Friday, June 17, 2016

Libraries, a genealogy gold mine and a reader's rant

This is the best of times and the worst of times for book readers, especially for those of us who love history and hope to find out more about our ancestors and the lives they lived. 

It's the worst of times because so many public and even university libraries have decided to purge their shelves on a regular basis.  I'm not sure of the criteria they use, but the age of the book and it's popularity, judged by how many times it's been checked out, seem to be two of the criteria.  If a book is old and unloved, out it goes.  Never mind that it contains valuable information that is not readily available.  Never mind that a family historian may come in tomorrow needing the information that is otherwise available only 300 or 600 miles away.  Space is needed for the new novel that is also available on an ebook.  Unfortunately, many of these books are not yet digitized, or at least not freely available, because their copyright dates are less than 72 years ago.  This recycling of books is not good for the public, but it's wonderful for researchers.

So, I am trying to participate, on a limited basis, in the "best of times" part of this process.  It means that if we know what we want, it may be available inexpensively on line, through one or more of the many on line book sellers.  As long as we don't mind having a copy of a book that is stamped with a library name from three states away, or a college or university stamp, we can build our personal libraries.  Books we know we need for research purposes, or books we loved ten or thirty years ago, or books we have somehow missed reading may well be "out there" now. 

In my house, the value of this gold mine is limited due to space and budget restrictions, so I am not able to buy all that I would like to.  However, I've found used books on line about the Civil War unit my great grandfather served in, about the lives my Kansan ancestors lived, about different aspects of life in colonial Berks County, Pennsylvania,and about early colonial justice in Western Massachusetts.  I've also found copies of The Anglo Saxon Chronicles and The Domesday Book on line. 

This is also the best of times because sometimes books can be ordered on line that are reprints of books from far, far in the past.  For instance, I've ordered and read Twelve Months in Andersonville, which was written by a veteran of that prison camp who lived in Andrews, Indiana, my hometown.    I've also purchased, but have yet to read, a History of New London and Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County.  These books were all written before 1900 and are probably available as e-books, but for various reasons I wanted to have these on my shelves.

I guess the purpose of this rant is to alert any readers or family historians who were not aware of the purging of the libraries to take whatever action you can, to rescue books you need or want.  Many libraries have book sales and then sell the "leftovers" to jobbers, so it's worthwhile to follow these sales and buy them locally before you have to pay shipping costs on them.  If you find a book in a large genealogy library that would be valuable to you, check on line to see if one is available at a price you are willing to pay.  And smile, because you've just participated in the best of times!