Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Glimpse 'Inside the Stacks' at the Library & Archives

The Tennessee State Library & Archives has a bit of an identity crisis. Not among the people who work there, but among many of the millions of Tennesseans the Library & Archives exists to serve.

If you asked people walking along the Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville on a busy day, chances are that few would be able to point you in the direction of the Library & Archives building, even though it's only a block away. And of the Tennesseans who profess to know what the Library & Archives actually does, some are misinformed: They often confuse the Library & Archives with Nashville Public Library, which is located nearby but has a very different mission.

That's why the Library & Archives recently launched a new publication called "Treasures From the Vault." This news magazine, which debuted on our website last week, is intended to help Tennesseans get a better understanding of what we do and why we do it.

The Library & Archives is, first and foremost, the home of Tennessee state government records, dating all the way back to the original state constitution adopted in 1796 and even before - when Tennessee was just a territory. Duplicates of the records found in county archives across the state are also stored here, along with books, maps, documents, audio files, newspapers and photographs that provide insights into Tennessee's rich history.

Staff member Noel Harris processes Supreme Court records

The Library & Archives isn't just a warehouse, though. Our skilled staff members assist people who wish to access those records for research. They also provide training about how to properly preserve and store historical documents. They offer workshops so the state's school teachers will be aware of Library & Archives resources that can be used in classrooms. They provide training and technical support to public libraries throughout the state. And through the Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, they make braille, large print and audiobooks available to Tennesseans with disabilities. 

"Treasures From the Vault" is a quarterly publication that will highlight just a small sampling of current projects and programs. In this inaugural issue, for example, there's a story about the Library & Archives' efforts to restore and create digital records of more than 53,000 Tennessee Supreme Court cases, the oldest of which dates back to 1792. Since the Supreme Court continues to process more cases every week, Library & Archives project manager Kim Wires says: "Technically, this project never ends."

The news magazine will also highlight unusual items found within the Library & Archives' collections, like an 1850s-vintage map of Edo (now known as Tokyo), Japan. The map has raised a number of questions, for which Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore would like answers. "We'd like some help," Moore said. "We don't have the full story yet."

Staff member Zach Keith inspects a mysterious map of what is now known as Tokyo, Japan

"Treasures From the Vault" will also highlight the Library & Archives' partnerships with other organizations, such as the Wills fellow program sponsored by the Tennessee Historical Society. Alisha Hines, this year's Wills fellow, spoke highly of the research time she spent at the Library & Archives, which was financed through the program. "It was wonderful to interact with the staff because the work I do wouldn't be possible without the work they do," Hines said.

Alisha Hines tells Library & Archives staff members about the research she’s done as a Wills fellow.

Finally, the first issue examined the "living history" work done by Myers Brown, an archivist at the Library & Archives who enjoys playing the roles of different historical figures during his spare time. Assistant State Archivist Moore noted that Brown's work dovetails nicely with his hobby. "It's another skill set and tool that Myers brings to education and community outreach," Moore said. "It's a very direct way of teaching and reaching people, particularly young people."

Archivist Myers Brown portrays a Confederate cavalry officer, along with his horse Sport, as part of a “living history” exhibit.

The new publication will be offered primarily in a digital format, although a limited number of printed copies will be available at the Library & Archives building. To view the online version, please go to:

We hope that this news magazine will be entertaining as well as informative, with lots of photos and graphics to make it eye-catching. If you have story ideas or questions about the Library & Archives that you would like answered in future issues, please let us know. Happy reading!

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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