6 Ways to Have a Better Library Visit

Visiting the library is fun, but it’s more enjoyable when you feel like you’re making some progress with your research. Here are 6 tips to help you have a better library visit.

1. Make a Plan

It’s easy to say, “I’m going to the library and research,” but what are you actually going to work on when you’re there? What do you want to find? Having a list of specific things you want to find will help keep you on track.

2. Make a Backup Plan

Having one plan is good; having two plans is better. I’ve had it happen that the thing I most wanted to discover — the thing that I was sure would take all day to find — was what I found in the first hour at the library. The good news was I had the rest of the day to devote to other research; the bad news was that I didn’t have a plan beyond finding that one thing. I could have made much better use of my time if I would have had a Plan B for my day.

3. Check the Catalog Before You Go

Rather than spending your valuable on-site time looking up items in the catalog, do it before you go. Create a list of the must-look-at item, complete with call numbers. You’ll be able to hit the ground running. (Well, walking. They discourage running in most libraries.)

4. Check Their Hours

Not every library is open 9am-9pm and not every library is open on Sundays. Be sure to check their current hours of operation. (I say “current” because summer hours are often different, plus smaller libraries sometimes have shorter hours around the holidays.)

5. Explore Their Website

Like the catalog, don’t spend time while you’re at the library looking at their databases that you could have searched from home. I don’t mean just Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. A growing number of libraries have their own databases, like obituary indexes and digitized yearbooks. Explore those resources from home and save your on-site time for the things that aren’t online.

6. Ask for Local Advice

Some libraries and archives have visitor guides on their websites; review those before you go. Also tap into the power of social media. Go on Facebook and ask the advice of those who research there. Target those pages and groups that are relevant to that area, such as:

  • The library’s Facebook page
  • The group or page for the county genealogy society
  • The pages and groups for the history of the area

Katherine Willson has put together a tremendous list of genealogy pages and groups on Facebook. It’s a free download and a great resource.

A simple question such as, “I’m going to do research in such-and-so library soon. What advice do you have?” You’ll likely get practical tips such as where to go for lunch, availability of outlets for your laptop, etc.

BTW, here’s a piece of advice if you’re going to research at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne: If you’re going to look at microfilm, bring a sweater. It is freezing in the microfilm room!

What do you to help ensure being successful at the library? Share your tips in the comments!

6 Ways to Have a Better Library Visit

Library Websites for Genealogy: More Than Just the Catalog

library booksWhen was the last time you visited a public library for your genealogy research?

Think about your answer. Did you think of a time when you walked through their doors? That’s good, but if you think about libraries only as a brick-and-mortar resource for your genealogy, you’re missing a lot. There is a lot more to public library websites than just an online catalog.

Great Things in Small Packages

It’s easy to get excited about websites with billions of records. The more records, the more likely you’ll find something, right?

Honestly, I don’t care how big the database is as long as it has something I need. That’s the cool thing about public library databases. They tend to be focused on a particular area or subject. They might not have the breadth of the big websites, but they take a deeper dive. They uncover resources that are too small or too esoteric to end up on a large commercial site.

Not Just the Big Libraries

When you think about public libraries with great genealogy collections, you probably think about The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Clayton Library Center in Houston, Texas. They have two of the largest genealogy collections in the U.S. If any library is going to have online databases, it would be them… and they do.

But they aren’t the only public libraries with cool things for us to explore online. Libraries of all sizes are giving us easier access to the materials in their collections. Consider these:

None of those are what you would call huge libraries, but they have great resources that we can use from wherever we connect to the Internet.

Finding the Library and the Genealogy It Has Online

Your favorite search engine can find public libraries quite handily. The challenge is that you might not find all of the ones in the area. In my county, there are 8 different public library systems — and not all of them have the name of their town in it. 

When I want to explore public libraries for an area where my ancestors lived, I look at the website of the county genealogical society and the county’s GenWeb page. They usually have links to the libraries in their county.

Once you find a library you’re interested in, you might need to be creative in looking for its online genealogy resources. Look not only for links to “Genealogy” and “Local History,” but also things like “Resources,” “Research,” “Community,” “Digital Library,” or “Digital Memory.”

Visit Virtually

Going to a library’s website before a visit is an important step in having a successful research trip. But we should also explore these sites even when we aren’t planning on walking through their (physical) doors. We should incorporate public library websites into all of our genealogy research.

What cool things have you found on public library websites?

Library websites for genealogy

Proposed Funding Slash for Ohio’s Public Libraries

In a situation that is, sadly, not unique to Ohio, the proposed state budget contains a slash to funding for public libraries. On page B-8 of “The Jobs Budget: Transforming Ohio for Growth” Book One: The Budget Book is this proposal for funding to the Public Library Fund:

“The Executive Budget proposes a change in how funds are directed to the Public Library Fund. By statute, the Public Library Fund (PLF) is currently supposed to receive 2.22 percent of GRF tax revenues beginning in fiscal year 2012. Temporary law has restricted the PLF to receiving 1.97 percent in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The Executive Budget proposes a change to the distribution of these funds whereby starting in August 2011, the PLF will receive 95.0 percent of the fiscal year 2011 deposits. This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.”

That a 5% cut on top of the cut public libraries have already taken.

Note how the last sentence is phrased: “This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF (General Revenue Fund) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.” That $163.5 million that is not going to Ohio’s public libraries.

Note: the budget book linked to above is a 15 Mb PDF.

Lincoln Collection at the Allen County Public Library

Ever since the announcement that the documents from the Lincoln Collection at the former Lincoln Museum would move to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, I’ve been anxious to see just what treasures are in the collection. If the first round of digital images are any indication, the collection is beyond “cool.”

When the Lincoln Museum closed, the Lincoln Financial Foundation gave the artifacts to the Indiana State Museum and the records to the Allen County Public Library. Work has begun on digitizing the records and posting them online. The images that they’ve posted so far are rather tantalizing. My favorite is an undated note written by Lincoln: “Let Master Tad have a Navy sword. A. Lincoln”.

Although not part of the Lincoln Collection, the Genealogy Center at ACPL also has posted an image of a silk ribbon commemorating Lincoln’s death. As they note on the website, it is a rare glimpse into life in Fort Wayne at the time, as the newspapers from April 1865 have been lost.

A recent article in the Journal Gazette has some behind-the-scene photos and more detail about the Lincoln Collection at ACPL. It will be interesting to watch as more and more images are posted on the Lincoln Collection website.

Save Ohio’s Public Libraries

Save Ohio LibrariesGovernor Ted Strickland’s proposed state budget includes a nearly 50% cut in the state’s Public Library Fund. This will be devastating to all public libraries, especially to the approximately two-thirds of public libraries that don’t receive local funding.

In such difficult economic times, public libraries play an increasingly important role in society. They provide vital Internet access. (Think of how many employers today require applicants to fill out online applications.) They assist students. They provide education, such as computer training. Without these services, those who are unemployed or disadvantaged are going to find it even more difficult to get ahead.

There will be a rally at the Statehouse tomorrow (June 25) at 11:30am. Attendees are urged to wear RED and bring their library cards. Signs are encouraged, but please do not place them on sticks or poles. 

More information on the proposed budget cuts can be found at the Ohio Library Council website.

There is a Save Ohio’s Libraries group on Facebook.

I hope to see you at the Statehouse tomorrow!