It is amazing the energy that can come from a group of like-minded individuals getting together. I am proud to say that I experienced this first-hand yesterday at a meetup I organized for our TNGenWeb team. We gathered at the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a day of conversation and learning. I’ve been the State Coordinator for the project for a little over 3 years now and have very much enjoyed getting to know, via email, the fabulous team I collaborate with throughout the state – the more than 85 volunteers that work tirelessly to provide you with free resources for your family history research. Earlier this summer, I thought it would be great if we could get together in person and a wonderful day we had!
Present yesterday were myself, Mike Boniol, Jim Daniel and his wife Jo, Ron Evans, Jim Long, Billie McNamara, and Betty Peacock. These coordinators represent multiple counties across the state. We were also fortunate to have new volunteer, Debbie Waddell, join us! Debbie does not maintain a county, but is eager to see how she can work with TNGenWeb to volunteer with some of our efforts. So, what did we do?
General Meeting – We started the day by sharing our backgrounds with each other. Some of us have been in the project since the very beginning in 1996 (Billie & Mike), while others came on board later. Jim, our Hardeman County coordinator, was the coordinator there who has been with us the shortest time, but he’s definitely jumped right in! All of us have some very interesting projects in progress related to history and genealogy in our areas and it was interesting to hear about them – from work with local county archives departments, genealogy societies, and personal projects. We also shared our goals and plans for further enhancing our county sites.
I then shared some information about the use of our TNGenWeb website and trends am seeing in how our visitors use the site, including details about our social media engagement. Using Google Analytics, I took a look at our site use Friday night before the meeting and was surprised to see that 63% of our visitors were using phones or tablets. While I am quite aware that mobile use is increasing overall, this was still higher than I would have thought! Knowing these use details, we definitely want to be sure we are doing our best to make our sites work for you on those devices. Our Facebook group is busy and active and we currently have more than 2,200 members. Via the email newsletters we are able to set up on our WordPress sites, more than 1,400 people have signed up to get our new posts and information sent directly to their email inbox. Spectacular!
TSLA Overview – Then, Charles Nelson, Director of Legislative Services at TSLA, gave us an overview. Charles started off by sharing that the staff at TSLA use the TNGenWeb site often to help answer patron questions – even as recently as last week. He noted that over the years TSLA has seen an increase in the number of people who come in wanting to know about their family history and they do their absolute best to ensure everyone who comes through their doors has nothing but the most pleasant of experiences. We also learned about some of the databases TSLA offers and all that is available on the TSLA website. If you haven’t taken the time to really explore it, you definitely should. The Research Collections page is an especially important starting point. With their new Digital Workgroup, TSLA is also planning projects to increase their offerings online at at the Tennessee Virtual Archive. The TSLA Friends organization plays a large role in helping promote and fund various initiatives and we heard about some of the upcoming programming to be offered. You can see a list of those at the TSLA Friends website. I personally had not been a member of TSLA friends, but I am now!
Since Gordon Belt joined the TSLA staff as the Director of Public Services a few years ago, they have developed a strong social media presence – via blogging & Facebook and I’m always glad to see more organizations truly embracing those platforms for engaging with their users. Gordon shared his background with us and how he came to join TSLA. Even though he’d been a frequent TSLA user prior to becoming employed there, he shared that as he was interviewing he was still discovering personal treasures in the library collection, such as this postcard in the TeVa of the Center Hill Motel & Restaurant, an establishment grandfather ran and operated for many years. Gordon then took us for a behind-the-scenes tour.
Behind-the-Scenes Tour – Many visitors to TSLA may not truly appreciate the great collection they offer. Most of us typically only see the 3rd floor which includes the reading rooms and the microfilm collections. However, the library has 8 floors and offera a myriad of services patrons and libraries around the state.
In our tour Gordon shared many aspects of what goes on at TSLA. We learned about processes involved in preserving the collection, visited the area where microfilm records are made – both masters and duplicates, learned about the vertical file collections, saw the Governors’ Papers collections, the services TSLA provides for the blind and handicapped, saw the tapes that capture the recordings of the Tennessee General Assembly, got an overview of the reading/microfilm rooms and more!
After the tour we had lunch, talked about ideas for further collaboration, and talked about the use of the content management system WordPress for our county sites, and some researched on their own. Importantly, some of the ideas we discussed are to further aid in our mission to be the best provider of free information for your genealogical research and we look forward to acting on them to better serve you.
We would like to sincerely thank the TSLA team for hosting us yesterday and making our day a most pleasant experience! We may definitely do this again next year!