Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saving Libraries, One Genealogist at a Time

Book Quilt, University City Library, St. Louis, MO
The New(er) Library Patron
White Paper Brief of Presentation
Libraries across the nation are defining family researchers as “new patrons.” They have different needs and libraries are accommodating and finding more people walking through their doors daily. With genealogy and family research being the second most popular hobby (rumor has it Golf is number one), the ancestral search begins at the local library. We all aspire to go to the top 10 genealogy libraries, but beginning family research begins at the local library. Libraries are not obsolete, they are essential for family research.

What the Family Researcher Needs?
I challenge libraries to open their doors to the needs of the family researcher; to think out of the box, if you will. Here are a few ways to help the family researcher:
  1. Local history books: Wars, military and local history. Reference books are good but some of us like reading stories and watching history unfold. I recently checked out the 6 DVD copy of Shelby Foote’s series on the Civil War and on my reading desk is a library copy of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.
  2. Old Area Newspapers: If your area’s old newspapers have not been microfilmed or put in electronic form (OCR perhaps), know that genealogists around the world are wishing they were accessible. This does not have to be a big expense, just and effort. I like to say a movement!  I ask for interlibrary loans of microfilm newspapers monthly. My latest was for Zanesville, OH., 1849. Patrons are willing to pay the shipping fee (usually about $5.00)
  3. Indexed family files and holdings:  Indexed family files (call on your volunteers) will make you a favorite. The Napa City-County library has a great names index that takes the researcher to the right microfilm reel and date. My 3 hour scheduled visit ended up being a full day love affair with Napa’s historical papers. So little time, so many surnames! The Bonner Springs City Library in Kansas has wonderful local research room with notebooks of its citizens. 
  4. Genealogy databases: Yes some are subscription based but if cost prohibited, know there’s the popular website that is completely free to the researcher. Oh, there’s HeritageQuest for libraries, and , but the goal is not to have the most databases, but to offer a starting point for your family researcher. Encourage them to come to library to research.
  5. Classes/Workshops: Speaking of databases and research… what is most needed is training. By offering training courses, the library becomes a place for the community. Next logical steps are students setting up meeting times at the library to “unearth” some of those ancestors. Remember some basic research classes are needed too. Everything from making a research plan, to analyzing data, and citing sources.
  6. Community Liaison: Family researchers rely on libraries and genealogy societies to be the community reference desk. Where might I find cemetery records? Are there any experts on the early Acadians? These are the questions I posed to the St. Martinville Branch Library in Louisiana. Of course the reference librarian gave me the names of the leading books for researching that area and finding ancestors (yes it was successful), and she led me to a knowledgeable “Special Interest Group (SIG)” Popular libraries host SIG meetings, suggested as infrequent as once a quarter or on a once a month schedule or whatever your community needs. SIG’s can be on Native American research, ethnic research (Irish? German? Swedish?), or social media.
  7. Social Media: Of course this topic is essential to the family researchers. Many find cousins and ancestors on the internet through blogs, tweets, Google+ and Facebook. Oh, and let’s not forget the popular Pinterest. Besides offering classes the library can build its fan lists by using social media to keep patrons informed. Did you know there will be a Roots Tech Conference in Salt Lake City March 2013 . This annual conference is the best of both worlds: technology (to include a lot of social media) and genealogy in one! What about the newest exhibit at the library. The Kansas City Public Library just featured Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas. We spent over 2 hours clicking photos and reading every panel and book. Not just a learning experience, it helped the “inner researcher” to think out of the box when researching my family history.
  8. Repository for Yearbooks and Old City Directories: Public school memory books (yearbooks) started to become popular in the late 1890’s. And these books may offer the only photo of our ancestors, or at least a mention. But where can one find these yearbooks? For the Rockford memory books, try visiting the Rockford Public library. They have collected yearbooks back to 1892. Rarely do we find comprehensive collections of yearbooks as we do in the local libraries. This library also has the Rockfordiana, indexed local newspaper clippings. .
  9. Advocate for Local History: Libraries reaching out to family research patrons are noted as being local history advocates. If there’s a need in a community why not host the local genealogy society. If space allows, perhaps even housing and accessing the local history information for patrons and society members. Harper County (KS) Genealogical Society is headquartered at the Harper Public Library. The idea is to become a community focus, and let researchers know you are serious about it. 
  10. Local History Room. Space is often an issue for the small library, but hopefully there is a specified section for local history. While researching for the Reba McIntire episode of Who Do You Think You Are, I was able to uncover data from the Butler, MO library. The small space for local history held a few microfilm readers and pertinent local history and reference books in one area.
For more information visit

Kathleen Brandt is a Keynote speaker/consultant for libraries and repositories wishing to support family researchers, genealogists and historians. She volunteers for the Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Library, in Independence MO. 

Accurate, accessible, answers. 

1 comment:

  1. These are all excellent suggestions, and this blog has been many times retweeted! I especially like "old area newspapers," but everyone will find a favorite suggestion here. If libraries can master these resources and databases, they will ensure that they have a clientele of genealogists! Thank you, Kathleen!