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.

 

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Event- Keeping the Faith: Family History Research in Nashville’s Religious Archives

The form for this is here.

If you don’t have time to get the form in, email Jim at archivist@tnumc.org by the deadline and he will call the organizer and get you on the list.
Keeping the Faith: Family History Research in Nashville’s Religious Archives
Saturday, November 7, 2009, 9:30 am – 4:00 pm
Bellevue YMCA
The cost is only $5.00 and includes a boxed lunch. Speakers include McGarvey Ice (Disciples of Christ Historical Society); Taffey Hall (Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives); Greg Poole (Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee); Jim Havron (Tennessee Methodist Conference Archives); Jim Hoobler (Downtown Presbyterian Church); Carol Hansen (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Center); Mary A.E. Dickerson (African American Records); and Annette Ratkin (Jewish Federation Library and Archives). To register, complete the lower portion of the informational flyer and mail, along with $5.00 for lunch, to Taffey Hall / SBHLA / 901 Commerce Street, #400 / Nashville, TN 37203. Registration deadline is October 23.

Jim

Update:  Google Map link to YMCA, which is at 8101 HWY 100, Nashville (Bellevue) 37221:

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=bellevue+ymca+nashville+tn&ie=UTF8&hq=bellevue+ymca&hnear=Nashville,+TN&ll=36.04667,-86.953869&spn=0.048925,0.076475&z=14&iwloc=A

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

Elm Street (Nashville) Methodist Records and History/ Bersheba Springs Photos Added to TN Conference Archives

Several registers of membership for the now closed Elm Street Methodist Church in Nashville were recently returned to the Tennessee Conference and deposited in its archives. They have yet to be processed, but will be available for research soon.

In addition, the archives received digital copies of both the history of the founding of that congregation, written by one of the original members of that church, and some digital copies of photographs of Bersheba Springs Hotel and grounds during the days after it was acquired for the Conference by the United Methodist Men. These last are currently available for on site research only as they may be included in a publication on Bersheba Springs.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

It’s a Record, Right?

I’ve discovered that many folks have interesting stories about challenges they have encountered as part of acquiring and processing collections. I have several of my own, the most recent adventure being captured by the camera.

 

Part of the mission of the archives of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church is the collection of records of churches of the conference that are no longer in existence. Unfortunately, some of these churches closed in the years before the establishment of the current archives and many of the records departed to whereabouts unknown. The Commission on Archives and History for the Tennessee Conference is always on the lookout for “lost” records that may have found their way to other temporary homes. Finding them is sometimes just a small part of the battle.

 

Carroll Street U.M.C., in Nashville, closed some years ago, and many of its records are among the prodigals. I have had several research questions about Carroll Street,  so awhile back I decided to ask the incumbent archivist, Von Unruh, about missing records. He told me there was very little that had been placed in the repository. He did tell me that he knew of one record, in the form of a marble plaque bearing names of members of the congregation, that was in private hands. Arrangements were made to transfer the plaque to the Tennessee Conference Archives in downtown Nashville. (See photos.) The plaque was large enough that three grown men could not fully lift it off the ground. Thanks to the assistance of Sandy Swift, a courier who loves a challenge and a good cause, the job was accomplished. Several hundred pounds of church “record” are now firmly in place in the collection of the conference. The best means of processing and providing access have yet to be determined.

Jim Havron, current archivist, TN Conf. UMC

 

 

Unloading memorial tablet
Unloading memorial tablet
Continuing to unload tablet
Continuing to unload tablet
What do we do with it?
What do we do with it?
Moving Marble Memorial Tablet
Moving Marble Memorial Tablet