One responsibility of an Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History is service to its constituency – general church and Annual Conference agencies, local churches, and individuals. The extent of that service depends on several factors, particularly the size of the commission’s archival facility and the availability of staff and commission members. A prudent stewardship of time and resources is necessary; however, outreach to the community is an important part of an effective commission’s program.
The most fundamental kind of outreach is providing reference services by mail and/or telephone. Several issues require policy decisions. What kinds of reference requests can and cannot be answered by the staff? How much time can a researcher expect to wait before receiving a response? Will the staff answer requests over the phone or should researchers follow up their calls with letters? Are there fees for research or photocopies? Develop a form letter or information sheet to advise users of your policies.
Elsewhere in this manual are guidelines for working with in-person researchers. The commission should also decide whether the facility will be open to the public during certain set hours, or whether researchers will be serviced by appointment only. If the conference archives are in a college library, you may wish to allow researchers to use items from your collection in the library when the commission’s facility is closed. If you allow this, make sure that all considerations (security, photocopying permission, lending privileges, etc.) are thoroughly spelled out in writing and understood by all the parties involved.
Tours are another way to serve the public. Groups at the local, cluster, district, and conference levels will welcome the opportunity to learn about the commission’s work and see the conference archives. Confirmation classes, Sunday school groups, local church historians, women’s and men’s groups, and pastors may wish to arrange tours. Other groups should also be considered: high school history clubs, college classes in local history or American religion, public librarians, and genealogists will be interested in the archives.
Tours should be scheduled in advance, and it is usually best to limit the group to twenty people or fewer. If your facility is very small, you may choose to limit the group to five to ten people. Explain the work of the commission, describe the archives, and encourage discussion about the importance of keeping good records.
You may also wish to schedule some special events at the facility. Consider opening your doors to a meeting of United Methodist Women, a senior citizens’ discussion group, or a seminary class session on church history. Area historical societies and libraries, high school history clubs, and college classes in state or local history may be very interested in developing programs in conjunction with the commission. The religious heritage of a community is a vital part of its history, and you have resources not found in other area repositories. Any time the facility is open, a staff or commission member should be present.
Many conference commissions plan one or more day trips each year to Historic Sites or Heritage Landmarks within the conference boundaries. Some commissions arrange extended tours, even to Wesley country in England. Often the tours are done in cooperation with other agencies of the Annual Conference and have additional purposes such as seeing mission projects or general agencies at work.