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A long time ago (at least in blog years...), I wrote an open thread diary about getting out from behind a computer and researching in person at libraries, archives, and other places where real records are hiding.

My interest in genealogy is currently being fed by being in graduate school for a degree in library science ~ and courses this semester include one on genealogy reference services and another on managing small archives.

Why am I mentioning these classes? Follow me below the fold for more.....

For the genealogy reference services class, an assigned article was about why library staff too often tend to dislike genealogists, and the topic also came up in readings for the archival management class. A couple times, I've been on the receiving end of a less than welcoming librarian or town clerk.

So I'm going to outline a few tips for making sure that librarians and archivists are glad to see (and help) you....

1) Check out the library/archives website before you go. Getting lost on the way can make for an unpleasant visit :-( Plus, making sure of the opening hours and what researchers are allowed to bring in to the library/archives helps as well, as does familiarizing yourself with what the library/archives has in its collection.

2) Check out the rules, which are usually posted and/or on a handout. For example, many archives allow only pencils, not pens, to be used in areas with archival materials. Others only allow a few items in with researchers and provide lockers for everything else. While occasionally you may run into a run that seems arbitrary and/or draconian, most of these are in place to either assist with preservation of unique/irreplaceable materials or to make the experience of all researchers/patrons better.

3) This is less true for libraries and archives. But court houses, town clerks' offices, and other places with relevant records about our ancestors have purposes other than helping us find those elusive ancestors. So sensitivity to the fact that offices like these have other tasks on their plates can go a long way in helping make genealogists welcome.

Yes, I'm preaching a bit on the topic ~ but I've been in various archives, libraries, and other records offices over the years where genealogists were, to be quite frank, obnoxious. Examples seen in the last few months: Arriving at 9:30 when the website clearly said opening time was 10, and complaining loudly to the staff about their time being wasted when the doors opened. Only having pens and refusing an offered pencil when taking notes from a delicate 18th century document. Demanding that a county probate clerk drop current work NOW in order to find a document. These are definitely the exceptions ~ genealogists are, on average, very polite people ~ but the exceptions are what gets remembered, unfortunately, by staff whose primary job is something other than helping genealogists.

Yes, this is a less exciting topic than finding an elusive ancestor ~ but worth a quick reminder. Next time I do one of these diaries, I'll write about more fun stuff ;-)

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    The worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit, is to be joyless. (Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers)

    by mayim on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 09:01:04 AM PST

  •  thanks for the tips (6+ / 0-)

    the few times I've asked for help, they've been very accommodating.

    Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today. James Dean

    by raina on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 09:08:34 AM PST

  •  Archives attached to academic institutions (6+ / 0-)

    also appreciate a show of "sensitivity to the fact that offices like these have other tasks on their plates can go a long way in helping make genealogists welcome." Oftentimes the demands placed on college and university staffs and facilities already squeezed by dwindling budgets and resources by people researching their family trees and such can be considerable. As mayim makes clear, genealogists who familiarize themselves with the contents and policies of the institutions where they want to work generates a lot of goodwill.

    Thanks for a thoughtful diary.

    Governed by biscuits, cake, and the rod.

    by Ivan Shaver on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 09:17:09 AM PST

  •  I just recently was researching in both (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, klompendanser, mayim, Jim H

    a small town library and a County Clerk's office.

    The library staffer who I asked for help seemed at first to be very off-putting. It as in Vandalia IL and there are lots and lots of people doing genealogic research there. I think she was new because she didn't seem to know much about the family records they had on their shelves. Another person came to her aid who was more knowledgeable and more helpful. Turned out to be a satisfactory experience.

    The County Clerk's office was much more accomodating. Someone led me right in to where all the archives were stored and showed me which books to use and how to find the records contained within. I didn't have enough time to browse that day but will be going back. My best finds to date have been in that record room!

    Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

    by figbash on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 09:38:04 AM PST

  •  using my nook so (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, figbash, edwardssl, Jim H

    Please excuse typos etc!

    I practically live at libraries to do the grunt level research so mayim's suggestions are practically second nature. Another consideration is what is the photocpy policy. The Mn Hist Soc doesnt allow self copying and has a 50p per day  limit ... and they request that copy orders be subitted half an hour before closing. If you can be flexible andpick copies up later you win some friends.

    On an unrelated topic, we have some stringent new rules on net access at work, so my open thread participation is going to be limited to lunch time and when i get home.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 09:46:29 AM PST

  •  Quick note: ugh! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, figbash, Jim H, klompendanser

    I'll be in and out this afternoon..... in addition to class work (which is tending to be quite fun this semester.....), I'm recovering from mono, and still way too fatigued ~ plus, I seem to be fighting a cold (which may be why I feel quite so horrendously tired today...). May also explain the short diary instead of my usual long posting :-(

    The worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit, is to be joyless. (Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers)

    by mayim on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 10:01:27 AM PST

  •  Excellent points. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, figbash, Jim H, klompendanser

    The staff/volunteers at most of the facilities I've visited have been very pleasant and accommodating.  Having visited so many of them over the past ten years, I've got a pretty good idea what to expect.

    The only real gripe I've ever had resulted from an encounter with an archivist who was so protective of the records, that for all intents and purposes, gaining access to them was nearly impossible.  I guess this happens when you have someone who feels the physical documents are more important than the information that can be derived from it. I understand protecting sensitive, delicate, fragile or rare documents, and I understand great care often has to be taken with the physical handling of them, which is vitally important.  But these particular records i wanted to look at were not in fragile condition, nor really all that old.   I came to the conclusion that this was simply a case of a person who was a control freak and didn't like to share.  

    Another lesson that I learned recently is to call first if I have any question about what kind of records are being stored at a facility.  I made a trip to an archive thinking I would find some pertinant records about one of my ancestors, but only after arriving there, I found out they didn't keep any of the kinds of records I needed.  I had looked at their website, but it wasn't very informative.  But if I had called first, I could have saved myself a trip.

  •  We're looking for volunteers to host (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, figbash, Jim H, klompendanser

    Friday GFHC Open Threads.

    Current Schedule

    Nov 16  Land of Enchantment
    Nov 23  figbash
    Nov 30  klompendanser
    Dec 7    open for adoption
    Dec 14  open for adoption

    Lots of December dates open here.  Any volunteers?
    Huh?  Huh?

  •  I went to a library (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    figbash, edwardssl, Jim H, mayim, klompendanser

    ... where the staff was disinterested, didn't much want to be bothered.  Nothing to be done about it.  In this case, they'd had their budget cut so severely that they were only available a few hours a week anyhow.

    I went to a town clerk over a death certificate.  The woman kind of rolled her eyes.  That is until it was clear I'd been to the grave and had an EXACT date of death, then she cheerfully pulled out the appropriate book, and mission was accomplished in a couple of minutes, max.

    Maybe sometimes we forget about what's going on from the employee's POV.

    Oh, and I suddenly remember I'm on deck for next week.

    "Taxes are for the little people." Leona Helmsley (before she went to jail for taking that attitude a bit too far)

    by Land of Enchantment on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 11:07:20 AM PST

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