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.
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 public floor of the library and archives is divided into four areas: Lobby, Legislative History, Microfilm Room, and the South Reading Room.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The TSLA offers numerous classes and workshops on history and genealogical research and on caring for your own family history materials.
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.
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.