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07 March 2010

Doin' Things Right: The Society Welcome Mat

Last month blogger Herstoryan wrote a creative and funny piece for Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Fun entitled Super Bowl of Genealogy. I misunderstood, she clarified, and a lot of back-and-forth ensued in the comments. All ended well with the genea-blogging community proving once again that discussion and disagreement don't have to be ugly.

But since then I've been thinking a lot about how well genealogical societies and members welcome visitors and non-members. I've been remembering how I've been treated on first visits to libraries, archives and societies. What I recall is that the times I felt most welcomed were the times I was expected. If I had made an appointment or announced my arrival in advance, I was usually greeted warmly. Of course, some people are friendlier than others and an occasional "bad day" or "bad mood" can lead to bad interactions. But I've been hearing some very disturbing examples of bad manners and bad public relations on the part of some genealogy societies. I've begun to think that some societies just forgot to put out the "welcome mat."

The California Genealogical Society and Library welcomes the general public on the first Saturday of every month. The library is open to members three days a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday and non-member visitors may use the library on those days for a nominal $5.00 charge. But on first Saturdays the library is free and open to everyone and an Intro to Genealogy class is offered from 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

First Free Saturdays and the introductory classes grew out of our October Family History Month program a few years ago. Every year in October the society has an open door policy and we offer a large menu of free classes and consultations to members and non-members alike. I'm not sure whose brilliant idea it was (if anyone knows, please leave a comment!) but that person threw down a warm welcome mat that has served the society well ever since.

There is an expectation that we will see new faces on first Saturdays. In fact, the volunteers who teach the intro class look forward to seeing how many new visitors they will meet. Since we advertise First Saturdays Free on internet events sites like Yelp, Yahoo Upcoming and our Facebook page, our volunteers have begun to ask attendees where they learned about the class. That information is helping us to do a better job of putting out the welcome mat. And we are noticing a younger audience. In the February class, three of the seven who attended learned about us on Facebook! Who knew that Facebook could be a welcome mat?

Written for the First Edition of the Carnival of Genealogical Societies: Doin' Things Right.