped by the fact that there have been several acknowledged errors in the creation of the various calendars over the year and the inclusion of the erroneous (isn’t that term ironic?) statement that “a year zero was accidentally left out” among them seems to be readily accepted. The argument on the Heretic archivist site is, however, basically correct if you have a wish to check it out.

Where are You as Far as Keeping the Faith?

During the past year I have had both struggles and blessings when it comes to the way I have been able to approach and execute my job as Archivist for the Tennessee Conference. The biggest items in each of these categories center around the attitudes that local churches take towards their own role in keeping the evidence of their heritage of faith and the importance of that heritage to the churches.

In the blessings category, I rarely have a week go by that I do not receive a request from some church (granted, not always a Methodist one) for advice regarding the proper way to record and preserve their history, on methods for presenting the history of the church, or for suggestions on how to stir interest in that history. When members of some churches tell me that such things are not really that important, that churches rarely do or should spend resources in trying to preserve their history in a professional manner because they are not filled with history professionals, I am supported by the fact that for every one lay or clergy person who tells me such things I have requests for help from about two. Amen!

In the struggle category are not only those who suggest that professional and informed methods are a waste of resources rather than a ministry of the church, but those who are frustrated by the absence of records regarding their churches to be found in the Conference archives. They do not understand that the records that we have are what are given to us and that we do not have a staff to actively record the information on each church so that it will be here at some future date. If the church does not choose to keep it, and furthermore to give copies to the Conference, we do not have it, unless it has fallen into our laps by chance. That means that when, 40 years from now, one of the churches that does not now think much of the importance of keeping its records celebrates its bicentennial, we will not be able to fill in the gaps in their records for them.

Properly, the records of the various districts and the Tennessee Annual Conference no longer in active use but deemed to have historical value (hopefully through the criteria set forth in a good records plan such as that suggested by the General Conference) should come to us. We also should be available to take records that a local church cannot care for or to take copies they may wish to deposit with us for safekeeping. We are quite willing to do all of this. We are also supposed to receive the records of closed churches in the Conference. We do, however, rely upon the local churches and districts to provide us with their records. The Discipline gives the Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History the responsibility and authority to set up records management for the actual records of the Conference.

I would like to bring attention to a change in the wording of the Discipline over the last couple of editions regarding the role of the Local Church Historian. In the past, it was just suggested that the church have one and his or her duties were vaguely defined. In the most recent editions of it is still not mandatory for a church to have this position filled, but in the event it is, the duties are well spelled out. The Historian has “custodial” authority over historical records and objects. This is a specific, professional and legal term. I urge local churches to take their duty to preserve the faith seriously, and church historians to do all they can to exercise their authority in a faithful manner. This is not only their call and duty in a moral and ethical sense, but quite possibly in a legal one as well.

Keep the Faith.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron is a Certified Archivist and  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, religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. His primary historical research expertise is the history of communication and information theory and practice. 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.

Society of Tennessee Archivists Gives Awards to Students and Professionals

The Society of Tennessee Archivists (STA) had its annual meeting and workshops this year from November 11-13, 2009. This year two awards were given to students in the form of scholarships to allow them to attend the meeting and three members received special recognition for their work in the archives field.

The recipients of the student scholarships were Natalie Goodwin of Middle Tennessee State University and Sarah C. Shippy Copeland (second time winner) from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville.) We should celebrate the interest of these young folk as at the recent SEJ history workshop weekend one topic of conversation and prayer concern was the need for younger folks to provide new blood to the practice of history and related fields.

There were also three recipients of the John H. Thweatt Award for the advancement of archives and archival issues. This year’s recipients were Gordon Belt (whose Posterity Project blog is both in our blog roll and has provided links to this blog,) Suzette Raney of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, and Mary Helms, of that same institution. Congratulations to them all.

Two other scholarships, the Mary C. Barnes Award and the Sam B. Smith Award were not awarded this year. The first is usually given in memory Mary Catherine Barnes, an archivist who worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Metropolitan Archives of Nashville & Davidson County. (We supply no link to the award as we have been advised that the qualifications are under revision.) Her concern to further her archival education and training was the inspiration for the scholarship. The last award is a privately funded scholarship offered in honor of Dr. Sam B. Smith, former State Librarian and Archivist, professor of history, member of various boards and commissions promoting history in the United Methodist Church, and mentor and ongoing inspiration to undergraduate and former undergraduate history students. It is a new scholarship for undergraduates who wish to explore the  archives profession as a possible career goal, and its criteria may change from year to year. Although there was originally a recipient this year, she withdrew her name when she discovered she would be unable to attend as required by the criteria of 2009. There will be a scholarship or award offered for another history event in its place as the funders wish to honor Dr. Smith and his impact on their lives.

The Tennessee Conference Archives as well as some of our church archivists and historians are members of STA. Until November 13, I had the honor to serve as vice-president/president elect of that body. I now have the honor to serve as president. There are at least three archivists of religious institutions among its officers and board members, so our unique points of view are added to those of our secular brothers and sisters in the profession.

 

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.

“Doing” Oral History & Comments on SEJ Oral History Workshop

I found that the workshop I did on oral history at the SEJ Preservation weekend seemed to be well received. Either that or we have some very courteous folk who pretended to enjoy it. I wish to assume the former.

I was particularly pleased that some folk seemed to take to heart my belief that oral history is not just a means of recording people’s memories of the past, (as in recording a 90 year old man’s memories of being 10 years old,) but also a means of documenting the present for future generations, (as in recording a 10 year old boy’s thoughts on what it is like to be 10 years old; than trying to preserve it for 80 years.) This approach deals with part of why historians of some schools of thought do not accept oral history as legitimate evidence. (I will cover the value of oral history as evidence at another time, either here or some other place to which I will provide a link.)

During the weekend several attendees asked if I would provide them with my PowerPoint presentation, access to tutorials I have done or am doing, and be available to answer questions regarding oral history, particularly as it applies to the church. The answer in each case was, of course, “yes.” Since others have asked similar questions, including readers of this blog, I will try to use this as a forum for some such material; or at least to provide a pathway to such material I may produce or have produced. The blog will also be a good place for me to provide links to other, more experienced sources than myself.

I hope that some of you with ideas on oral history and its many uses (or lack thereof) will comment here, or will seek to become a part of the Tennessee Methodist History Ning social network (http://tnumchistorians.ning.com) and start or add to forums. It is for “members” only and membership must be authorized, but this is mostly a formality just to make it possible to assertively suggest that those who abuse the network find another place to do their business. You may request an invitation. If the main page does not give you the option to join, feel free to e-mail me at archivist@tnumc.org.

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.

Back From SEJ History Preservation Workshop

I just returned from the biannual SEJ History Preservation Workshop where I presented a workshop on doing oral history that focused on how one does a project, how one preserves older histories, and various uses for such projects/histories. There were also workshops on dealing with electronic records, basic conservation and writing a church history. I think the economy (plus a couple of landslides on some of the main routes to Lake Junaluska) reduced the number of attendees this year, but we still had good programs. I was very impressed with clossing worship. It focused on remembrance and particularly created an impact on my wife.

I was unable to attend the meeting of the SEJ Commission on Archives and History due to a commitment I was unable to escape. We were not able to obtain a replacement, so the Tennessee Conference was not represented at that meeting. I did, however, get a summary of part of the meeting and a promise of notes on the rest; all of which I will post here when I have them.

Please remember:

Although I have to “okay” a comment to for it to appear on this blog, I only filter them for spam or inappropriate (as in vulgar, not disagreeing with my point of view) comments. I welcome input. I do request that if you disagree with my point of view on something that you document your reasons whenever possible.

 

Also remember that, although this blog is not “official” in that it is not run by the church or on a church site, I established it to be a forum in my capacity as Conference Archivist and therefore avoid, whenever possible, publishing personal views that are excessively controversial. There are other places where I do this and will often provide links to such places so people who read this blog may have a chance to jump right into the discussion. (Note: Everything I have put out on the Internet and elsewhere is not under my own name. I have been known to publish pseudonymously.)

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.

 

Historian, Minister, Manager, Scientist: Comments on Other Posts

The discussion regarding the role and responsibility of archivists/historians/records managers is in dialogue again. The Records Junkie posits using the term “Records Science” instead of management. The Heretic responds, suggesting that the term “theory and practice” should replace both terms for both the records and archives management fields. Interesting thoughts, particularly in a world where technology (practical application of science) has changed so much of what and how we do history.

In a world where many of us do not separate our work as historians from our work as Christians, the idea of abandoning the word “science” is, perhaps, easier to swallow than it might be for others. We do, after all, participate in Memory Ministry, a far cry from what most would think of as science. We might find the practical “management” okay, even comforting, depending on our stand on free will or our tendency to accept having our information “managed.” As a certified archivist, I understand the need for managing a record cycle and the frustration of not receiving the records that should come my way.

I especially approve of managing because we have both open meeting and open records policies stated in the Discipline in the spirit of openness, and a good records policy helps assure that the meetings are open and the information from them is available to all. Still, as a historian, I do not like to think of myself as “managing” the stuff of history. It exposes me as a biased person. Oh well.

Thoughts?

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

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