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

Possible Change in On-Site Access Hours for Tennessee Conference UMC Archives

The bad news is there have been staff and hour reductions at my “real” job. The Nashville Public Library Special Collections Division has had funding reduced (along with all of NPL, of course) and will close on Mondays. My hours have not been reduced, I will have to work longer days.

The good (somewhat less bad than it could be?) news is that I was not among those cut (good from my perspective, pray for the others though) and the Nashville Public Library Special Collections Division will be closed on Mondays.

The change in hours in my “real” job will allow me to be available more often on Mondays. My hours have not been decreased, so I will still have to do things on Mondays that I used to do in the mornings or evenings of other days, but will no longer have the time for on those days. Additionally, I will be working more weekends at my “real” job.

That being said, I will have larger blocks of time in which to work at the archives. Please note that this does not mean the archives will be regularly open on Mondays or that everytime I am there I will be able to allow folks in to do research. On site research will still be by appointment only for the time being. (We will still do our best to answer research questions by phone, e-mail, social network, USPS, etc.)  It does mean, however, that there will be more opportunities to make appointments. I also hope to be able to use some of that time to recruit and train staff that may be able to provide services at other times in the future.

Stay tuned as things develop.

Jim
TN Conf. Archivist

Researching Your Church Family Tree #2: In Search of the Local Pastor List

I frequently receive requests (and since I’ve been at this particular job for a very short time, for something to be considered “frequent” says something) for a list of all the pastors of a specific church or charge. This request is frequently part of an individual’s desire to write a church history or a congregation planning a special event. A few of those who have contacted me have done so because, as new Church Historians, they wisely feel that they should have such a list handy. Unfortunately for these researchers, such lists are not always available at our archives. Just as in the case of individual church histories, family trees, or for that matter any compiled history, a repository or library generally has such things only if another researcher has compiled one. We do, of course, have many of the resources needed to do the research for such a project, but many of these resources have yet to find their way to the Archives and Library.

Should you be interested in compiling such a list, here are a few tips on doing the necessary research. Some are specific to Methodist archives, but most apply or can be adapted to other institutions. The list is by no means exhaustive, and there may be more tips forthcoming on this blog at a later date. I hope readers will comment with their own tips as well. Also, as with all things historical, don’t assume that because someone else wrote something down and published it, their research is necessarily accurate.

  • This may seem obvious, but I have discovered that many do not do this. Start locally! Check your local church resources. There may be an old church history that will give you what you want, up to a point. If your church has old Conference Journals, the appointments will be in there. (Always remember that appointments can be changed in mid year.) There are memoirs of pastors in the later ones as well. Any charge conference records or records of committees where the pastor might have served or made reports might mention a name you have not yet found. Baptism, marriage and funeral records may also list the pastor.
  • Talk to older people and get their stories. Many times folks have trouble with exact dates, but will at least recall the names. Many of these members have wonderful memories. They may also have family records or pictures that include a pastor (baby book, certificate of marriage or baptism, Sunday school graduation certificate, etc.) They may have some old records of the church if they served on a committee in the past and these could augment the church’s collection. Don’t forget the home bound. They are great potential resources and often glad for the chance to visit and remember.
  • Community and state sources are good places to look. If you can establish that a member died or was married in a specific time, you may wish to look for a public record of the event that may include a pastor’s name. This is particularly true of marriage records. Just be careful; many folks had marriages or funerals performed by clergy who were not their local pastors.
  • Genealogical sources, on-line bulletin boards, social networks, etc. are also good places to look for information on pastors. Network with other researchers who might have information you do not.
  • If your church maintained a parsonage, old city directories, tax records, even maps, might help determine the resident of such a parsonage. Census records can sometimes help here, though they were only recorded every ten years and it is sometimes hard to pinpoint specific locations with them. If a church owned real property subject to taxation, the pastor might be mentioned
  • Although records of the individual churches legally belong to the church or conference, many have found their way into local historical societies, libraries or archives. Look there as well. Sometimes the institutions microfilmed such records with the permission of the church, making it possible to search many records more quickly than if they were in paper files.
  • Don’t forget local or church newspapers. Particularly in small towns and in the “old days.” Appointments to local churches and church events were often covered in newspapers.
  • Don’t forget other denominations or confessions. In some places and at some times, a church newspaper served much the same role as a community newspaper. (I have some copies of my great-grandfather’s paper, the Cumberland Presbyterian Banner, published at just such a time. He sometimes wrote about general community news and listed the subject of the sermon and Sunday School lesson for the local Baptist and Methodist churches on occasion.)
  • Always note the source of your information. I have seen several inaccurate lists of appointments. I received a memorial roll from an official of the church that is supposed to be itself official, but has some obvious errors in it. If you have conflicts or errors, noting your sources may help to resolve them.
  • Remember that there were divisions in the church at times in our history, and a congregation may have belonged to a different branch of the now United Methodist Church. Those records may or may not be readily available to the Conference archives. We will, of course, do all we can to help put folks in touch with the appropriate source for your research.

Remember, this is research and takes time. You are putting together a historical jigsaw puzzle. There will be gaps in the record, but do your best. If you can’t find it, note where you looked. Someone else may later be able to fill in the gaps. If you find a “piece” but don’t know where it fits, note that as well. That piece may connect with one found at a later time. And as always, the Archives and Library of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church will always be happy to accept copies of research relating to the Conference, its predecessors or constituent parts.

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

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

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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