Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Digital Librarian: a librarian's choice of the best of the Web

The Digital Librarian is maintained by Margaret Vail Anderson, a librarian in Cortland, New York and is a very interesting selection of Websites useful to genealogy. This is an alphabetical listing but it is a good list to browse through to make sure you are aware of a number of helpful sites. Libraries and librarians are becoming more aware all of the time of the impact of the Internet on the viability of libraries in the future. In an undated article from the National Library of Australia, by Maggie Jones Director, Collection Management & Retrieval Service, and Colin Webb Manager, Information Preservation, National Library of Australia, she assesses the impact of the ongoing digitization on the traditional library model.

Quoting from Ms. Jones, "Increasingly, important information is being created in digital form. Libraries have traditionally taken responsibility for ensuring continued access to the diverse range of materials which reflect a nation’s cultural heritage. In the digital environment, libraries also have a role to play and need to combine theoretical understandings and overriding principles with solid practical activity in order to overcome the challenges posed by the technology."

As more resources become available online, it is apparent that researchers will likely spend less and less time in the traditional library setting. For example, let's assume that the FamilySearch Indexing project reaches its goal and all of the 2.3 million or so microfilms in the Family History Library were available online. Let's also suppose that most, or nearly all, of the paper books were scanned and included in the Family History Archives. Why would you travel to Salt Lake to visit the library? Maybe you would go there for research assistance or for classes or whatever, but the traditional role of the library would certainly change.

In my experience as a trial attorney, I used to spend considerable time sitting in one or the other of the various law libraries researching cases and writing briefs. With the advent of online cases such as those maintained by WestLaw, there is no longer any need to go to a library, and, in fact, I haven't been to one in years. I remember the last time I went to a law library was over ten years ago. Won't the same thing happen to the genealogical libraries in the future as more and more original resources go online? It is extremely hard to imagine that ALL of the records could ever be digitized, but just a few years ago, who would have guessed at the number that are currently available?

It is interesting that libraries are also under a greater and greater attack from allocations of state and federal resources. They are an easy target for budget cuts. Recent news accounts talk about the lack of funding for even keeping the libraries open. See Michigan Governor Eliminate the Michigan State Library and similar stories.

These trends will directly affect both the availability of genealogical resources and the way access is provided.

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