Last week, I visited the Clayton Center for Genealogical Research (Houston Public Library) and I was one of four people at the library! It would be a supreme understatement to say I was stunned!
There have been times when I visited Clayton and it was hard to find a place to sit or an open microfilm reader. Where have all the genealogists gone? The simple answer is, to the Internet.
There are several levels of genealogy enthusiasts. There are folks who are interested in their family history and are willing, sometimes, to list to the stories or answer questions but not active in seeking out information. There are folks who look for family but do it the quickest and easiest way possible. Finally, there is the genealogist who does what can only be considered academic level in-depth research.
I visited with one of the librarians and she related because so much genealogy information now on the Internet, most patrons were doing research at home. She suggested that with patrons staying away and doing research on-line, libraries like Clayton were now becoming obsolete and the City of Houston would be justified in cutting staff and funding to purchase new materials.
This is such a common assumption on the part of researchers, librarians and governmental bureaucrats! Most genealogists recognize that you can do research on the Internet but many resources are not on-line and libraries are easier to use when doing research.
Yes, it is easier to sit at home, do the laundry, cook, watch the kids or sit in your pj's and bunny slippers! But by doing the majority of your research on-line, you are limiting exactly what information you can use.
One of the most critical aspects of on-line genealogy research is, "How do you validate the information?" Some validate their on-line information by checking other on-line resources, which probably got it from the first source, both could be incorrect, and all you have is a perpetuation of incorrect information!
By just relying on Internet research, "How do you know you've found the definitive word on a source or family member/line? The Internet only contains a small portion of the world's information. It is estimated that less than 10% of all journals, books or original resource material is on-line. That is just not genealogy material that is all types of information!
With so much genealogy and other information being added to the Internet daily, you have to develop a new skill - a new form of literacy. You now need to be able to judge and evaluate information effectively from cyberspace without any help! Where's a librarian when you need them? At the library!
Genealogy libraries, special collections, or archives serve a unique clientele. Libraries today need to be better organized to assist researchers by complementing their on-line research with hands-on research in the library. There needs to be a better connection between librarians and researchers to provide materials in the libraries that are not on-line.
With all the on-line access genealogical material, libraries need to become much more user friendly and reach out to patrons to bring them back to the library. While the Internet has changed the way researchers work, it has not changed the importance of libraries. Librarians are masters of making things findable and their ability to provide this unique hands-on customer service makes them indispensable.
Some libraries are now providing a 30-minute, "Meet with Your Librarian" to help evaluate your research, suggest material within their collection to assist your research, pulling material for you to use, etc.
However many libraries are still suck at the desk and only answer specific question asked. It is extremely hard to image but today, when you walk into the Texas Room of the Houston Public Library the new Manager has directed the staff not to be pro-active in helping patrons with research and suggestions. He considers it a waste of time. It is the very attitude that keeps patrons away and going to other libraries or the Internet! A clear example of the failure to reach out to patrons and provide customer service!
Idea - Suggest your genealogy library/section provide a "10 O'clock Saturday" mini-seminar on a topic that will interest researchers. How to do land research? How to better use the census in taking down your brickwall? Make the mini-seminar 45-mintues with 10-mintues questions and answers.
Even libraries without meeting rooms can use a small area for a quick session, like they do children's reading hour! You could even do it one night to bring in your working researchers. On Saturday, you could have a session for kids, scouts, etc. to keep them busy while mom or dad is doing research! Have a "Bring Your Child to Research Saturday" at the library and introduce them to their family heritage.
Lastly, put out a questionnaire: What services to you need in the genealogy or special collection section? What can we do to get you into the library? How much time do you spend doing computer research? Why aren't you coming into do research any more?
Asking questions versus making assumptions will help the library staff to develop a plan of action to attract patrons. Lastly, invite the local media in to do a story - "It's summer and we're open!"
My recommendation to Clayton Library, the Texas Room, special collection or archives would be to provide personalized, timely and high quality research assistance services to patrons and you won't be able to keep them away!
So, the answer to my question, "Are Libraries Obsolete?" is, NO! However, providing mediocre services and resources at the library are!
Please let me know what you're missing from your local genealogy library / collection. Why aren't you going in to do research? What would you like to see at the library to get you in to do research? What services would you like provided by your librarians?
In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.
Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/lks_friday/COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: email@example.com
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