Field Trip: Tennessee State Library and Archives

April was a beautiful month for visiting Nashville and the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA). It is always exciting for me to have the opportunity to tour an archives.
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My friend Gordon Belt, Director of Public Services for TSLA, offered to give me a tour of the patron areas and then surprised me at the end by taking me to a few behind-the-scenes areas. Although my photographs barely do my visit justice and my brain was overwhelmed by just how many resources patrons have at their disposal in the library, I do hope you will enjoy TSLA through my lens.

The state archives is located right next to the beautiful capitol building.

The state archives is located right next to the beautiful capitol building.

Once upon a time, the library and archives was located within the capitol. As you can imagine, its holdings quickly outgrew the space and now this room serves as the legislative lounge.

Once upon a time, the library and archives was located within the capitol. As you can imagine, its holdings quickly outgrew the space and now this room serves as the legislative lounge.

The current home of the archives at 403 7th Street in Nashville.

The current home of the archives at 403 7th Street in Nashville.

The public floor of the library and archives is divided into four areas: Lobby, Legislative History, Microfilm Room, and the South Reading Room.

LOBBY
The lobby boasts exhibit space and a still-active card catalog referencing Revolutionary War Veterans, land grants, court cases, tax lists, etc. The lobby’s patron computers support online databases and the collection catalog.

The current exhibit highlights Tennessee's baseball history.

The current exhibit highlights Tennessee’s baseball history.

TSLA patron computers provide access to research databases such as Ancestry.com and Fold3 via its institutional memberships.

The TSLA patron computers provide access to numerous research databases such as Ancestry.com and Fold3 via its institutional memberships, as well as to a digital catalog of its own extensive collections.

As a digital index is provided for each collection, its card system is removed, but for now, it is still a great resource for research.

Once a digital index is provided for a collection, its card system is removed, but for now, the catalog is still a great resource for researching many TSLA collections..

Not surprisingly, Gordon was quickly able to show me an entry for John Sevier. Pretty sure he has read everything in the library there is about the man!

Not surprisingly, Gordon was quickly able to show me an entry for John Sevier. Pretty sure he has read everything in the library there is about the man!

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY ROOM

This room houses a recording of every session conducted on capitol hill in one format or another. There is a listening station for the audio files and shelf after shelf of house and senate journals.

THe very idea of this room is intimidating, but there are a couple of very knowledgeable TSLA staff members on hand to help. The digitization staff have their offices behind the back glass wall.

The very idea of this room is intimidating, but there are a couple of very knowledgeable TSLA staff members on hand to help. The digitization staff have their offices behind the back glass wall.

Yes, I am actually holding an original journal from 1808.

Yes, I am actually holding an original journal from 1808.

Patron listening station.

Patron listening station.

MICROFILM ROOM
This room is evidence of TSLA’s mandate to actively collect the history of the state and its counties. Among the different collections are microfilmed county records (some of the counties don’t exist anymore), old newspapers, and census rolls. This area also offers multiple kinds of microfilm reader stations, printers, a patron break room, and a large reference library of family histories and neighboring state histories.

 

Indices for county records.

Indices for county records.

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County records on film. Many counties do not have the resources to microfilm their own records. This resource, like many of the collections at TSLA, prevents patrons from having to travel from county to county while researching.

The TSLA has been microfilming old newspapers since 1956. Many  are no longer in circulation and are in terrible condition upon donation.

The TSLA has been microfilming old newspapers since 1956. Many are no longer in circulation and are in terrible condition upon donation.

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A small portion of the microfilm readers available, ranging from the old hand crank variety to high tech digital readers.

A small portion of the microfilm readers available, ranging from the old hand crank variety to high tech digital readers.

 

The reference library has an impressive collection of donated family histories and state and local histories from all eight neighboring states.

The reference library has an impressive collection of donated family histories and state and local histories from all eight neighboring states.

SOUTH READING ROOM
This room is where patrons can read manuscripts in the closed reading area, access a vast collection of city directories, read county histories, census indexes, and review maps and history materials relating to the three grand divisions.

This view shows about half of the room. The manuscript reading are is in the front left corner.

This view shows about half of the room. The manuscript reading area is in the front left corner.

Just the "B" section of county histories.

Just the “B” section of county histories.

The amazing Zeta Book Scanner. You can scan the book face up, thereby protecting the spine from the pressure of flattening the open book onto the glass bed. There is a scan button built into the bed so you don't have to let go of the book. You really have to see one of these in person.

The amazing Zeta Book Scanner. You can scan the book face up, thereby protecting the spine from the pressure of flattening the open book onto the glass bed. There is a scan button built into the bed so you don’t have to let go of the book. You really have to see one of these in person.

BEHIND THE SCENES: CONSERVATION LAB
Some documents are so old, fragile, or have been so poorly stored that conservation work must be performed on them before they can ever hope to be handled by a patron or even microfilmed. Other books and manuscripts are so pertinent to the state’s history that they require regular maintenance.

In the lab, many projects are undergo various stages of preservation simultaneously.

In the lab, many projects undergo various stages of preservation simultaneously.

Two of the largest book presses I've ever seen!

Two of the largest book presses I’ve ever seen!

A conservator removing dirt from a document. notice that one cleaning sponge is already black with dirt.

A conservator removing dirt from a document. Notice that one cleaning sponge is already very black with dirt.

a deacidification chamber in the foreground and two, blue  humidifying chambers in the background.

A deacidification chamber in the foreground and two, blue humidifying chambers in the background.

A current conservation project involves cleaning these rolled documents. Even the box is filthy.

A current conservation project involves cleaning these rolled documents. Even the box is filthy.

After the documents are cleaned, the tears and broken creases will be repaired.

After the documents are cleaned, the tears and broken creases will be repaired.

MICROFILM PRODUCTION
I only took one picture in this office. Have you ever thought about where microfilm comes from? How do they all get to be different lengths and on differently sized spools? I never knew the answer to these and other questions until Gordon showed me this little studio office.

Microfilm comes on a giant reel that look like movie film. It gets split and crafted into individual rolls perfect for each record.

Microfilm comes on a giant reel that looks like movie film. It gets split and crafted into individual rolls perfect for each record.

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVAL STORAGE
The TSLA is comprised of 8 split-level floors. I only viewed the storage on one floor. There are many, many more books and grey boxes on other floors.

These volumes would be delivered to the reading room upon patron request.

These volumes would be delivered to the reading room upon patron request.

Some books are so delicate they cannot be removed from the shelves by the spine or by rocking the text block. They are housed in covers for dust protection and safe handling.

Some books are so delicate they cannot be removed from the shelves by the spine or text block. They are housed in covers for dust protection and safe handling.

 CLASSROOM
The TSLA offers numerous classes and workshops on history and genealogical research and on caring for your own family history materials.

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MY TOUR GUIDE
I met Gordon Belt at the first conference of the Society of Tennessee Archivists I ever attended. He was the vice-president that year and the conference was his baby. We talked a little about my research interests and my upcoming practicum in Salt Lake City that summer. You are reading this blog because when I returned from my practicum, Gordon (GB, as I call him) encouraged me to keep writing. He has been a generous supporter and mentor. He has just authored his second book, John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Hero.

"I could not have written this book without the resources of the Tennessee State Library and Archives." -Gordon Belt

“I could not have written this book without the resources of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.” -Gordon Belt

Thanks, Gordon. You are the best!

I hope readers will find the TSLA as interesting and worth visiting as I have. I promise that if you peruse their holdings via their website and e-mail or call in advance, the staff there will dedicate themselves to making sure your research is fruitful. In the meantime, you might enjoy becoming a regular reader of the TSLA blog.

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4 Responses to Field Trip: Tennessee State Library and Archives

  1. Sondra Swensen says:

    Your passion for history and it’s conservation is infectious. I’m fascinated by the cleaning and repair of documents which you showcase, and was not aware, before your posts, what was involved in this process. What a wonderful field trip.

  2. Brianne says:

    Wow, what a fabulous tour!

  3. Kathleen Fueston says:

    I love going on your field trips with you through your blog. Great work Kari. I don’t think I have ever seen books in bags on shelves before, but I can understand why it is done. Also, I noticed you slipped in the microfilm drawer of the Kingsport News. :0)

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