Monday, January 4, 2016

Genealogy Librarianship

At the suggestion of Cousin Mary at Heritage & Vino, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about my new part-time gig as the genealogy librarian at Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community Library (MMSCL) in Shirley, NY.

It's not really that "new." I have been at it since March 2015; 9 months now. I love it.

A few months prior to starting the job I interviewed for another position as a part-time genealogy librarian at a different public library on Long Island. About a dozen friends had forwarded me the job posting and, although I have a full-time job and am still working on my second degree, how could I not interview? I didn't get the job. But one of the people who interviewed me passed my name along to MMSCL.

The position isn't really as a part-time librarian; it is more like a consultant's gig. I am a "program." I work one Saturday per month for a few hours. While I am there I meet one-on-one with about 5 patrons who registered in advance to see me. I see them back-to-back which makes for a pretty intense day, really. Each person comes with a different interest and level of experience with ancestors coming from all corners of the world. But I start each session the same way, with what librarians call "the reference interview."

"So have you started your family tree research?"
"What specifically do you want to know?"
"Okay, so tell me what you know about your mom/dad/grandma/grandpa."

Almost everyone says they don't know anything about the person they want to research but you get them talking and before you know it they know names, dates (if only approximately), locations where the person resided, other family members, etc. And from there, almost always within minutes, we can find a record of the person.

I start out in for several reasons. One being that MMSCL patrons have free library access to Ancestry while in the library. Also, it is the most popular genealogy database and has one of, if not the largest collection of resources; might be bigger, if not FamilySearch is definitely free to anyone regardless of where they access it from but I digress.

Whatever record we find together, I try to show the patron how to really read it, to consider why the record was made, how reliable the information may be, and the process they should use moving forward in their research. 

"We found the 1940 census record, let's see if we can find the 1930, and then the '20. Move back in time."

My research with the patron doesn't really end after that hour. I have had patrons as young as 15 and old as 90. Some of them are there to learn how to research but others are really there to learn more about their family history. Not all of them are computer savvy; some do not have access to a computer outside of the library. And so, I promise them all that I will do an additional hour of research for them and that I will call them before I come to the library next month and let them know what I found for them. I call them a few days before I return to the library to let them know I will leave a folder of material for them at the next when I visit next. Often those folders contain anywhere from 4 to 40 documents I located related to their family from a wide variety of sources. I'd estimate that most patrons get a dozen documents from me in their folders.

If you have done any family research of your own, you know that some ancestors are forthcoming with records and some are impossible to find anything on. Thus, it may go without saying that some patrons are much happier with the service than others I am sure.

I have worked with some off the clock, over the phone, in follow up meetings, and online through email and chatting. I know it is outside of my "job" but I share a passion with these people and I understand their "need" to find answers about their family history.

To date I have worked with 37 individuals and given a presentation to one group on using DNA to further their genealogy research.

What I enjoy most about this job are the people I work with; both the library staff and the patrons. Everyone is so nice to me. I have gotten several thank you cards and even Christmas gifts. Mr. Baecker baked me cookies! Lots and lots of cookies, as the appropriate last name might suggest.

Everyone has expressed such gratitude for the work I have done for them. And what really makes me happiest is to make those calls each month telling my patrons that, "This coming Saturday I will leave a folder for you at the reference desk of the records I found about your family."

If I can get permission from my patrons, I'll share with you some of the things we have uncovered together! Some really interest revelation did indeed occur as they always do when one looks back on the lives of their ancestors.

Keep Diggin'!

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