Author: Kathy Warburton
This week is National Library Week, and I have to say that I love libraries. I have spent many happy hours in libraries over the years, both for my personal reading pleasure and as a researcher. I am deeply grateful for the access to books, resources, and information that libraries have provided for me.
There have been many changes to libraries over the years since I have been using them. Most of the changes are the results of changing technology. For hundreds of years, libraries and their collections were limited to the physical location of the library. If you wanted a book from a library, you had to go to the library to access it. If you wanted to see if they had it before you went, you made a phone call. If you wanted assistance, you physically went to the library to speak with a reference librarian. Now technology is making it possible for libraries to deliver collections and services to you, wherever you are.
For example, it is now feasible to digitize the entire collection of one of the world’s largest libraries, the Library of Congress, index the collection through optical character recognition, and make it available and searchable online to anyone, anywhere! Brewster Kahle discussed this and many other exciting possibilities for preserving and delivering all types of content online in his 2011 RootsTech Conference keynote address.
With all these technological advances, the focus of the Family History Library is also changing. Many patrons know the Family History Library’s catalog has been searchable online for a decade. They may also know that FamilySearch has now be converting thousands of rolls of microfilm to digitally browsable, free images online—millions per month! And online indexing volunteers are helping create free searchable indexes to millions of these records each month as well.
What they may not know is that you don’t have to call or visit the Family History Library or one of its 4,600 local branches (family history centers) to “speak” with a reference specialist. I can now take over 100 free genealogy classes online, 24/7. I can now “search the brains” of specialists worldwide by searching the FamilySearch Wiki—a dynamic online encyclopedia written and edited daily by thousands of volunteer genealogy specialists. Want to know what records will help you find your great grandpa in Birmingham, Alabama? Inquire in the wiki.
Want to ask a personal research question but don’t want to travel to the library or family history center? Go to forums and post your question. Thousands of volunteer specialists monitor the forums daily and weekly to help answer patron research questions.
The library of the present and future looks very different from the libraries of my childhood. The changes and future possibilities are very exciting. I may yet be able to access the specialized knowledge needed and those elusive records in distant libraries without ever leaving home!