Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Genealogy Courting

This is not the tale of a love story but about a lust for online records and genealogical data.  A couple of years ago I attended the NGS conference in Raleigh, NC and while I learned alot during those few days I distinctly remember someone from Ancestry proclaiming that available microfilm records are a non-renewable resource and will be completely digitized within the decade. In non-profit "library land" a decade sounds like job security but with for-profit companies losing material is a death sentence and Ancestry was planning ahead.

During 2011 I thought about the completion of microfilm digitization, and the future of for-profit companies, as our small local history room was approached by three major genealogy companies.  Two of the companies wanted our records and one wanted our public service skills. 

The FamilySearch Affiliate program was, without a doubt, a win-win proposition.  It is a perfect "marriage". Our library patrons now have access to all of the FamilySearch microfilm records and use our library with its' great equipment and generous hours.  FamilySearch gets a Family History Center with the support of the Richland County Public Library.  

Sharing our digitized materials with for-profit companies is more complicated.
Libraries are free institutions and for-profit companies get paid for access to their resources.  However, small rooms like ours have limited staff and $$$ to make our materials available online.  We simply don't have the storage space or the tech support to build an online collection.

Archives.com approached us about absorbing our obituary index.  However, they did not provide a user friendly interface and the process for absorbing the index was going to be alot of work for us.  It is a BIG index!

Right now we have a pilot project with Ancestry.com to make available our Columbia City Directories.  We have a volunteer (who is way smarter than we are!) to help us with the scanning and photoshopping the images.  Ancestry provides us with a quality space for our collection, they index the images for us and provide a search mechanism.  We have a graduate assistant who is going to work on quality control.  We are also talking with them about including our obit index.

Ancestry now gets to include the collection as part of their product.  But we can provide our users free access to the collection with a link.  Can a marriage between us work? What do you think?  See for yourself:  RCPL Columbia City Directories.

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