Saturday, January 7, 2012

Remaking a Genealogy Library

I learned today that the main librarian for our little genealogy library is moving this spring, so the hunt is on for a new librarian.  I have zero interest in the job, having just started my year as president of another organization, but I entertained myself by thinking about what I would do if a) I were to take the job and b) I could be the queen librarian, by which I mean I didn't have to worry about committees or money.

Frankly, I think I'd probably scare away all the current members...

First, I would have a big bonfire.  I would throw away anything with the title "federal census of," on the assumption that there are a number of really good online options for the U.S. census, all of which are better than the dusty, crumbling, single-state transcriptions of which we have a small and apparently random selection.  That alone would open up about 15 feet of shelf space.  I would go through all the general genealogy how-to books and throw away anything that doesn't mention the internet, which would slim down that section by about two-thirds.  I would borrow my brother's sheet-fed scanner, make a DVD of all our old publications and offer it in trade to all the other societies with whom we exchange paper for a DVD of all their old publications; if they didn't have one, I'd make one of our holdings and throw away all those decaying photocopies.  That would empty a full room!

Second, I'd beg, borrow or steal some real computers.  While not everything is available online, enough is online that a genealogy library should have modern computers available for patrons, with good internet access.  All those DVDs of society journals could be viewed from these computers.  This would also let us offer hands-on classes, for which we might even be able to charge a little something.  I'd add flat-bed and 35mm slide scanners as soon as possible.

Third, I'd refocus acquisitions on creating new, local "content."  The library already has old records from the court house and a marvelous new collection of invoices from the local cemetery monument company.  I'd go proactive in a big way.  I'd start a team that contacted local churches for copies of old directories and cookbooks and asked about scanning their old records. I'd try to team up with a local university history department to go after grants to digitize the records of long-time area businesses and non-profits.  I'd team up with the schools with an essay contest that would create an army of little oral history interviewers.  I'd suggest indexing projects for scout projects.  I'd prepare a "preserve your story for posterity" flyer and distribute it to nursing homes and estate sale planners; I'd ask funeral homes to include it in their "preplanning" guides.  I might even see if I could find volunteers to form an action team that would help people cleaning out homes or businesses to identify materials that we could use; it might be good to work with the historical society (who might be interested in items) and the university (who might be interested in less family-focused documents) to create a checklist for the team to use.    And classes -- lectures and workshops -- offered any place, any time, any day to encourage people to collect, preserve and donate materials.

I'd probably die of exhaustion!  Perhaps it's good that this is only an imaginary exercise...Of course, it's the imaginary-ness of it that frees me to be so extreme.  In the real world, I'd probably never have the nerve to do half of this.

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