Social Media and the Church- Ongoing Commentary

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


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 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.



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 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.


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

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

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.


Researching Your Church Family Tree #1

I receive a lot of interesting research questions in both my job as archivist and as a special collections library associate (a job I hold based in part on my education in history and archives management.) I was contacted by someone the other day seeking to confirm the date that her church was founded. She stated that she was involved in the planning of the church’s 175th anniversary, a statement similar to those I have heard many times when I have discussed church history with others (100th, 150th, 175th, the number isn’t what is important.) This lady asked “How do you determine exactly when your church was founded?” This is a question that is a bit rarer than a simple statement of the church’s age as fact. Usually the founding date of the church is not questioned if there is a tradition regarding it. I recently was asked to provide information about the founding of a church “X” many years ago in an area that was not settled until about “X” minus 50 years ago, obviously a difficult task. I have found two separate histories of the same church with entirely different stories and dates of their founding. I have also found lists of pastors and membership rolls that are obviously not connected to the church in question. It occurs to me that perhaps more folk would have benefitted by asking that question “How do you know?”

Church history is much like genealogy. Congregations rely on volunteers to keep records, many of whom do, in fact, keep them; forever. Minutes are lost or not kept. Records are just not a priority. This is similar to when family records get thrown out, shoved in the attic, or just misplaced. Years later, someone in the family, church or biological, decides they want to know the history of their forebears. Someone collects the memories as best they are able, interprets what records are available, and fills in the gaps with seemingly sensible, if un-provable, narrative. The story becomes the history of the church or family, and over the years accepted as proven fact. Woe to he who questions it.

The problem is that there are often errors in the histories, as with all other types of history. Only, with family and church history an unusual, if understandable, amount of emotion is invested in the traditional version. The identity of the family member is somewhat based upon that tradition. Just as my great-grandmother was convinced we were descended from Charlemagne, a man who has been proven to be mathematically unable to have fathered the quantity of progeny necessary to develop the number of descendents that claimed his ancestry in the early Twentieth Century, many folk are convinced that they “know” their church and family history based on no evidence whatsoever. Sometimes they are correct, sometimes not.

As an archivist, I dread the times when someone comes in and asks me for the proof (usually expecting it to be sitting on a shelf within easy reach or in a searchable database) for a story that no one has ever researched. What they fail to understand is that non-fiction must be researched by someone before it is accessible in a published form to others. The answer to the question I was asked regarding how you know when your church was founded is the same as how you know your other family history; research. Like genealogy, the answers are often long and hard in coming. Records may not exist or may remain long hidden. The rewards can, however, be great.

Current church members can do their part to help future researchers by checking Aunt Gertie’s attic for records or memorabilia, starting an archives or donating their records to their conference archives, and collecting memories through oral history, photographs, and memoirs. Personal genealogies also may help flesh out a church history, just as church records may help fill in a piece of an individual’s family tree. And by all means, a church should collect copies of all legal documents, court records, deeds, and bequests that might be on file at a local archives.

I was able to help the lady who asked me the question about how one “knows” because I have a copy of the page in the record book where the deed to their church was recorded at the time of its founding. I cannot help the one who wants to find evidence of how his church was founded years before the area was settled. I do hope that more folk will participate in research and question the traditions of their church rather than accepting them blindly. The truth might be far more interesting and enlightening than a legend of dubious origins. Truth is what it is about, after all. Oh- and when you find that truth, send a copy to your conference archives. They will appreciate it.


Blog: Modern Pamphleteers?

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

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

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

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

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