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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Committee Spotlight: Library

Library Committee Chair Henry Snyder

2014 Library Committee Members:
Henry Snyder (Chairman), Janet McDonald, Kristi Wessenberg, Shirley Hoye, Arlene Miles, Carrie Fruzza, Gibran Roth, Nancy Schlegel, Marcelle White.

Libraries are out-of-date. The internet has made libraries obsolete. These statements appear more frequently as the use of digital resources grows. No one can deny that the internet has become a powerful force in making information available but not everyone is ready to give up the ability to personally hold and examine the resource they are consulting. Library Committee members agree with the need for the existence of libraries and at the same time acknowledge that online access is also crucial. Every single committee member interviewed emphasized how dynamic and important the library is not only for society members but for anyone doing genealogical research.

As an introduction to the committee, a few facts about the library itself will make clear the reasons for their dedication. If you have not looked through the catalog (available online via the website), you are missing the chance to explore a collection offering a wide range of research materials. According to Committee Chairman, Henry Snyder, there are 13,400 items in the online catalog. A quick browse of the catalog reveals numerous enticing sources whether your family history has roots in California, elsewhere in the U.S., or in other parts of the world.

In the more than 100 years of its existence, the library has been located at several sites in San Francisco. The original collection was destroyed by fire during the 1906 earthquake and had to be recreated from scratch. In the years following it shared locations with a number of different institutions and organizations such as the Sutro Collection Library, the San Francisco Public Library, the Sons of the American Revolution Library (in the War Memorial Building) and the California Historical Society before moving to two locations of its own in San Francisco and eventually to its present home across the bay in Oakland.

The committee has been fortunate to have had the expertise of professional librarians over the years and continues to attract enthusiastic volunteers who tend to the ongoing tasks needed to keep the library functioning. According to Dr. Snyder, “A major accomplishment this past year was the processing to completion of all the books, and problems awaiting attention on the shelves behind our desk. They are all cleared out! Moreover, we cleaned up three drawers of cards, all pulled because of some cataloguing issue. The backlog dated back to 2005.”


Shirley Hoye and Arlene Miles

There is a lot going on constantly behind the scenes at the library. Volunteers tackled an extensive manuscript collection whose contents were mostly unknown and which was unavailable for regular use. Although it is not yet part of the online catalog, the collection is searchable and available to researchers at the library. Another volunteer made the first lists of the microfilm and microfiche collections from which the online catalog entries for this collection were created. There is a wide range of information such as passenger and immigrant lists, military records and much more available on microfilm and microfiche. A current project needing volunteers involves cataloging the vertical files, 2 or 3 page documents that are stored in filing cabinets and which contain a wealth of information on innumerable topics. Along with scrapbooks there are composite volumes that group together unrelated materials like pamphlets, family Bible records and cemetery records. It is necessary to separate and catalog all these items to make the information in them useful and searchable. If you enjoy the hunt for historical treasure, this is a great project to volunteer for. Former committee member Jane Lindsey says that she has been told that the CGS library contains material that can be found nowhere else. There are many more “little gems” awaiting discovery.

However, not all of the library collection is unique; duplicates of existing items and material not relevant to the mission of the library have to be moved on to free up needed space. To help solve this problem, the eBay project was created. Marcelle White, who headed this project last year, reports that “Since the end of February 2013, almost 300 books have been sold, raising about $6,000 for the library.” She also registered CGS with PayPal’s “Giving Fund” program, which helps nonprofits keep more of the profits from eBay Sales. Thanks to the efforts of Marcelle, Henry Snyder, Arlene Miles, and Shirley Hoye, CGS is now a “top-rated seller” on eBay and ships books all over the U.S. and even to France. Direct sales are another part of this effort. According to Henry Snyder, “We have sold several thousand dollars’ worth of books at two meetings – our event with the New England Historic Genealogical Society and at the Ancestry Day extravaganza. The proceeds fund all our acquisitions and other library needs.”


Marcelle White and Arlene Miles
The combination of regular library tasks and special projects makes it possible for volunteers of different skill levels to make significant contributions as part of the Library Committee. Many volunteers are active in more than one area at a time. Long-time volunteer, Arlene Miles, manages the serials as well as assisting with or managing a myriad of other essential projects. Arlene and Shirley Hoye are at work doing a long overdue shelf list check to make sure everything on the shelves is in the online catalog. Carrie Fruzza has joined the team and has taken over some of the responsibilities for serials allowing Arlene to help in other areas. And there are still many projects to be done. One project that needs volunteers is checking the publications of California county historical and genealogical society publications against the CGS library resources to see what we need to acquire. Not many members are aware that the library owns pedigree charts recorded on long rolls of paper. These have just been unrolled and need to be reviewed and analyzed before they can be useful. For aficionados of maps, there is a whole map case that has to be organized. You do not have to be a professional librarian to help; the role of the library itself is diverse and there is a need for many different kinds of talents to assist in keeping it vital and relevant.

Copyright © 2014 by Kathryn Doyle, California Genealogical Society and Library.

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