A Proposal to Solve the Relocation and Downsizing of the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection

Warning: This article contains personal opinions!

Two days ago, I republished an article from Judy Russell’s blog, The Legal Genealogist, entitled “Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection is Threatened.” The article explained that a “major genealogical collection is under major and imminent threat of being lost.”

The article also stated, “Unless something changes — and fast — the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection — a vast collection of more than 200,000 volumes, many of them irreplaceable — is about to be lost to public access.” (Note: The number of books affected was later adjusted to 20,000.)

According to an article by Mary Jo Pitzl in today’s AZCentral at http://goo.gl/ggPTeP, a news site owned and operated by the Gannett Company, closure is no longer a threat. It is to be a fact. She writes:

“On Monday, a small portion of the 20,000-item collection will open to the public at the Genealogy Center at the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building, located a few blocks southwest of the Capitol.

“The move will put Arizona archives and genealogical records in one location. It also will free up space in the wood-paneled library to house staffers who report to Reagan, such as Capitol museum and law-library personnel, said Matt Roberts, spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan.”

That sounds like a defined plan that will start on Monday. It’s too late to send email messages and letters!

While all of us genealogists will moan and groan about the loss, we also have to recognize facts mentioned in Pitzl’s article:

“For a library that gets low usage — four people total had visited on Tuesday, and the annual average is around three a day…”.

I don’t know how many thousands of dollars are tied up in maintaining this library, but it must be significant. With only three people per day using it on average, no wonder they are closing the place! It isn’t serving enough people to justify the expense of keeping it open.

Yes, as a genealogist I want to keep all genealogy libraries open forever. However, as a taxpayer (in another state) and as a former manager with budget responsibilities, I can’t blame the managers in state government in Arizona. Their decision makes sense financially.

The genealogy collection isn’t being deleted completely since a “reduced collection” will open to the public starting Monday at the Genealogy Center at the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building. However, a “reduced collection” obviously means that many of the books and documents available today will not be available in the new, smaller facility.

OK, we all can do one of three things:

1. We can moan and groan about the loss but do nothing about it.

2. We can write letters and send petitions to politicians and bureaucrats in the Arizona state government. Personally, I think this would be a waste of time as the decision obviously has already been made.

3. We can become proactive and DUPLICATE the library elsewhere, preferably online where it can serve a lot more than three patrons per day as the physical library has done in the past.

A Proposed Action Plan

First, let’s get a copy of the old library’s card catalog. It is an electronic catalog, right? (Newsletter reader “Snuffy” points out the catalog is available online at http://asla.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/default/search/results?te=ILS&lm=GENEALOGY.)

Next, let’s compare what was available at the old library with what will be available at the new library and identify what is to be deleted.

The third step is to search online to find out which of the to-be-deleted items are already available in digital format in Google Books, Archive.org, FamilySearch.org, and other online sites that have collections of books that are of interest to genealogists. While we are at it, let’s also identify the books that ARE to be in the new “reduced collection” that also are already available elsewhere digitally.

The fourth step is to build a web site (any Arizona genealogy society want to volunteer for this?) that lists those books and contains pointers to the URLs (addresses) of the same books that have already been digitized and are available online elsewhere.

The next step is the biggest: “borrow” the to-be-deleted books and other documents from the Arizona state’s genealogical library (I am not sure they will agree) and then, where legally possible, DIGITIZE those items! Obviously, this will be a huge project involving a lot of people. I suspect the folks at FamilySearch might contribute some hardware and training although most of the labor would need to be supplied by volunteers in Arizona.

NOTE: I haven’t asked the folks at FamilySearch about this latest idea, but I know they have supported such projects in the past and are looking to expand their digitization efforts.

Finally, add the digital images of the books and other documents either to the new web site or to any other web site that is willing to host them. I know that Archive.org would be glad to host those books and also suspect FamilySearch.org might be willing to do so. The problem won’t be in trying to find a hosting service but rather in picking from the several hosting services available. Such hosting would be free of charge to the Arizona government, free of charge to the genealogy societies involved, and free of charge to the general public.

I suspect the online digital copies of these books would attract more than an average of three visitors per weekday!

Best of all, genealogists in Arizona and around the world would have free and easy access to these materials without the expense of driving or flying to Phoenix to view them in person. The State of Arizona wins because their expenses are reduced as planned, and the genealogy public wins because access to these materials will be easier and cheaper than ever before.

This will not be a perfect replacement for the library being closed. There will be instances where newer books and possibly some documents will fall under copyright laws and permission cannot easily be obtained to place digital copies online. However, the proposal to digitize only applies to the books and documents that are already planned to be unavailable in the new, smaller facility. We genealogists are already going to lose access to thousands of these books and documents. This proposed plan at least re-instates access to some of them.

Am I crazy or is this a workable idea? You decide.


New! A PDF version of this article may be found at http://eogn.com/newsletter/pdf/2015/07/30/a-proposal-to-solve-the-relocation-and-downsizing-of-the-arizona-state-library-genealogy-collection.pdf.

21 Comments

While I sent the emails Judy Russell requested, obviously they did no good. Your suggestions make some sense to me. I read the newspaper article you refer to, and the items to be eliminated include some published Mayflower books which I suspect are already online, along with others. If FamilySearch would provide some training, and enough volunteers would be willing to help out, some of this disaster could be circumvented. The decision’s already been made. I agree that if the material were online, more people would use it than would go to Phoenix.

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I don’t know all the details here but the Arizona State Archives may be the best place for this digitization to happen with their involvement in the award winning Arizona Memory website.

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    Until seeing Judy Russell’s column about the Arizona secretary of state’s decision, I had no idea this collection even existed, and I bet there are thousands and thousands of other genealogists and family historians who didn’t know about it either. Under those circumstances, low usage is understandable. How many people might have made the trek to Arizona, spending their money on accommodations, meals, souvenirs, and possibly even visiting some other museums and historic sites while they were at it, had they only know this collection existed? No one knows. And now, no one will ever know because the collection is essentially gone. The article indicates the pieces to which access will actually continue are items, like the Mayflower Descendants, which are already available in numerous sites all over the USA and that it is the unusual items, unique to Arizona, that are being removed from use, so there will be no reason to visit AZ now.

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    But, The Arizona Memory Project is only for Arizona related documents. We are not concerned about them. They will be safe in the Arizona Archives. It is the other non Arizona books, etc that we are worried about.

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Sounds like a great idea. Keep me posted and I will try to help (Tucson located)

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This is a copy of most of a letter I emailed to our Arizona Governor/Sec. of State/Director, after reading this Eastman article about one of our very cherished Arizona libraries!

“Please reconsider this decision to move the Genealogy Library/remove it’s holdings! I was able to use the services of this “hidden treasure”many times in search of our ancestry, being tremendously surprised at the amounts/types of hard-copy(aka, beautiful old books!) information available there.The room itself has an ambiance unmatched by most modern libraries, with VERY knowledgeable and kind staff-members who share a fascination with history and family heritage. I was able to use it’s hard-copy BOOKS and maps to prepare most of the information needed to seek out ancestors on four separate “ancestry” trips within the last two years. Please consider seeking other ways to increase public awareness of this (what I thought to be an Arizona Constitution-protected) genealogy library! My daughters, past Arizona Colleen-Rose and Lass titleholders, used this Library to help prove their Irish roots. I work at a Cultural Center/Library just up the road; there, just as I believe may happen at your Capitol Library, many visitors do not bother to, or just forget to, “sign in”–the estimates of daily use may be under-reported! Thank you for your attention. Sincerely, Mrs.Ann M.Hines”
Thank YOU, Mr.Eastman(and so many other article-authors!), for your dedication and innumerable hours spent keeping us updated on so many ancestor-related topics!

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Mary Kathryn Kozy July 31, 2015 at 1:54 am

FamilySearch is setting up a pilot digitization program that it strikes me would be the perfect solution. They provide a grant to local genealogical and historical societies for capturing just these sort of local records. It includes a camera and all the necessary equipment, as well as training materials. They would need local folks to help, of course. I’ve sent an email off to someone there asking about this. Hopefully it will be looked at as a possibility.

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The other action is to pressure for the resources not on the display shelves to be made available on request from store.

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Mr. Trent,

Thank you for contacting the Governor’s Office regarding the recent changes to the State of Arizona’s new Genealogy Center. As you may know, Secretary of State Michele Reagan is responsible for the state library and its operations. Secretary Reagan has indicated to my office that they are moving the division to a modern facility that is more accessible allowing more citizens to visit the facility. If you have any questions on this matter please contact the Genealogy Center at genealogy@azlibrary.gov or Secretary of State’s office at (602) 542-4285.

If you’d like to receive regular updates from Governor Doug Ducey’s office, sign up HERE.

Respectfully,

Stefanie Murphy
Director, Office of Constituent Services
Governor Douglas A. Ducey

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We, the genealogy and library communities, need to think about how to provide some of the benefits of a physical library in an online environment. Having worked as a librarian in a small genealogy library I found that those who used books rarely found them through catalogs or internet searches, but found them by browsing. The online environment has the potential to improve the browsing experience if designed properly. Right now I don’t experience online books that way. Perhaps displaying a list or shelf of books and making table of contents, indexes and keyword searching available without opening the document and having collections of related documents. Search engines perform these functions, but they do not replicate the browsing experience as well as a physical library. The other added benefit to a physical library is the skill of the librarian in listening to the research need and identifying resources to be consulted. It is also possible to replicate this in an online environment, but that requires money for professional staff and/or knowledgeable volunteers. Digitizing the unique resources from the library collection should have high priority.

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Not just Arizona. Its time for us to look at all the states with “fiscal conservative” leadership, to see if a state genealogical society needs to step up before there is nothing to step up to.

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Dick, this is exactly what I’ve been saying for years on the breakups of these collections, and it still hasn’t been done yet. Local town clerks haven’t wanted to do it or work with the people who do want to do it in Michigan, leading to the loss of valuable genealogical data. I haven’t seen a library or town do a digital “back up” of their collection yet.

If we can get some traction on this idea, it would be extremely helpful towards helping people who are trying to convince these towns and libraries that are short on funding to do this kind of action.

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Like every thing in life, THIS requires MONEY and the only way I know to get money is either to start charging folks who wish to use these physical resources (heresy))(yes) OR raise the local or state taxes to cover the costs of keeping IT physical or going all digital, but even digital requires MONEY!!

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Why has no one mentioned DAR? We have loads of volunteers already familiar with indexing, digitizing, etc. IT was mentioned at Cont. Congress 2015, that the DAR wants recommendations for collections outside of it’s own books and records. Sounds like a good match to me.

J. Murawski

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It’s a moot point, I know, but having four people visit the library on a day in July won’t compare to a day in January or February when thousands of snowbirds have flocked in from the midwest–and they are a very large contingent of our collective genealogy club researchers. How about giving us a more realistic “annual average visitor” count?

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I worked for the Arizona State Library as a cataloger and head of cataloging for over 16 years, retiring in 2004. The genealogy collection was once very busy. It was overseen by professional librarians who reached out to the genealogy community and the public, were members of the local societies, attended conferences, and networked with other librarians. There was an enthusiastic group of volunteers who donated their time and materials and raised money for books. In the past few years the collection has been run by clerical staff. No brochures at local events, no programs, no Facebook page, no promotion to tourists. There is no sign on the State Capitol grounds saying that a library exists there. I can’t count how many people have remarked how surprised they were to learn of the State Library and Archives, which, in addition to having the state’s premier genealogy collection, also has large collections of state and federal documents, books on law and Arizona history, newspapers, maps, photographs, and historic records. Hours of operation have always been Monday through Friday, 8 to 5, which has limited patronage. Although some materials in the genealogy collection can now be found in digital format, many of the books and periodicals are under copyright. When I left in 2004, all of the collection was represented in the library’s catalog and on Worldcat. Collecting statistics was always haphazard–hash marks on a piece of paper. There was a registration book, but not everybody signed it. If there is no money to maintain and promote the genealogy collection, it should transferred to someplace where it can be used and not locked in cold storage in the Archives building.

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See James Tanner’s blog post today http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/
where he gives links to “Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records maintains a active, Digital Arizona Library” and to Genealogy.az.gov, rich in vital records.

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I live here and am always looking for more resources. I had no idea this existed.

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I’m pleased to say that we in the Arizona genealogical community and the library staff are now on the road to communication and cooperation. What a relief. Even though we are still frustrated with the lack of notice of the move and the obvious lack of knowledge of their part, we are thrilled that they have now reached out to us. Thanks, Dick, for your interest and suggestions. All help is appreciated.

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What really puzzled me more than anything is 3 persons a day. Obvious there is a poor public relations job somewhere. So unlike other states where they get pretty high traffic.

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I think more people are doing research online and fewer are traveling. I work at a state historical society and our in-house research numbers have dropped a great deal. We have cut hours we are open and the number of staff on duty in response.

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