18 April 2013

Long, Rambling Stories: What Librarians Wish Genealogists Knew

The subtitle of this post is a play on the title of one of the presentations I attended at yesterday's Librarians' and Teachers' Day, part of the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) being held in Manchester, New Hampshire, this week. I've attended similar events at other conferences, but for some reason this one was especially eye-opening.

I've written before about my experiences as a library patron during childhood and adulthood. I've also worked in public and academic libraries and taken graduate-level Information Studies courses, a background that continues to serve me well in genealogical search and research.[1]

My biggest takeaway from yesterday's event? Brace yourselves, genealogists. This might be hard to hear, but it really needs to be said:

Genealogists are notorious for telling long, rambling stories, and librarians don't need to hear them!

I got a little taste of what librarians who serve genealogists go through while working for one of the genealogy subscription sites. A woman dropped by our booth at a conference, then went on and on about her search for an ancestor's wife. I honestly don't remember all the details, but the refrain went something like, "She was the love of his life, and I can't find her!"

It would have been rude to point out that no subscription site will ever include a database called The Loves of Their Lives, so we had to prompt the woman for relevant details: Where did her ancestor and his wife get married? Unfortunately, our site didn't offer an index of marriage records for that state. Had she tried contacting that state to locate a marriage record?

That was just one genealogist at one conference, telling one long, rambling story. At that conference and a couple of others, I had the opportunity to hear many long, rambling stories told by many genealogists. I tried hard to listen, and so do librarians who interact with genealogists. They get to hear a lot more long, rambling stories than I ever did, and they are very patient. In fact, none of the librarians at yesterday's event used the words "long" and "rambling" to describe the stories genealogists tell. I'm the one who chose those words.

Librarians who go to events like the one I attended yesterday are trying hard to meet the information needs of genealogists. They will continue to listen politely to those long, rambling stories, because librarians are good at figuring out questions, even if their patrons never actually get around to asking.

You know what? I think genealogists need to meet librarians halfway. In yesterday's post I pointed out that using library lingo and tools can really benefit genealogists. Today I'll up the ante. Let's stop boring the librarians of the world with long, rambling stories and start asking relevant questions!


[1] The words "search" and "research" are often used interchangeably in genealogical literature. I believe a distinction should be made between the two, but that's another topic for another post.

Copyright © 2013, Madaleine J. Laird. All rights reserved.

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