Staff Improvement at the Historical Library and Archives

The Tennessee Conference historical library and archives (currently officially the archival depository) has been blessed with a change in staff that will greatly increase access to our collections. Von Unruh, past archivist and present Conference Historian, has been appointed to the position of Historian and Archivist. The position is part time as Von will also be serving as a local church pastor. The position is currently being referred to by a combined title, Tennessee Conference Historian and Archivist, although the role of conference archivist is actually a separate position appointed by the Commission on Archives and History while Rev. Unruh’s position of historian and archivist  came as a conference appointment.

The Historical Library and Archives will begin a new schedule, being opened most weekdays in the mornings through very early afternoon. The exact hours will soon be posted. (Please note: we are still short staffed and Rev. Unruh has many pastoral duties, so it is always a good idea to call first to be sure the depository is open before coming down to do research.) As always, the archives may be opened by appointment on a staff availability basis should a researcher be unable to  make the usual times. Staff restrictions also make only limited research requests to be answered from a distance.

Von brings with him an intimate knowledge of the library and archives, as well as an extensive knowledge of Methodist (in general) and Tennessee Methodist History. He is a trained historian and researcher in addition to being an elder of the church. His appointment bodes well for an increased energy in the Conference’s “ministry of memory.”

Jim Havron will remain as an archivist, although he will now be under the direction of the historian and archivist. We will also still have the services of various volunteers and our administrative assistant, Jackie McFarland.

Alert! Some Damage in Tennessee Conference Archives!

Since the initial check of the archives in the early days of the flooding in Nashville, TN, there has been some damage. The archive is located on the second story of a multi-story building, so it was not suspected to sustain any further damage.

After speaking to a member of the church in whose building the repository is located, I realized that leaks had developed in the building. He told me that there had been leaking in an upstairs floor where there is an exercise room and he thought someone had said there were leaks elsewhere in the building. I hastened to the repository, opened the door, and realized that not only had moisture gotten into the room, but the AC had been turned off as well. The musty smell and the high temperature were unmistakable. Carpet on both sides of a set of shelves was wet. Some supplies were on the floor and had been pushed against the shelves, serving as siphons for the water. I turned the air back on, and proceeded to do what I could.

My disaster plan called for me contacting the landlord (church) to have their people made aware of the damage. I am working on this, but my contact numbers have not worked. The damage that has been done that requires immediate attention is all work I can do myself, so that part is not really an issue. I have stabilized the damaged portion of the collection. A wet-vac (kept on site) got what water was possible to suck up, and we’ve put down some absorbent material (kept on site) to take up more. I have a fan (kept on site) going and the documents that are damp are drying. We do not have a dehumidifier (missed that one for on site, but have 2 listed as available in the plan,) but I will obtain one within a day. The space is small enough that a residential unit should work. (Particularly if the air remains on.)

Fortunately the damage is not extensive. One item will need pressing. There are several items that have curled up in the humidity that will have to be dealt with, but that should not be an issue. Several older volumes were stored in containers that were themselves ruined, but the moisture had failed to reach more than the outside bindings of the volumes. Some papers were damp on the edges, as were some bound volumes, but they are drying nicely. A few published papers were fairly badly damaged, but we have other copies. No sign of mold, warping, or damage to writing on any of those items. Several cartons of supplies that were on the floor were ruined. Only a small handful of unique documents have been damaged at all, and they seem to be salvageable. (I moved an oil painting that had been left on the floor by someone away from the area into storage just two weeks ago, thank God.)

There is still work to do. The disaster plan mostly worked as it was supposed to, and salvage operations have gone well. Communication fell through with people not connected to the archives or under its control, though. The next stage will be to discuss with the appropriate people what needs to be done to repair more extensive damage in the form of wet carpet that might produce mold. We also need to discover why the archivist was not called when the occupants and owners of the building became aware that there were leaks and see that we get something in place to keep that from happening again. The books and documents will have to be removed from those shelves where the leak was and the shelves moved to be sure we are dry and mold free. Of course, the leak itself will need repair. We will once again have to discuss the need for leaving environmental controls in place. An evaluation of the incident will be submitted to the Commission on Archives and History as soon as possible.

We were lucky. Or blessed.

Jim Havron, C.A.

Archivist

Service Reduction at Tennessee Conference Archives

Lack of parking has created an access issue for Archives and Library staff, most all of whom have full-time jobs apart from their work at the archives. The time spent in extra travel, coupled with the inability to access the archives for transfer of supplies and collection material, has caused us to have to greatly reduce the amount of service we can provide potential patrons.

We regret to say that, although there will still be times when we can make appointments to allow patrons to access the collections, the majority of the time research will have to be handled by our very limited reference service staff. (At present, this consists of a single volunteer with full-time employment elsewhere and a family.)  The same is true of processing that needs to be done to collections. We will continue to take in records and other documents that are appropriate as long as we can provide appropriate preservation and conservation, but it may be some time before these collections are made available to the public.

We hope the day will come soon that we can remedy this situation, but in the meantime, we ask your patience.

Feel free to contact the Conference Archivist, Jim Havron, with any questions at archivist@tnumc.org

Jim Havron CA, MA

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

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

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