Wednesday, August 22, 2018

FGS Conference: Librarians' Day and Society Day

So I was lucky enough to win a registration to this year's FGS conference, and here I am in Fort Wayne, Indiana!  (The last time I was here was 24 years ago, when I still worked full time in the adventure game industry.)  Librarians' Day and Society Day fall on the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding the main part of the conference, and I learn a lot at these days also.

The highlights of Librarians' Day were a presentation by Matthew LaFlash about Omeka, an open-source content management system that is being used to put all sorts of great information online (Newberry Library's Transcribing Modern Mauscripts, the Bracero History Archive, and Ohio Civil War 150, for example), and a rollicking but informative panel discussion titled "Hit Me with Your Best Shot", where speakers including Allen County Public Library's Curt Witcher and FamilySearch's David Rencher (newly named as director of the Family History Library) took any and all questions from attendees.  (Rencher reminded us several times that everything on FamilySearch is still free.)  Some of the topics covered:

• The importance of labeling photos and what to do if they aren't.  Even if photos aren't labeled, you can still look at the context, such as signs, geography (mountains, lakes), dateable items such as cars, etc. to garner information about them.  Recording the provenance is very important, as that might provide context also.

• The best method for scanning photos (this was actually answered by a professional in the photography business who was in attendance):  Scan at the highest resolution that is practical (300 minimum, 600 better, and 1200 if you have the storage space) and save in TIF format.  As a corollary, saving files in at least three locations was also brought up (because Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe [LOCKSS]).

• The confusion surrounding which files on are available in which locations.  An icon identifies whether images must be viewed at a Family History Center or affiliate library, but nothing differentiates between which of those can be seen *only* at a Family History Center and not at the affiliates.  The good news is that almost everything that is restricted can be viewed at both, but no solution right now to let you know quickly which can't.

• Limited hours at several Family History Centers.  Family History Centers are governed locally, and not all of them are able to provide enough volunteers to be open more regular hours.  Because of this, FamilySearch has been expanding the affiliate library program (currently at more than 400 libraries), so that restricted digitized images can be more widely available.

• Which microfilms from the Family History Library are digitized first.  Part of what helps decide the priority of films to be digitized is based on the rights negotiations that FamilySearch holds with the original records holders.  Digitizing films more quickly can make further negotiations go more smoothly, both for more digitization and more records.  (That doesn't explain all of it, of course, but it was nice to hear some reasoning.)

• What to do when newspapers no longer sell microfilm for archival purposes but refer libraries to online subscription options.  This one had no good answer.  Because microfilm has become so expensive, it isn't a viable option for many companies anymore.  Unfortunately, online subscriptions leave the libraries (and everyone else!) owning nothing, so when you drop the subscription, you have nothing to show (like Microsoft and its online Office 365 software).  You are essentially only "renting" your access.  We were told that the Sacramento Public Library paid more than $1 million to have the Sacramento Bee digitized from microfilm that it provided (but were not told which aggregator stuck it to them).  This situation is only going to become worse, and the large information aggregators (ProQuest, NewsBank) will be holding libraries hostage.

• Where to share copies of family histories, research, photographs, etc.  Share them everywhere that they could be considered relevant:  Allen County Public Library, FamilySearch, local genealogical and historical societies, Internet Archive, ethnic societies, and anywhere else you can think of.  Always check with the repository first to make sure it will accept a copy (whether physical or digital), but the more places the information is available, the better the chances that someone who is interested will find it.

And a couple of comments from Curt Witcher:  We should all be trying to pursue, preserve, and present stories.  And facilities always appreciate feedback from visitors.  Think about the latter the next time you go to an archive or library — offer feedback before you leave!

Librarians' Day ended with a behind-the-scenes tour of some parts of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL):  the Genealogy Materials Handling Unit (intake and assessment of donations), FamilySearch Book Scanning (a partnership with ACPL), Internet Archive (another partnership with ACPL), and the Lincoln Collection Library and Fine Book Room.  It was so interesting to get insight into how donations are processed, see ongoing scanning of public-domain books, and view many original Abraham-Lincoln-era photographs, letters, and newspapers.

Internet Archive scanning in progress

Wednesday was Society Day, with sessions geared to those of us in leadership and volunteer positions in genealogical societies.  I attended a session on how to apply business management principles to society procedures and processes, and one on leadership and conflict resolution.  Both had a lot of useful information I will be taking back to the societies with which I am involved.

In between those two sessions I went to the annual FGS meeting, attending as the delegate of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.  I had received notices about the meeting and had been wondering why no agenda was distributed beforehand.  That question was soon answered.  The entire annual meeting took three minutes.  The agenda was shown on a screen and was approved by voice vote.  The treasurer said that the society had been audited and was in good financial standing, with no details.  No announcements were made, and the meeting was adjourned.  I'm not sure why delegates are even encouraged to attend.

The final event I attended on Society Day was the presentation by Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist.  Titled "Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future", Judy's talk focused on the attacks that have been made over the past several years on records access and facilities budgets.  Citing circumstances such as the loss of the most recent three years of the Social Security Death Index, New York City's decision to severely restrict birth records (older than 125 years) and death records (older than 75 records), and the encroachment of the Right to Be Forgotten into far too many areas (including a proposed Indiana law that would allow the total destruction of someone's criminal records, leaving no trace that the crime ever occurred), she declared that it is the calling of genealogists to serve as guardians of history.

And how do we do that?  We need to stay informed, join together, and reach out.  You can stay informed by signing up for notifications from the IAJGS Public Records Access Alerts List, which sends out announcements related to access to public records.  You can also stay informed about the activities of the Records Preservation & Access Committee, a joint venture between several genealogical groups, which monitors records access issues.

Joining together has been effective in several instances of keeping repositories open and reopening facilities that have been closed.  And efforts to reach out should include a broad range of individuals, such as archivists, librarians historians, the news media, and medical researchers.

In Judy's words, we all need to pitch in, speak up, and meet up.  I took my first step tonight.  I've written to RPAC, asking how I can help.  What will you do?


  1. Thank you for the detailed status of what is going on in our industry. If we truly want to survive to teach our grandchildren the history of our families, we need to go on the offense about preservation. Doing nothing is a decision to fail.

    1. You are absolutely right. Preservation will not happen unless we work to ensure that it does.


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