Building a Collaborative Partnership Between a Genealogical Society and a Public Library
Anastasia Varnalis Weigle,
Wendy Lombard Bossie
and Brenda Jackson Bourgoine
From Genealogy and the Librarian: Perspectives on Research, Instruction, Outreach and Management © 2018 Edited by Carol Smallwood and Vera Gubnitskaia by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
Genealogical societies and libraries share a common ground as they both offer resource materials and assistance to their users and it is no surprise that the genealogist is a heavy user of libraries and archives, historical societies, and museums. Family history research continues to grow and is the “second most popular use of the internet” (Barnwell 2013, 261). For the archivist, understanding user needs and the behavior of genealogists was of interest back in 2003 when a study was conducted involving the in-depth interview of 10 genealogists (Duff and Johnson 2003, 79). The study found that many more relied heavily on colleagues and an informal network of researchers than on archivists. In an era of tight budgets, finding ways to maximize resources through partnerships and collaborations can prove to be advantageous for some libraries and genealogical societies. Combined resources can better support users needs. Public Library archival collections contain resources that support the genealogist’s work.
The archivist, like the genealogist, must examine and interpret information to ensure the validity of the data. Genealogical societies serving a local town, city, or county will find local area libraries will have the same constituents (Litzer 1997, 40). However, public libraries that contain archival papers, but have no archivist and minimal staffing to maintain, build, and promote their collections, may not realize the commonalities they have between their institution and their local or regional genealogical society. The opportunities afforded to libraries and genealogical societies through such collaborations can bring about better access to collections, collection growth, increased patron usage, program building, facility sharing for workshops and meetings, and grant opportunities for preservation and care of collections. How do two separate agencies work together as a single unit, yet still retain their identity? What types of policies should each group have in place before embarking on such a collaboration? How does this collaboration affect library staff and what do they need to know? One such collaboration has begun between the Caribou Public Library (CPL) and the Aroostook County Genealogical Society (ACGS). This essay will share the ins and outs of a joint effort to combine holdings from both institutions to build a Genealogical Research Center.
A Brief History of the Aroostook County Genealogical Society
Genealogy is more than a table of names or a list of dates. Genealogy is the genetic history of a person or a family. It answers the questions, “Who are we? “Where did we come from?” and “How did we get from here to there?” The genealogist’s task is to investigate family origins, bloodlines, societal history, and human migration. It can tell us something about historical events through the lens of families living during a specific period in time. The genealogist’s source of information is numerous—vital statistics, birth, marriage and death records, oral history, periodicals, baptismal papers and family bibles, correspondences, diaries, and military records.
The Aroostook County Genealogical Society (ACGS) began on August 12, 2003, with their first meeting held at the Caribou Public Library meeting space called the Caribou Room. That first year the ACGS elected officers, a board of trustees, a mission statement, and drafted its first informational brochure. They drafted and made plans for a monthly newsletter to keep everyone informed and hoped to bring in more members. In the meantime, the ACGS met in the Caribou Room at the library when it was available to them. In 2005, the ACGS became a chapter, named “The County” of Maine Genealogical Society. Although the Caribou Public Library had archives and space for research, it did not offer ACGS a permanent meeting space. Instead, the genealogical society was provided meeting space if a meeting room was available. ACGS would seek meeting space through the arrangement of field trips. These tours took members to various locations in Caribou such as the Family History Center Library located in the Caribou Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Vera T. Estey House, the Caribou Historical Center, Thomas Heritage House, and the University of Maine, Presque Isle Special Collections Room. The Caribou Lions building and the Chan Center at the Caribou Medical Center were available for a few years with occasional meetings in the Caribou Room. Late in 2014, the Caribou Library director invited ACGS to use the Archival area for meetings and to build a genealogical library within it. Print collections started to accumulate, through time, by the society and not secured in any repository. Instead, col lections were spread out in various members homes. Maintaining inventory of collections spread out was a challenge for ACGS. Before this time, a working relationship had been built with the library staff through members volunteering, so it was an easy decision for ACGS to make.
In 2006, the director of the Caribou Public Library loaned one file cabinet in which ACGS could store a few of their books in the archives. Later, a local business donated a lateral file cabinet for the society group, as they had outgrown the four-drawer cabinet loaned by the library. Although the library had a secure space for archives and special collections, the library did not have an archivist to organize, maintain or promote the collections. However, despite the challenges met by ACGS for a permanent meeting space and repository, between 2003 and 2014, the society was able to accomplish a great many things:
- Aroostook County Cemetery Location map project using Global Positioning Software (GPS).
- Cohosting Maine Old Cemetery Association with Caribou Historical Soci ety in 2004.
- Cleanup, repair, maintenance, and current caretaking of the Cochran Cemetery including photographing and documenting the gravestones.
- Bringing in guest speakers, touring museums and history centers, offering workshops and classes on genealogy research.
- Building liaisons with other groups such as the Nylander Museum in Caribou, Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle, LDS library in Caribou, Maine Genealogical Society, Maine Old Cemetery Association, Acadian Archives in Ft. Kent, Acadian Village in Van Buren and Libraries, Museums and Historical Societies in locations statewide.
- Publishing The Families of the Upper Saint John Valley in 1790 and Aroostook County Towns that sent men to the Civil War.
- Assembling and indexing thousands of obituaries.
- Providing information to people inside and outside of the Caribou area via the web site, through social media, emails, snail mail, and referrals.
- Assisting Caribou Public Library in preparing the Hardison Collection; which is a donated repository of maps, deeds and related papers from generations of Hardison men who were surveyors. The goal was to make a public database of these holdings available.
Brief History of Caribou Public Library Archives
In January 2004, the library underwent some building projects, which included the reallocation of space opening up large meeting rooms in the lower level of the library. These were converted into archival space to house a large donation of the Aroostook Republican newspapers dated from 1887 to 2004 and continue to be updated and maintained to this day. The archives contained works of local writers and historians, photographs, local newspapers, school yearbooks, city reports, and postcards. The room was secured and only accessible when staff was available. Although the idea was to create a genealogical research center, there was no collaboration during this time between CPL and ACGS.
Between 2014 and 2016, a new director of the Caribou Public Library came onto the scene. She liked the Archive Room and welcomed the idea for ACGS to hold meetings there and join efforts to combine holdings and build a genealogical research center. Space was given to ACGS in the archives research area to house all their collections making CPL the official repository for the society.
The library provided storage shelving, bookcases, and storage space for ACGS to house their collection making the CPL Archives a repository for them. Plans to combine ACGS genealogical materials with the library’s genealogical materials were discussed and then implemented. Because the library did not have a working archivist nor archival policies or standards for maintaining special collections, the collaboration had a bumpy start. The director, unfamiliar with archival standards, opened the archives room to the general public without supervision. Patrons used the space to eat, bring children to color or read, and used the space for various meetings. The director hoped that opening the space freely would give the patrons a sense of ownership. However, without advocating the archives, space was not considered special in any way by the general public. It was just another library space for patrons to congregate. Although the intention of the director was sincere, concerns for security was a major issue for ACGS. Again, a workable collaboration would have to wait a while longer.
In January 2017, a new director with a background in archives management took over the position of Head Librarian for the Caribou Public Library. In keeping with the previous manager’s vision, the new director met with the President of ACGS, Brenda Bourgoine and past CPL librarian and now current Archivist for the Caribou Public Library, Wendy Lombard Bossie, to discuss policies and procedures that would benefit both institutions. New policies were set in place to help forge a stronger collaborative relationship that would benefit both institutions.
Working Policies for a Successful Collaboration
Since 2004, the library has maintained an archive to secure and protect historical collections, yet had no defined policies in place such as governing authority, purpose and mission, use and purpose of the archives and special collections, the role of ACGS within the library’s archive, and appraisal guidelines to ensure its success. In 2014, collaboration was encouraged, but again, no archival policies were in place. These would need to be established first before collaboration could be implemented.
The Aroostook County Genealogical Society constituencies easily matched with Caribou Public Library thereby giving each an incentive to collaborate. ACGS and CPL are separate agencies with different mission statements. ACGS’ primary mission focused on the members who were interested in increasing their knowledge in genealogy research and networking opportunities. The goals were to increase public awareness through programs and workshops and offer expertise in genealogical research:
The Aroostook County Genealogical Society a non-profit organization founded in 2003, is the soci ety for everyone from the beginner to the most advanced family historian. The ACGS serves its members by, 1) providing genealogical skills development through education information, publica tions, research assistance, and networking opportunities; 2) promoting the highest standards of ethi cal research principles and scholarly practices; 3) establishing important links with other groups worldwide; 4) providing depth and breadth of knowledge and opportunities for our members; 5) cre ating programs to increase public awareness of opportunities to discover family history; and, promot ing interest in the fascinating field of genealogy and family history [http://www.ac-gs.org/].
The mission of the Caribou Archives and Special Collections places primary focus on the collection, maintenance, and accessibility to archival resources. It is about stew ardship of archival materials of historical, intrinsic, evidentiary and administrative value, and making these collections accessible to scholars, genealogists, students, historians, and visitors.
… to identify, acquire, organize, preserve and make available materials pertaining to the history, cul ture, and people of the Caribou area and outline communities in Aroostook County and portions of the State of Maine that support our documents. These materials are available to genealogists, histori ans, scholars, students, and the general public. The library holds these materials in trust for future generations.
For the Caribou Public Library and the Aroostook County Genealogical Society, the decision to work collaboratively would require some written agreement, addressing ownership and access to materials. Each group must advocate for each other, which in turn offers strength and stability, increased access to users, visibility, and more oppor tunities for grants. The newly implemented archival policies that established the frame work that would help define the relationship with ACGS were placed under its Research and References Services policies:
The Caribou Public Library is the permanent repository of the Aroostook County Genealogical Society Research Center. Although a separate agency from the Caribou Public Library, ACGS and the Archival Collections at the library share their genealogy materials for easy access to users. As a spe cialized field, all inquiries for genealogical research will be provided by ACGS. The Archivist pro vides research services about Caribou history, its surrounding communities in Aroostook County, and the state of Maine as it relates to our collections.
Four types of collaboration were implemented: (1) exhibitions, (2) outreach/advocacy, (3) publications, and (4) grant writing. Of these four, outreach/advocacy services are the engines that drive our collaborative programs and overall partnership. It is beneficial to both groups when outreach/advocacy services are done collaboratively either in the forefront or in the background. Forefront advocacy is done when both groups are creating a program, event, or workshop together. For example, the Aroostook County Genealogical Society and the Caribou Public Library invited the public to an open house event. It was decided by both groups to have an open house as a way to intro duce the community to both organizations and their collections. GPL and ACGS co-hosted the event with representatives from both groups attending. The open-house was an opportunity not only to promote both organizations but to exhibit an ongoing project ACGS has been working on since 2001—seeking information on the provenance of a “Mystery Quilt” found at the bottom of an old tool box in Wisconsin. The quilt is owned by the Caribou Historical Society. How it got to Wisconsin from Caribou is truly a mystery. Its approximate date was established as late 19th century although that may change.
Brenda Bourgoine, ACGS President began researching the names on the quilt to try and identify who made it, why it was made, when it was made, and perhaps how it traveled to Wisconsin from Caribou. The research was set aside for some years, until Wendy Lombard Bossie, Library Archivist, and member of the Caribou Historical Center and Museum, picked up the research. The open house was an opportunity to share the quilt and its mystery to the community. The turnout was a success for both groups. Many visitors of the open-house were not aware that the library had archival collections. The positive feedback from the community about the collaboration was another plus!
Behind-the-scenes advocacy relates to promoting each others programs. For example, when the Caribou Public Library has an event, either archives- or library-related, ACGS shares the press with their members on their social media. This is done equally by the library. To do this successfully, both groups keep abreast of each others activities. Since the library archivist is the liaison between ACGS President and the CPL Director, she is the connector between the two. This is what I mean by collaborations taking a “leap of faith.” This “leap of faith” requires both groups having a vested interest in each other in order to succeed.
Any ongoing outreach of various forms, including but not limited to tours, presen tations, workshop, sponsorships of meetings, seminars, and conferences related to ACGS and/or the Library Archives and Special Collections Mission will further the use and development of materials to serve the local and regional community.
Our publications policy is not to be confused with ACGS published works. Instead, it is an extension of Outreach/Advocacy. This is quite new for the library. Although ACGS has a brochure introducing themselves to the community, the Caribou Public Library has never had a brochure or booklet designed to market the archives. The Archives and Special Collections is in the process of designing brochures and descriptive guides (finding aids) to publicize its existence and information about its collaborative partnership with ACGS.
The Caribou Public Library archives and the ACGS will seek out and write grants collaboratively. Since we are both working together to strengthen each other’s collections and provide research support to users, developing well-planned collaborative programs together may open up opportunities for grant writing. “A deeply collaborative program plan demonstrates dedication to making a difference by leveraging available expertise and resources” (Floersch 2015, para. 1). Such collaborations would help to generate funds to support and sustain both groups such as educational and staff training, programming, workshops, assessment grants, educational programming, facility and environmental control upgrades, new housing materials, and digital project grants.
Collection Ownership and Access to Content
One aspect of this collaboration is the sharing of genealogical print resources. Genealogical societies are less likely to contain family papers or business records—some thing common in archives. What can be found in ACGS possessions are indices of obituaries, publications by the Maine Genealogical Society, genealogy periodicals, and books on specific family histories. The library archives have additional print resources useful to ACGS including maps and gazetteers, which are valuable to genealogists in need to identify the names of localities within the geographic area (Duff and Johnson 2003, 94). For the family historian, key factors in research are ease of use and accessibility (Richards 2006, 78).
Both groups agreed it would be advantageous to combine these particular collections into one location for easier access. Library Archives genealogical research materials were shelved with ACGS genealogical materials. To differentiate what books belonged to which group, those belonging to the library are identified by their call number, whereas ACGS materials are identified by their name or specific recording keeping code. This decision has been beneficial in supporting ACGS while still maintaining ownership of each others genealogical print collections.
Most important, ownership of print resources means good stewardship. The Caribou Public Library has an insurance policy for its materials and facilities. It is important that the society also has an insurance policy to protect its print collections from loss or damages. The policy must be for replacement value, and not depreciation value.
Research Support and Services: ACGS vs. CPL
We start to see differences within each group when you examine how research support and services are administered. The Caribou Public Library is a city department with non-profit 501(c)3 status through the Caribou Public Library Foundation. With numerous monetary trusts and support by the city budget through taxpayers, research service provided to our users at the Caribou Public Library is free other than making copies of documents using a standard photocopier or digital print. Flowever, the Aroostook County Genealogical Society, also a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, relies on membership dues, donations, and research-based fees to a non-member of ACGS.
The archivist’s knowledge specialty is local Caribou and Aroostook County history, not genealogy. Therefore, we are unable to serve users by attempting to do this highly specialized research. On the other hand, when genealogists and family historians come seeking photographs, city plans of neighborhoods, newspapers, school, church, or business records, or other resources that are part of CPL’s archives, ACGS refers them to us.
The success of this type of resource/research collaboration only works because both parties communicate openly and often with each other. It also helps that the library archivist is the liaison between ACGS and CPL.
ACGS Provides Manpower for Library Archive Projects
One of the best assets of our collaboration with ACGS is their workforce support for Library archive projects. It is advantageous that ACGS know the scope of our collections. To do so requires interaction between the library archivist and the President of ACGS, who is also the archivist for their organization.
Approximately ten years ago, the Caribou Public Library received a collection of city plan blueprints dating from the late 1800s to mid-1900s from the University of Maine in Presque Isle. The plans are extremely useful to ACGS research, but difficult to use because they had not been processed since they were accessioned years ago. This year, a project partnership was established between ACGS and CPL to survey, organize, rehouse, and create finding aids for the city plans.
The genealogists seek practical information consisting of specific facts and dates using census records, vital stats, and obituaries, whereas the family historians are seeking needs of a more profound nature—a way to connect to their past and seek identity (Yakel 2004, 4). The archivist seeks information through primary sources such as diaries, jour nals, and correspondence. The similarities between the library archivist and the genealogist are to investigate the veracity of information found to determine its validity. However, at the same, we both understand the sensitivities of the family historian’s need to connect with one’s past.
What motivates the Caribou Public Library to collaborate with the Aroostook County Genealogical Society? For CPL, our motivation is visibility, stability, advocacy, and support. For ACGS, its motivation is space, stability, advocacy, and resources to help their users, which are our users. Wendy Bourgoine, President of ACGS is an active participant in the library archives. Brenda Bossie, the current archivist for the library, is an active member of ACGS. Their dedication is proof that such collaborations can make sense in organizations that have similar goals, missions, and stakeholders.
Lastly, our cooperation with each other is unique only to us and what works for us may not work for other libraries or genealogy societies. Collaboration is determined by the needs of the library and the local or regional genealogical society and what end results each one seeks.
Additional Resources for Librarians and Genealogists
- Best Genealogy Databases. http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/50-best-databases.
Guidelines to Developing a Core of Genealogy Collections, http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesdeveloping.
- Ideas for Expanding Your Library Genealogy Programs, https://www.ebsco.com/promo/ideas-for-library-genealogy-programs.
- Librarians Serving Genealogist Listserv. http://mailman.acomp.usf.edu/mailman/Iistinfo/genealib.
- Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness, http://mailman.acomp.usf.edu/mailman/listinfo/genealib.
- Barnwell, Ashley. 2013. “The Genealogy Craze: Authoring an Authentic Identity Through Family History Research.” Life Writing 10(3): 261-275.
- Duff, Wendy, and Catherine Johnson. 2003. “Where Is the List with All the Names? Information Seeking Behavior of Genealogists.” The American Archivist 66(1): 79-95.
- Floersch, Barbara. 2016. “How to Collaboratively Strengthen Grant Proposals.” Linkedin [Post] (16 June 2016). Accessed April 20. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-strengthen-collaborative-grant-proposals-barbara-floersch.
- Richards, Jennifer. 2006. “An Investigation into the Information Needs of Family History Researchers.” MA Librarianship Thesis, University of Sheffield.
- Yakel, Elizabeth. 2004. “Seeking Information, Seeking Connections, Seeking Meaning: Genealogists and Family Historians.” Information Research: An International Electronic Journal 10(1): nl.
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