Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday's Tip, Visit that LOCAL Library

Copyright 2012, CABS for Reflections From the Fence

So, you think that the state library and archives and historical societies have all the goodies in their collections??  Of course not, but, let's face it their collections are fantastic, and so much fun and great stuff all in one building.  Be still our researching hearts!

Recently on our way back north from our winter escape, we headed up the east coast and I just could NOT resist a stop at Richmond Virginia and the Library of Virginia.  Yes, it was fun, yes, I found some pretty interesting stuff, yes, I   L*O*V*E the Library of Virginia.

That said, I do have a few minor issues with the collection.  The newspapers is the biggie.  For the most part they are stored on other floors in closed stacks.  A few papers are actually in the main reading room on the second floor, but, for the most part, all the papers I would want to access must be done so via the closed stacks.  Now, trying to keep this simple and short and sweet (eyes rolling), here is how that is done.  You need the name and date of the newspaper you want.  If you are lucky, the newspaper will not have changed their name very often, ya, right!  They changed those names constantly.  Each paper, for Norfolk Virginia, named differently, is cataloged differently.  Tis the right way to do things.  Tis frustrating too!

So, the first step is finding the correct newspaper for the locality you want to research in.  They have this really nifty finding aid which lists all the localities and ALL the newspapers by name and date of publication.  If you know about that little jewel of a finding aid, you can use it, to prepare to order the films from the stacks.  Ordering is done via computer (I only did once this trip and it was a FAIL) or via the reference librarians.

(Here is one small problem, not all the librarians know about the finding aid.  The majority of them do, but, not all.  So, when you go asking for the finding aid, some of them will insist there is no such thing and that all the papers are stored in those cabinets right over there, waving at the second floor storage cabinets, only as I have already explained, not ALL the newspapers for the state are there.)

So, we have the finding aid, we have figured out what newspaper we want by name, locality and date, we visit the reference desk and the librarians order the correct film.  Now we wait, for a minimum of 15 minutes, sometimes a bit more.  Sometimes you don't get the film, this happened 2 times during my recent visit, these two films were simply MIA.

When you are notified the film has been brought to the circulation desk, you go over there, check it out with your library card, (no, you MAY not leave the library with it, I have yet to figure out why the check out procedure, but, that is what you have to do) and go back into the reading room.  In the reading room you go request a microfilm reader/scanner, if it is a digitial scanner the librarian must sign you on and set it up the way you want, for example, if you want jpg format output, they must go into the software and set it up for you, it is password protected.

NOW, after all this you load the film and start the searching.  If you are on a digital scanner all you need to produce a copy is a flash/thumb drive. Once you have found your obituary or marriage notice or whatever you are looking for in the newspapers, you can copy it to your flash/thumb drive quite quickly.

When you are done with your newspaper research you gather your films and return them to the circulation desk where you hope they check them back incorrectly (2 films I used did not get checked back in correctly, causing me a tad bit of angst, sighhh).

So, you can see this is a rather slow and time consuming activity, this newspaper research at the Library of Virginia, those closed stacks, sighhh.  You will get some exercise here though, running from the reference desk to the circulation desk to the readers/scanners and back to the circulation desk.  Exercise is a good thing.

NOW, cut to the next week and Man and I are now in Rockingham County Virginia.  I still have obits to find, see, all the ones for Rockingham County, I did not pull while in Richmond.  I did not have time and I hoped I might get to them while IN Rockingham.  So, off to the library in downtown Harrisonburg.  Up on the second floor they have open stack storage for the newspapers, and they have two reader/scanner/printers.  One machine is a paper printer, no digital at all. The second machine is a digital scanner, have flash/thumb drive, will copy.  We are allowed to pull our own films, just 2 feet from the readers.  In just a few minutes over 2 hours Man and I pull and find 20 different obituaries and/or marriage anouncements.  One of those 20 was a gift, I found it on the way to something else.  We did not find 2 others we were looking for. I had to load both machines, Man will look for obits for me, but, he pretty much refuses to load the machines.  I refuse to look at gift horse in the mouth, so I stop what I am doing and load his machine.  It does interrupt the work flow a bit, but, like I said, gift horses!  LOL

There is no way I could have done this amount of work in this time frame at the Library of Virginia with the closed stacks.  I pulled 11 of those 20 items in those 2 hours at the library in Rockingham County.  The huge time saver is the fact that at the local library the films were stored in open stacks, open the drawer, find the correct date, pull the film, takes moments, just moments.

So, you do use the local libraries in your research, right??  Many of them are smaller libraries, smaller collections.  This means, in many cases, easier parking, faster access, easier access and in many cases the local libraries have items in their collections you will NOT find at the state libraries or archives.

Bottom line, a local library can be a gold mine.  Many of them have access rules (to protect the collections from theft, etc.), but if you find open stacks of film, you can really make some time, accomplish a lot in a short time, and walk away blessing open stack accessibility.

If you have not done so during research trips, visit that local library, I think you will be very glad you did.

* Source of the graphic lost to the ravages of time, found on the internet years ago, my apologies to the artist and web site.


irisheyes jennifer said...

As always, great advice Carol. I'm glad you had so much success. I've had similar experiences myself with local libraries (in Ireland). While their systems may be a little more arcane than those of the larger institutions, they are user friendly, and the librarians are often more familiar with their collections. Yayy for local libraries!


PalmsRV said...

On my recent visit to the Tallapoosa, Georgia, small town library, the newspaper microfilm would have been accessible, but since they had no operable microfilm readers.... . Nothing about it on their website (I checked the night before to see if the newspaper issues I needed,1899-1907, were available). That being said, I will continue to check the local library's resources, because for the most part it is rewarding. Cathy

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Sadly, it's getting harder and harder to maintain microfilm readers - and not every library can afford the digital ones. Nor, for that matter, do all small-town libraries have a webmaster on staff. Best bet is to e-mail or call the library first.

The check-out procedure for even in-house use is probably for tracking usage - and damage, if any occurs. There are pros and cons to closed stacks. Open stacks can work if patrons don't try to put stuff away themselves (the source of 99% of my MIAs). My historic newspaper microfilms are partly closed. They are open stacks M-F 8-5; if you want to use them outside those hours, you generally need to make prior arrangements. They are in a room that is locked outside of those hours because we do not have the money to staff that area all hours the library is open.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Great information. Sometimes I've found the bigger the institution, the bigger the bureaucracy. I understand the need for procedure, BUT NOT at the expense of customer service and reasonable access to materials. (You do get points for perseverance and for attempting to keep fit, BTW! ;)

Michelle Goodrum said...

Thanks for the great reminder. Local libraries can be hidden gems.

You are one lucky lady having a research assistant even if he won't load film. I would consider that a minor inconvenience and whorth the interruptions. Lol.

Barbara Poole said...

Hooray for Harrisonburg's library. You sure hit a gold mine there and don't you just hate the closed stacks. Anyway, I'm glad you wrote this, as big isn't always better.

txdirector said...

Thanks for the tips! As a fellow genealogist AND RVer on our way to LVA nest month your comments are very helpful!
I plan to blog, too, at kimbroughgenealogy.wordpress.com.