A Genealogist’s Ode to Librarians


A librarian friend of mine recently shared on Facebook this opinion piece about the inevitable future demise of brick and mortar libraries. Of course, my librarian friend and all her fellow library-loving friends (including myself) had lots to say about this piece. And while the article does make excellent points about the accessibility of handy online resources, every genealogist knows that online information still doesn’t even scratch the surface in genealogy research.

Genealogists need libraries. Besides the fact that there are still far too many old books and newspapers that are only available in local libraries, or maybe on microform, there is also a great deal of personal expertise that you can get in a brick and mortar library but not on the Internet.

Case in point: I was recently researching an African American man who lived (and maybe died) in Clarksdale, Coahoma County, Mississippi. After exhausting the resources available to me online and at the local Family History Library, I gave the local public library, called the Carnegie Public Library, a call. I was directed to their history specialist, and she held a wealth of knowledge about the town and community. She could tell me which cemetery an African American would most likely have been buried in at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the state of that cemetery today (not good, unfortunately). She could tell me about a dozen different funeral homes, and which ones were more likely to have served black families during the 1930s. She provided information about the community that I never would have found on Wikipedia or any other online source.

Librarians themselves provide a vast supply of knowledge that just isn’t available in books, digitized or not. Whether those librarians work for small libraries or large metropolitan ones, they are highly skilled in what they do, and they are almost always incredibly willing to help in genealogical research. Even in cases where the librarian may not know all sorts of information off the top of her head, she can almost always point you in the right directions for you to get the answers you need.

To say that libraries are dying just because ebooks and credible Internet sources are abounding is rather short-sighted. Libraries are a lot more than musty old buildings with books, and anybody interested in doing legitimate, in-depth research knows that.

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