At the start of my visit to the Australian Society of Genealogists I was taken back by the amount of old technology, old books and old library structures. It was a membership-driven reference library with access to a wide range of non-published or widely-distributed collections. They were very much still reliant on using older technologies such as microfiche and microfilm.
But surely everything is available online, through google?
The answer, is sadly not ... Most of the collections held at the ASG were priceless and although it was a specialist reference collection. You might be able to use the internet to find out about details of a family tree, but the librarians at this library provided support for their members with individual knowledge of the area being researched. For example: They had knowledge of cities changing names, or the truncation of names due to war or immigration. They also had a good knowledge of societal changes. This type of knowledge and guidance is not available online.
Unlike the University or State Library, the operation of Library was dependent on volunteers and financial support only through Membership funds. No government funds had been secured for the society.
Most of collection was old and rare and no real weeding occurs in this library because they are more artefacts than reference materials. The Librarian remarked that they had issues dealing with quality control of information due to the idiosyncrasies of material that they were dealing with. These idiosyncrasies and the uniqueness of materials also had a direct impact on the value of information gleamed via ancestry.com. There was also a great discussion about industry standards for recording genealogy information (of which there is none).
Looking around the Museum it was like a computer museum with Microfishe, Microfilm, old computers and old scanning technology. There were issues with balancing the obsolescence of technology vs. the migration of old databases into a new format that can be read by modern operating systems. Eg. Some old programs won’t work in a 64-bit operating system environment.
The impact of “who do you think you are” on the services of the society has been profound. From an increase in membership to the lack of understanding from the public to what a library actually is. Many members of the public thinking that if they give their name to the librarian, that all the research will be done for them. This is not the case. The Society exists for people to come in and do their own research. It is time consuming, it is difficult and it is dealing with materials that have no conformity and perceived obsolescence.
As with many specialist Libraries, there is a unique Genealogy resource classification system in use. No-one could tell us what it was, or who invented it. It just was "the way that they do things here".
The process of digitisation of the catalogues were slowly occurring; as the need takes it and they were heavily reliant on funds and manpower to complete this task. The effort in digitisation isn't just in getting a crisp transference of the information, but also to ensure that the MARC records are accurate within the system.
Overall, it was a great visit and it gave me real insight into some of the challenges of a specialist research library. So is there room for a specialist library in a digital world? I would say yes
and it is important to acknowledge that not everything is on the internet!