Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I LOVE Libraries! And So Should You

It's National Library Week and as many of my readers know, I LOVE libraries.  The following are some of my thoughts about libraries and why genealogists need the help of a librarian. To learn more about libraries, see Madaleine J. Laird's post today, My Favorite Part of the Library? The Catalog! on her blog Kinfolit.

Books! (c) 2012 Gena Philibert-Ortega

Why Every Genealogist Needs a Librarian

I’m often surprised when genealogists tell me that they don’t know what interlibrary loan is or they rarely visit their local library. I think that unfortunately as family historians  we too often think that everything we need can be found online. But that thinking could not be further from the truth. Libraries and librarians can provide new ideas, search techniques, and help us break down brick walls in ways that we would have never guessed. Librarians are essential to family history research.

Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary loan is such an important tool for the genealogist. Through interlibrary loan a whole world of resources opens up to you that you would otherwise not have access to. Simply put, interlibrary loan allows you to borrow a book from a library that is either some distance from your home or one where you do not have borrower’s privileges. You request the item/s from your local library’s reference librarian and pay a small fee. Your reference librarian sends off for the item and within a short amount of time it is sent to your library. At that point you will be able to check out the item or use it at your library.  Interlibrary loan is not just for books, you can also in some cases borrow microfilmed records and journal articles.

Whenever you start a new research project I recommend that you search through your local library’s catalog, the library that serves the area where your ancestor lived and local university/college 
libraries. Find  links for libraries by using Libraries in the United States. You can also search a        large number of libraries by using WorldCat.  

WorldCat is a union catalog with over 1.5 billion items held by the world’s libraries. For new users, I would suggest that you check out the “What is WorldCat” page .

Midwest Genealogy Center (c) 2010 Gena Philibert-Ortega

They Can Find Anything

I would say that I am pretty good at research. I would venture to say that I am a really good researcher. However, librarians are taught different ways to search for items and they are aware of collections, databases, and websites that can enhance your research.

When we search for our ancestors we tend to just search genealogy related websites that we are aware of, commercial sites, free genealogy sites, etc.  But there may be other types of materials and websites that can be useful in our search. Sometimes because we are so accustomed to looking at the same sites over and over again we may miss out on those that can help us. A good case in point is some social history research I am doing on the food our ancestors ate. I was able to find some books and website that I thought looked promising, but my friend, who is studying to become a librarian, was able to find for me social networks, dissertations, and academic sources that frankly would have not been part of my search results. It was interesting as we both worked on this search, she on her computer and I on mine, that we were both able to find completely unique sources but they were all very important. We are often more effective when we collaborate than when we just tackle something completely on our own.

Haven’t stepped foot in a library for a while?  Ask the reference librarian for a tour. Ask what resources would be of use to you in your research. Inquire about the service and benefits of being a library card holder. One of the great new features of libraries today versus 10-20 years ago is that for many libraries having a library cards allows you to access a variety of online sources, normally paid sites, for free. These sites can include Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, and others. 

Librarians know their collection as well as other library collections so they are the ones to ask when you are stuck or need to know what resources exist. They know about resources that the general public is not knowledgeable about. That’s what they went to school for, to learn how to find information.

Midwest Genealogy Center. (c) 2010 Gena Philibert-Ortega

You Can Ask Librarians Questions

One of my favorite features on many library websites is an interactive feature typically labeled Ask A Librarian. This feature allows you various ways to contact a librarian including through a chat room and texting. I have used this to ask   questions, research advice and even about a specific resource. Don’t forget that you can ask librarians from public libraries and university libraries questions via the library website, even if you just email them. This can help you in your research and is often a fast way to get a question answered.

Obviously, the librarian isn’t going to do your research for you but quick requests and questions are what they are there for.

And There’s More…

These are just a few of the ideas about why you need a librarian when you research your family tree. Start today by contacting your local library and finding out how they can assist you in breaking down your ancestral brick walls.

**Article excerpted, originally ran from a GenWeekly article by Gena Philibert-Ortega. Published in GenWeekly,, 1 June 2010.

1 comment:

Mariann Regan said...

Oh, I love libraries also! The librarians are eager to help you find anything from the newest databases to microfiche to their reference books. And Interlibrary Loan has saved me so many times. They are able to "conjure" books and articles from all over the country.'

I hear some libraries have subscriptions to costly genealogical resources, such as (I believe) Heritage Quest. We have a university library nearby, and those people really know their stuff!