Genealogical Relations with Libraries

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==Library Volunteers1==
==Library Volunteers==<ref>The Federation of Genealogical Societies, ''Society Strategies Series'', Set 1:14. “Strategies for Societies, Volunteers: Finding Them & Keeping Them.” by Karen Clifford, Austin, Texas: FGS, 1998. This paper has many recommendations that should be applied to society volunteers serving in libraries. </ref>
'''Reference Service''': Assisting genealogists with their research in a library is part reference, part referral, and part tutorial.
'''Reference Service''': Assisting genealogists with their research in a library is part reference, part referral, and part tutorial.
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== Notes ==  
== Notes ==  
1. The Federation of Genealogical Societies,
Society Strategies Series, Set 1:14. “Strategies
for Societies, Volunteers: Finding Them &
Keeping Them.” by Karen Clifford, Austin,
Texas: FGS, 1998. This paper has many
recommendations that should be applied to
society volunteers serving in libraries.
2. Minow, Mary. “Does Your Library's Web  
2. Minow, Mary. “Does Your Library's Web  

Revision as of 20:19, 7 August 2012



Most libraries have genealogical materials in their collections. The questions are: Should there be a separate genealogical collection? How large should it be? What should it contain? What should a genealogical society's role be in its development, growth, preservation, and the reference service for it?

Answers to these questions and additional ideas are presented in this paper.


Libraries set their own service objectives or collection development policies.

A society’s objective should be to see that there are genealogical materials available in a local library to assist the genealogists of the local community, surrounding communities or service areas. The society should also ensure public access to additional genealogical materials that may be provided by other libraries through interlibrary loan.

Types of Libraries

City, county, and regional public libraries are not the only libraries that may be interested in expanding their genealogical holdings. There are also historical societies and college and university libraries (tax supported, private, denominational and secular) to consider.


Local history, local biography and local genealogy are inseparable. Many public libraries have fine collections in regard to these three subjects. Some county histories, biographies and genealogies may need to be selected and acquired through a correlated effort by the libraries of a county or a region. If permitted, societies could help with this correlation. Members could prepare a union catalog of genealogical holdings for libraries without online catalogs.

No library can collect all these same types of materials that relate to their patrons' ancestors from other communities throughout the world. Therefore, interlibrary loans and referrals are very necessary. Fortunately, the Internet and Web sites for family genealogists can help, as long as the researcher obtains documentation for information thus acquired.

Physical needs

Space: If a society requests a separate section, area, or a room for the genealogical collection in a library, then it may be necessary for them to raise the funds for its construction, furnishings, and maintenance. Under such an agreement the library could also ask the society for funds for staffing such a facility, as well as requesting an endowment. 0f course, very few societies could afford any such requirements.

Security: Special sections, areas, rooms, locked cases, and other security devices are the jurisdiction of the library and should not be suggested or demanded by societies.

==Library Volunteers==[1]

Reference Service: Assisting genealogists with their research in a library is part reference, part referral, and part tutorial.

Reference: Librarians are trained to interview patrons to determine their needs and then refer them to the appropriate tools. In many cases they help patrons find answers, as well as teaching them how to use the library and the reference materials recommended. In libraries where the librarians are also trained or experienced in genealogical research, librarians may not wish to relinquish all of the interviewing, teaching, and advising to genealogist volunteers.

When the library requests or allows a society to have genealogist volunteers provide all or some of the reference services concerning genealogy, the society's volunteers have an obligation to learn as much as possible of the reference skills that are required of a librarian to serve the genealogy patrons.

Referrals: For recommending additional libraries, archives, agencies and services, volunteers need to know where these places are and what they have and can do for genealogists. For example, know the reference tools that contain addresses, know what the services and holdings are of the nearest Family History Center, and be able to identify other libraries and archives of the area with materials of use to genealogists.

Tutorials: Tutoring for genealogical research generally includes helping patrons to fill out pedigree charts and family group records, and to learn how to use various research tools and equipment. It may also include assisting a patron with the reading of difficult parts of a record and interpreting contents of records.

Library Policy for Volunteers: Society volunteers must adhere to the library policies concerning library volunteers and must know the emergency procedures of the library.

Library Liability Policy: Many libraries have a standard liability policy for volunteers, and genealogical societies should make sure that all of their volunteers are protected by it.

Training: Some libraries offer and require a general volunteer training program. A few libraries may also have a special training program for genealogical volunteers. Nevertheless, the society should have its own program to augment any library training.

Badges: Society volunteers should wear a badge stating that they are volunteers.

Library Projects

All society projects planned and intended for the library should meet with the approval of the librarian in charge of the genealogical collection and its services.

The following are project examples:

  • Survey society members and library genealogical patrons concerning their research interests and needs.
  • Determine what the prominent national and ethnic groups of the library's community are and offer suggestions to the collection development librarian as to the genealogical reference materials that may assist these groups.
  • If permitted, assist the librarian with (free, or for the cost of postage and photoduplication), the library's genealogical correspondence.
  • Index the obituaries of the area newspapers.
  • Create every–name indexes to city and county histories and federal censuses (and state censuses, if they exist).
  • Abstract and create every–name indexes of vital records, probates, and land records.
  • Compile tax lists and/or voter records for dates of genealogical value that are not covered by other records such as census schedules.
  • Maintain a genealogical page(s) that is part of the library's Web site. Note: the library Web site should be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act2 making the Web site easy to navigate, containing large print and few graphics.

The demands of the library Web site and general genealogical correspondence can be lightened with a society page and participation in the online GenWeb program available at USGenWeb. A society page or Web site should be linked to as many quality area sites as possible.


Fund Raising: The society may wish to conduct fund-raising projects to augment funds contributed from membership dues.3 These funds could be contributed for the acquisition of genealogical materials.

Library Negotiations

All negotiations should be made with the library director or appropriate staff persons. Only at an impasse should a society approach the governing board, and not before informing the library director of such a plan.

Library Contracts

A formal contract, not just a “handshake” agreement, is advisable if a portion of a society’s contributed funds will be expended for genealogical materials or other support of the library's genealogical collection. For an example of a contract, see footnote 4.

Possibility of Eviction

Occasionally, and usually because of the lack of space, some libraries have reduced, or asked societies to accept and remove the library's genealogical collection. A society may, through negotiation with the library director, convince a director to move a collection to a branch library, if it has any.

Retention Justification: One helpful evidence to defend keeping the genealogical collection may be statistics of the genealogical collection’s use, including use by visiting genealogists and how they beneficially impact the economy of the community in which the library is located.

Another statistic that may help is to illustrate the number of genealogical volunteers who have aided the library, the hours served, and the longevity of some volunteers’ service.

If negotiations with the library director are not successful, inform the director that the society will ask for negotiations with the library's governing board. In some cases, it may be useful to try to obtain the services of an independent arbitrator.

Another option is to ask other libraries if they would accept transfer of the genealogical collection. Possibilities are historical societies, college or university libraries, church libraries, adjacent counties’ libraries, their genealogical societies or historical societies.

The final solution may be to create a society library. Be sure to consider the disadvantages, problems, and expenses related to this solution.



2. Minow, Mary. “Does Your Library's Web Page Violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?” California Libraries 9 (April 1999): 8– 9.

3. The following publications offer useful fund raising ideas: the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Society Strategies Series, Set 1:4, Strategies for Societies, Projects for Fundraising by Luebking, Austin, Texas: FGS, 1992; and Fundraising for the Small Public Library: A How To–Do–It Manual for Librarians, by James Swan, New York: Neal-Schuman, 1990.

4. The Federation of Genealogical Societies, Society Strategies Series, Set 3:3, Moving Your Collection to a Public Library, by Steele. Austin, Texas: FGS, 2000.

5. Ibid.

About the Author

J. Carlyle Parker, Librarian and University Archivist, Emeritus, California State University, Stanislaus; author of several genealogical reference tools; and founder and director (volunteer), Modesto California Family History Center, 1968–1990, and Turlock California Family History Center, 1990–1997.

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