ProQuest announced today that they will be eliminating one valuable genealogy service. The company will no longer offer remote, in-home access to the members of genealogical and historical societies.
ProQuest is the company that provides HeritageQuest Online, a collection of online databases that contain images of original U.S. census records, Revolutionary War pension applications, more than 20,000 local and family history books, Freedman's Bank records, and more. In the past few years, I have written a number of articles about HeritageQuest Online's great products. You can find my articles at http://tinyurl.com/rqg9x.
While not available directly to the general public, tens of thousands of genealogists access this huge online resource daily. There are essentially three ways to access the data at HeritageQuest Online:
- Go to a local public library or to a genealogical or historical society that subscribes to the service, and use the computers there. Access is available at thousands of locations around the United States.
- Many public libraries offer remote, in-home access. That is, if you have a library card from a subscribing library that offers this option, you may use your home computer to first access the library's web site, log on, and then click on an icon to be connected to HeritageQuest Online. In this case, the local public library serves as a "gateway" to HeritageQuest Online. Once connected, you have the same access as if you were in the library.
- Until now, a number of genealogy societies, historical societies, and private genealogy libraries also offered remote, in-home access in the same manner as do many public libraries. Again, you have the same access as if you were in the society's offices. You first connect via the Internet to the society's or library's web site, log on, and then click on an icon to be connected to HeritageQuest Online.
Today, ProQuest announced that the company is dropping option #3 above. The company will no longer offer remote, in-home access to the members of genealogical or historical societies.
Nothing is changing in options #1 and #2 listed above. Subscribing societies and private libraries will continue to offer access to HeritageQuest Online from within their own buildings. Public libraries will continue to have an option to offer remote, in-home access to library patrons. The only change is for those who obtained remote, in-home access via a genealogy society or private genealogy library.
Each society has a contract with ProQuest for these services. The termination date of the remote access service will be on whatever date that contract expires. As a result, a few genealogy societies may be able to offer remote, in-home access for nearly another year while others will be dropping the service within a few weeks. The dates all depend upon the expiration dates of the various contracts.
Commentary by Dick Eastman:
When I first heard that ProQuest was going to drop in-home access for members of genealogical and historical societies, I was not too surprised. I knew from previous conversations that remote access for genealogical and historical society members was an experiment when it was started a couple of years ago. ProQuest's primary marketplace has always been public libraries, not societies.
ProQuest had little experience with genealogists or with genealogy societies. I assume that pricing and projected expenses were based on some form of "best guess" method at that time, subject to change as the company gained experience with this new marketplace.
I had an opportunity to discuss all this a few days ago with two senior managers at ProQuest: Chris Cowan, Vice President of Publishing and Rod Gauvin, Senior Vice President of Publishing. My earlier assumptions were confirmed. In fact, early in our conversation it became obvious that these two gentlemen and their colleagues had not arrived at the decision quickly or easily.
Both Chris and Rod assured me that ProQuest values the genealogy community. In fact, they have been delighted and amazed at the reception that HeritageQuest Online received in the genealogy marketplace.
The usage of these genealogy databases from public libraries has been more or less consistent with that of other databases that ProQuest offers through libraries. The one thing about HeritageQuest Online that was radically different was the remote, in-home usage offered through genealogical and historical societies: this usage far surpassed anything that ProQuest had expected. Obviously, this high usage also creates higher expenses for the company providing the data.
Chris Cowan quoted from a letter he sent to all genealogical societies and libraries that offer HeritageQuest Online:
After a review of 2005 usage statistics, we confirmed that genealogical and historical societies are the heaviest users of ProQuest databases. This usage is well beyond the assumptions under which the pricing was initially developed and before gaining the experience of working with these societies. ProQuest continues to absorb high costs to provide the data at a significant financial loss because of the relatively low price points offered to societies.
In other words, gung-ho genealogists loved this offering. We genealogists used the ProQuest databases for many hours, far above the usage that ProQuest experiences with its hundreds of other databases. Unfortunately, this increases ProQuest's expenses, and yet the prices charged for access has not produced enough revenue to cover those higher-than-expected expenses.
While Chris and Rod did not state it as bluntly as I will, it is obvious to me and to almost every other person in the business world that no company can long afford "to provide the data at a significant financial loss". Genealogists should not be surprised to see this access go away.
Chris Cowan and Rod Gauvin also strongly stressed that there is no change for public libraries. Library patrons can continue to access HeritageQuest Online both from within library building as well as from home, if the local library offers such access. Indeed, thousands of public libraries around the United States do so. While you may no longer access HeritageQuest Online via your genealogy society's web site, you probably can do the same (for less money) from a local library's web site.
Indeed, I had access to HeritageQuest Online via three different paths: two via genealogy societies I belong to and one via a public library near me. I will now lose two of those access paths, but the third remains in place for me and will work well. You may find the same is true for you.
In fact, Chris Cowan's letter to ProQuest's society customers states:
A key component of the ProQuest mission is to provide public library users with historical newspaper and genealogy content, as well as other data, through their local public library, either on-site or remotely. Our business model has been created to ensure that public libraries subscribing to ProQuest products can provide access to their end-users. By working through public libraries, we are able to keep the cost of ProQuest content affordable to individual libraries and free to their patrons.
After my conversation with the ProQuest VPs, I decided to investigate the alternative access methods available. The Encyclopedia of Genealogy has long maintained a list of organizations that offer in-home access to HeritageQuest Online, public libraries and genealogy societies alike. The page is available at http://www.eogen.com/HeritageQuestOnline. A quick scan of that page shows that remote, in-home access to HeritageQuest Online remains available free of charge to:
- All residents of California
- All residents of Colorado
- Any Connecticut Public Library Card holder (library cards are free)
- All residents of Delaware
- Most Florida residents, but not all, have free in-home access to HeritageQuest Online through Florida's library cooperatives.
- Hawaiian residents may obtain free access through the Hawaii State Public Library System.
- All Kansas residents have remote access to HeritageQuest Online. You will need a Kansas Library Card, available at any Public Library.
- Any Maryland Public Library Card holder automatically has remote access thru Sailor, a project of Maryland Public Libraries. Contact your local library to obtain a card in order to gain access to all Sailor resources.
- All Massachusetts residents can obtain free remote access to HQ using the Boston Public Library's online gateway.
- All Nebraska residents have remote access to HeritageQuest Online via the Nebraska Library Commission, operated by the State of Nebraska. Your Nebraska driver's license number serves as a library card and will give you free access to many online databases.
- All New Hampshire residents have remote access to HeritageQuest Online through the state's NHewLink provided by the NH State Library.
- Virtually all libraries in the state of North Carolina offer HeritageQuest Online from the library buildings. Many of those libraries also offer remote access, although not all do so.
- All Ohio residents can obtain free remote access to HQ. Most local public libraries subscribe. If your local library does not, all Ohio residents can get a card from the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which does give you access.
- Pennsylvania residents who have library cards with ACCESS PA stickers, but do not have remote access thru their own library, may be able to get a free card from one of the participating libraries within the system.
- All South Dakota residents can obtain free online access via the South Dakota State Library.
- Texas residents who are registered patrons of public or academic libraries can obtain free remote access to HeritageQuest Online through the TexShare Databases program. Access is available free of charge.
- HeritageQuest Online can be accessed from any Utah public library & all but a few from your home. How you get into the databases depends on where you live and which library is offering access. Check with your local library for details.
- All Vermont residents may obtain remote, in-home access to HeritageQuest Online via the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier. The required library cards are free to those in surrounding towns while more distant Vermont residents will need to pay $12.50 for a card.
- All residents of Wyoming can have remote access through the state library.
The above is not a complete list. Indeed, it does not list any of the thousands of local libraries that provide free remote access to HeritageQuest Online. However, it does show that free or very low cost access to HeritageQuest Online is available to millions of Americans, even after the genealogical and historical societies are not able to offer access. Further details may be found at http://www.eogen.com/HeritageQuestOnline
All in all, this will be an inconvenience for many genealogists, but not a disaster. In fact, I suspect it will be a pleasant surprise for many to discover they already have free access to something they used to pay for.
ProQuest's reduction in service options provides an excellent opportunity to get to know your local public library. That sounds like a good thing to me.