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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cristoforo Colombo, Libraries, and Genealogy

Most of my "free time" as a child as I got older was spent reading. Consequently, I spent a great deal of time in libraries looking for books to read. It also seems inevitable to me now that I would end up working in a library. While I was both an undergraduate and a graduate student at the University of Utah, I was employed by the Marriott Library as a bibliographer so I spent, even more, time in the library. For one of my classes, I wrote a research paper on Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo). Because of what I had learned from working in the library, I extended my research to different physical areas within the library.

Now, this needs some explanation. As I worked in the library as a bibliographer, my job was to "verify" book orders from the university's professors. When a professor ordered a book, we had to verify the author, title, and publication information and then determine if the library had a copy of the book already. It was a challenging job because of the use of the old paper catalog and the usually vague information supplied by the professors. We were not supposed to contact the professors and so it was sort of a game to see if we could identify the books and other materials without making the obviously needed contact. We would commonly find a high percentage of the book orders already in the library's collections.

Our work frequently entailed physically searching the shelves in the library to find the book to make sure we had the right book. Our searches also included the books in the basement of the library that were waiting to be cataloged. After a couple of years of working in the library added to my years of searching for books to read, I had a pretty good idea about how to find almost anything.

Back to my research paper on Christopher Columbus. In looking for books about the "discovery" of America, I found several different places in the library where there were books about Columbus. I realized that the people who had cataloged the books and other publications had made individual decisions about categorizing books that were ultimately had the same topic. As I continued to search, I continued to find more information in different parts of the library.

This was probably my pivotal research experience. This experience prepared me for doing searches online that were not even imaginable at the time I was working in the library. In essence, I learned that the more you look, the more you find. When you think you have exhausted your search, you are really just beginning to find all the information that is likely available.

Looking back on the University of Utah library, I now realize how limited it actually was compared to the wealth of information now available on my home computer. But the concepts learned in working and doing research in the library are still helping me today to find things that seem to be impossible to find.

What does this have to do with genealogy? If you have to ask this question, you need to spend some time doing research in a library or online. Not browsing. Not looking at Facebook. But actual research with a definite goal in mind. Not giving up when your first few searches are unproductive. But real, extra effort searching that includes a broad spectrum of places and topics.


  1. What you are addressing here is the topic of "aboutness". Aboutness is a major part of the philosophical underpinnings of library science.

    Basically, aboutness is about determining optimally where on library shelves to place any particular book, e.g., should a book about Arizona landscape photography be placed with books about Arizona or with books about photography? Or perhaps instead with books about the topic of landscapes.

    1. Thanks for putting the issue in context. I should have gotten a degree in library science.