Monday, April 21, 2008

Libraries Worth Their Weight In Gold

I know I'm a little late for National Library Week but better late than never, eh?

I'd like to mention a few libraries in my area that deserve some recognition. The Library of Michigan in Lansing is a terrific resource for genealogists. They have miles and miles of microfilmed vital records and viewing machines that actually work. If you're researching in Michigan the stacks and stacks of books on the history of the people, towns, and businesses in the state will surely impress you. Probably the best asset in the library however is the staff. They are just terrific... friendly, helpful, encouraging, and resourceful! I've yet to stump them with my questions. Amazing!

What makes this library a cut above the rest is the way they use technology to reach out and serve genealogy researchers off site. If you can't make it to the library, all is not lost! Here are some ways you can make use of the vast resources in the library without even going there:
1. Read the Michigan Genealogist Newsletter which is published quarterly in electronic (PDF) format to stay on top of new acquisitions and learn how to use old favorites. You can sign up to be notified via email when a new editions come out. The latest edition (spring 2008) was just published this past week.
2. Check out the online databases including HeritageQuest Online, free for Michigan residents.
3. Investigate the statewide library catalog which is great for locating books around the state! There's a separate search engine specifically for the Library of Michigan called Answer where you can look up holdings from the Archives of Michigan, the Michigan Law Library, the rare books collection, and the genealogy microform collection too.
4. A favorite feature of mine is "Ask a Librarian". There's no need to spend a lot of money on gasoline or long distance phone calls. You can have an online chat with a librarian right from your own home computer. If you don't want to chat but have a specific question you can email a librarian as well!
5. There are blogs and wikis too! The State of Michgian Librarian has a blog. And the state of Michigan has a library consortium wiki too. Boy you can get lost for hours looking through this wiki! I was amazed at all the stuff referenced there that I never knew existed. For instance, there is a link to a web site from a exhibit that was at the Detroit Public Library a couple years ago called, "Drawing Power: Motor City Ad Art in the Age of Muscle and Chrome". Very cool if you're into muscle cars!

I could go on and on about how great a resource this library is for genealogy researchers but I must move on to a couple of other libraries that deserve mention.

The Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library is the key resource for genealogists researching in Detroit. Of course the collection has lots of stuff for out state Michigan and other states and Canada as well. One of the best and most popular of its holdings is a collection of microfilms of the sacramental records for many of the old churches in Detroit and the metro area. There is also an extensive collection of old photographs and city directories as well.

I have to mention that as good a resource as the Burton is, it's not what it used to be. At one time it was the place to meet up with others genealogists in the metro area. Sometimes you'd have to wait for an available microfilm viewer because the Burton was such a bustling place. It's not like that anymore. These days it's more like a ghost town. Even on weekends it's desolate. Library administrators take note: if you want to cut down usage of your library to next to nothing just start charging admission. It's worked very well for the Burton Collection!

Back in 2004 the DPL instituted a $100 yr or $10 day user fee for non-residents of the city of Detroit. The problem started when the state of Michigan was forced to cut their support to the DPL. The usage fee was the best (easiest) idea library staffers could come up with to compensate. The Burton Collection within the Detroit Public Library was largely used by non-residents. I think they envisioned that people would continue to use the Burton and generate revenue for the DPL. But that didn't happen. So now they have a nice affordable skeletal staff to help the handful of people who visit the Burton. So sad. So very, very sad. It could have been handled so much better!

Still, I mention the Burton Collection because it is a fine library resource even if non-residents have to pay to use it.

Lastly, I would just like to note that Google's project to digitize the books in the University of Michigan's libraries is making great strides. As of the end of February 2008 they passed the one-millionth-book-put-online mark! If you'd like to know which book that was you can check it out here. GO BLUE!

And there you have it. My library tribute post for National Library Week. Thanks to Lori Thornton of the Smokey Mountain Family Historian blog for making me aware of this very important week!