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.