Located on Commerce Street in the heart of Nashville, TN, the Archives Depository and History Library (formerly Archives Depository) of the Tennessee Conference is, in fact, the archives, historical collections/”museum” (meaning they display and interpret some objects,) and research library of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC.) It was established in 1992 to be the home of the records of the Tennessee Conference and its constituent districts, records of churches of the Conference that closed, manuscripts, copies of local church records and histories, and other historical papers and objects relating to Methodism in Tennessee or useful to the study of Methodism and related subjects of interest.
The archives is under the administration of the Commission on Archives and History (CAH) for the Tennessee Conference and works closely with various conference agencies, the Tennessee Conference Historical Society, and organizations connected wit or part of both the Southeastern Jurisdiction and General Conference of the UMC,; both of which the Tennessee Conference is a member. [To those not familiar with Methodism, the term “conference” can be confusing. It refers to both an event and an organizational structure. An area of Tennessee has an annual conference each year where official business is transacted. The offices created or filled at that time conduct the business of the conference for the coming year, and are collectively referred to as the conference offices, committees or commissions. The entire United Methodist Church has a General Conference every four years, with offices carrying on the business of the conference for the next four years. Jurisdictions are administrative structures that do not govern, but rather assist in the functions of both the other conference structures.] The CAH appoints an archivist to oversee the collection. They have recently also created the position of librarian. The two positions are equal in authority. At this time, all staff, except for one part-time employee, are volunteer positions. For this reason, the repository is presently unable to keep regular reference service hours. The collections are accessible by appointment, or through various distance research techniques.
To make up, in part, for the lack of accessibility of its collections, the archives has shifted to doing a lot of its reference work by way of the Internet. Several sets of records have been digitized to make them more available to researchers. There is also a push for more collaborative work with other institutions. The archives has donated copies of journals and other records to the Nashville Public Library, which has more frequent reference hours. The staff also keep lists of known locations of records and publications related to its collections and research interests of its patrons. The mission of the repository is to further the mission of the church through maintaining the physical representations that witness to the lives of individuals and organizations. Since this is not, in and of itself, focused on advancing the UMC denomination but rather the history of all people who may come under the umbrella of its research policy, access and collaboration are seen as key policies.
There is a backlog of processing and the repository has adopted the “More-Product-Less-Process” approach to processing collections. This is particularly well suited to their work because so much of the reference service is actually conducted by staff. The archivists notes that in the past year between 40%-50% of reference requests requiring use of unpublished material were completed through the use of materials that were processed in this manner and would likely not have been made available otherwise. Easily 50% of other such requests were completed from collections that were in a semi-processed state when the policy went into effect and would likely be at least more difficult to access.
Besides records of the Conference itself, the archives includes some rare copies of early Methodist publications, memoirs of clergy, photographs and artifacts relating to Tennessee Methodism, files on churches past and present, and some rare books. Original copies of handwritten journals of the Tennessee Conference, guest registers for the Conference facilities at Beersheba Springs, TN, and materials relating to adjoining conferences are also housed there. It is also the repository for the oral history project collecting the stories of clergy and their spouses, a project conducted under covenant agreement with a network known as Clouds of Witnesses-Memory Ministry and Mission (COW-MMM.)
Perhaps the most active role the archives has played in the last year or two has been one of instruction and networking. The staff has participated in conferences and conducted workshops on a variety of topics. They have worked with other churches and organizations to pool resources to help their users. The archivists and librarian have both been called upon for advice by local church historians and others on matters regarding maintaining and preserving their own collections, including setting up Web sites and social networks and establishing disaster recovery plans. In the Middle Tennessee area, the archivist has had to assist both churches and individuals in recovering from flood damage.
Although the physical address and phone number of the repository is listed below, the best way to contact the archives is through e-mail. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee Conference Archive Depository
520 Commerce Street
Nashville, TN 37203
Hours irregular-call or e-mail for appointment!
Archivist, Jim Havron, C.A.
Librarian, Rev. Von Unruh
Institutional member of the Society of Tennessee Archivists.