Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In books, the size of the library really does matter - A reflection on the past and on the future

As a teenager, I lived most of my summers in a very small town. The rest of the year I went to school and lived in a larger town. The small town had a small library that was only open at certain times of the week. I quickly read everything of interest in that library and was constantly searching for more to read. I mentioned before that I would drive around to neighboring towns and purchase books from the drugstores. That was when drugstores had a selection of classic books from reputable publishers.

Even with the larger Phoenix Public Library, I would often find that I had read every single book available on a given subject. When I started to do research in high school, I soon encountered the limitations of the Phoenix Library, I can remember two research topics that were frustrated by the unavailability of books on the subject. For example, one project involved researching a battle of the U.S. Civil War. The Phoenix Public Library, at the time, did not have one detailed book describing the battles of the War. I must also mention my high school library, where I seldom found anything at all of interest.

When I finally got to the University, one of the most important things about being in that environment was the vast increase in the availability of books. The University of Utah library was old and very well developed. One of my favorite activities was "walking the stacks." The Library had over a million books and I would walk up and down the stacks of books and look at every shelf and "read the stacks." This involved looking at the titles of all the books available. This way, I walked the stacks of the entire library.

This was a major reason why I had to live in a big city. I needed access to a respectably sized library. Until the advent of the Internet, I used the now much larger, Phoenix Public Library and the well stocked Mesa Public Library extensively. When I became interested in a subject, I would go to the library and read every single book available on that subject. When friends and relatives came to town, we would always take them to the libraries. Some thought this rather strange.

My life changed dramatically once I got access to the online world of computers. My first contact was through GOPHER and LISTSERVs and I was excited by the World Wide Web and the prospect of having access to the world's libraries. Now that my focus is genealogy and family history, I am always hungry for more books. To me, heaven, in part, is having access to an unlimited number of books.

I guess I am now in heaven.

We have now turned an important corner in the world of access to the written word. A significant portion of the world's books are now online and freely available to anyone who wants to use them. The tragedy of our modern world is that so few people realize that education is no longer limited. Schools do not control what you can learn. Likewise my research efforts are no longer frustrated by the unavailability of source materials. There is more online than even I can comprehend. The number of books online has reached critical mass.

The most significant recent event for genealogists, is clearly the fact that the logjam at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah was cleared and we now have over 100,000+ family history and local history books online completely digitized. Increases in the collections of other online services also continue unabated. For example, announced adding 200 volumes of Canadian Books from Archives CD Books Canada. Although the numbers start to be overwhelming and meaningless, these are all significant increases in the availability of research materials.

I now start with Google Books and Next is now searching's Books Collection, then on to and the and I am literally in the largest libraries in the world.


  1. If FamilySearch's digitized books are not searchable, what is the point?


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oops. Typo. I'm afraid you may have missed the point. All of the books are in PDF format and completely searchable.