Tennessee State Library and Archives

The Tennessee State Library opened to the public in it’s new 165,000 square foot building in April. Home to more than 360,000 books and journals, plus 50,330 cassettes of legislative recordings, thousands of boxes of state government records, Supreme Court case files, Governors’ papers, and 5,000 maps, it is THE place to visit to learn about Tennessee.

If you want to explore the public areas, you can walk right in. To do research, you can start online and then make an appointment to view the materials you would like to see.

Getting There and Parking

The new location of the State Library and Archives is conveniently located across the street from Bicentennial Mall State Park. There is free underground parking for visitors who have a library card for the State Library.

First time visitors can temporarily park in the street parking spaces on Rep. John Lewis Way. Enter the lobby and the security receptionist can activate a library card that can be used to enter the parking garage.

The parking garage is located off Junior Gilliam Way (between 5th & 6th) with the entrance located closer to the Bicentennial Mall side (6th). At the moment, Google maps has not been updated and still lists Junior Gilliam Way as “Jackson Street.” We found it easiest to drive down Rep. John Lewis Way (5th street) and then turn on “Jackson Street” heading toward 6th Ave North. There are signs that will help you find the garage entrance.

Before entering the garage, you’ll see a keypad on the left. Use the airphone in the middle to call the front desk and let them know you are there for a research appointment, a tour, or to explore the lobby, and they will raise the gate arm.   Parking for visitors is located in the middle of the garage.  

Lobby Exhibits

The public lobby has five interactive exhibits along with highlights from the state collection.

Tennessee State Library lobby exhibits

If your family is interested in history, you could easily spend an hour interacting with the different exhibits.

Tennessee State Library genealogy exhibit

Learn about genealogy and how to research your family tree. (Make sure to make an appointment in the reading room – there is FREE access to Ancestry.com)

Tennessee State Library interactive state maps

There is a timeline of state maps that highlight the changes over time to the different counties in the state. If this piques your interest, be sure to ask about the Library’s collection of original historic maps.

Interactive exhibit of notable Tennesseans

There are two exhibits that are similar with circles that fly across the screen. Catch one of the circles and learn about either notable Tennesseans in history, or notable historic events. All the documents that are highlighted in both exhibits are housed in the Tennessee State Library.

Tennessee State Constitutions

Examples of the different versions of the Tennessee State Constitutions are also on display in the lobby.

19th Amendment documents

In addition to the interactive exhibits, there are notable documents and pictures on display in glass cases. This original letter about Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th amendment was of interest to our group.

Hidden around the corner from the main lobby is a small theater where you can watch five different short films about the library and the resources available.

Tennessee state library lobby theater

Document Storage and Preservation

The majority of the collection at the archive are one of a kind, original documents. They are all meticulously stored and carefully handled.

New items start their journey into the collection through blast freezer, which kills any bugs or mold to prevent damage to both the new item and the rest of the collection.

Blast freezer in the Tennessee state library

If the item needs to be repaired or cleaned, there is a large conservation lab. Documents can be washed in a 6 foot by 6 foot sink.

6 foot by 6 foot sink for washing documents

A special humidifier is available to safely unroll photos and maps with out causing damage.

humidifier used to clean and unroll maps and photos

Documents are also spot cleaned and repaired before being cataloged.

Maps being hand repaired

Once a document, book, or map is restored, it is added to the collection which is stored in the robotic storage room. The robotic system saves space. If the library collection was laid out in a line, the line would be over 26 miles long. traditional warehouse

How to Find a Document to View

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is not a typical library. Materials can not be checked out; they can only be used in the building.

It is best to start researching from home through the online catalog. The Library website has a lot of helpful information on how to find what you are looking for. Once you have found what you would like to view, and have requested the materials, you can make an appointment to see your materials in the reading room.

Research in the Library’s Reading Room

Tennessee State library reading room

In the reading room, the public can access all the documents, maps, and historical records that are held in the archive. There are librarians available to assist visitors in their research.

The back of the room has shelves with records from all over Tennessee that can be easily accessed. However, all the materials can only be used inside the library; nothing can be checked out and taken home.

Free Access to Ancestry.com

One of the most popular resources for genealogy is Ancestry.com. Visitors can access the full version with all available records for free while in the reading room.

Microfilm machines

The library has a huge collection of newspapers all on microfilm.

New books in the reading room at the Tennessee State Library

There are also new books written by Tennesseans and about Tennessee. The Tennessee state library is constantly adding to the collection to keep the archives current.

Legislative Room

Across the hall from the reading room is a smaller room specifically to research Tennessee state legislative documents. In this room, visitors can access recordings of legislative committees, transcripts of legislative sessions, as well as the final bills passed by the Legislature.

Legislative Reading room in the Tennessee state library

Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media

In addition to the state archive, the library also is home to the Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media. This is a free library service for Tennesseans who are unable to read standard print due to a physical disability.

If you, or a family member, are sight impaired or hard of hearing, you can get access to all the resources available including audio books, digital braille book and magazines, and several other accessible formats including devices for anyone who can not hold a book or turn pages.

The application can be found on the Library for Accessible Books and Media’s website: https://sos.tn.gov/tsla/labm

If you need assistance filling out the forms, you can call the library toll free at 1-(800)-342-3308.

Services, Resources, and Materials Available

Once you are registered with the library, you can access the Braille and Audio Reading Download website (BARD) to download audio books and braille books onto your own tablet or smartphone. The library also has free players that are loaned out to patrons.

The Library for Accessible Books and Media has materials for all ages and all interests, just like you would find in a public library; including the latest best sellers and popular magazines.

There is a summer reading program for kids including virtual story times and podcasts. The collection currently has more than 20,000 audio, braille, and large print books for children and young adults and is always growing.

Accessibility sensory wall to help learn braille

Patrons can visit the library or have materials sent to their homes. Headphones, pillow speakers, and breath switches are available.

Accessible games including scrabble

For adults, there is a quarterly book club with book discussions both in person and virtual open to anyone, anywhere in the Tennessee.

Tours of the Tennessee State Library

Guided tours of the library are available by appointment, Tuesdays – Fridays from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. Email ask@tsla.libanswers.com to schedule a tour for your family or group.

Second Saturdays

Guided tours are also available on the second Saturday of the month, July through October from 10 AM to 3 PM. Tours start on the hour, every hour starting at 10 AM and the last tour leaving at 3 PM.

Events

The State library will be hosting more family friendly events in the future, so keep an eye on the State Library’s website for details: https://sos.tn.gov/tsla

Family Fun Facts

Tennessee State Library and Archives

Address: 1001 Rep. John Lewis Way N, Nashville, TN 37219

Phone: 615-741-2764

Click for Website

Lauren is a transplant from Texas and has become a local tourist exploring the area with her two children. She loves to discover new places in Nashville to share with others.

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