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


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.

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.


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



Tennessee Conference Oral History Project to Record Preachers and Preachers’ Spouses (Spice?)

The Conference Archives has long collected biographical information on clergy. Now they will be expanding the target of the information as they accept the donations of oral histories recorded as part of a new project to document the clergy through oral history. A small team of oral historians has decided to undertake the recording of both clergy and their spouses as part of a project that will produce broadcast quality, digital format, audio recordings of the interviews. Copies of the recordings will be donated to both the Conference Archives and Southeastern Jurisdiction Heritage Center for research purposes. The participants will get copies and the team will keep archival copies on hard drive and disk, planning on migrating the recordings to newer formats and storage methods as technology advances. The focus on the spouses of clergy is a new thing and will hopefully fill a gap in research material that has existed for some time.

On a related note, the SEJ will be offering its bi-annual preservation training November 14, 2009 at Lake Junaluska, NC. One of the sessions will be on oral history. Should you know of anyone who would like to start such a project, this might be a good opportunity to learn more about it. More contact information will be available here in the future or at the Tennessee Methodist Historians social network. Visit and join at

Tennessee Conference Archives News