Leave No Stones Unturned at Libraries

I have been working in a library’s Local & Family History department for about six months now and in that time I have learned something about genealogy library visits that I want to share with you. Are you ready? Here it is:

Librarian’s are not omniscient.

We do not hold the library catalog in our heads. We do not know every person that ever lived in the town back through it’s founding. We cannot read your mind to obtain the details necessary to search for your ancestor.

Librarian are skilled at using the resources at their disposal to conduct the most thorough search possible for the information patrons seek. But sometimes librarians don’t have the answer to your question when you ask.

I have to admit that occasionally, but still too often, I’ve looked everywhere I can possibly think of and I still have to send a patron away empty handed. It’s not intentional and I hate doing it.

What is even worse, though, is when two hours later, or even two days later, an idea comes to me. A place we didn’t search, a book I didn’t remember we had, an index I didn’t know was online, a subject heading or spelling we didn’t check, an obscure topic my colleague who was at lunch at the time is somehow an expert on. It nags at me that I have no way to call the patron back in to the library and tell them that I have the answer!

It doesn’t happen often, maybe once a month or so, but I can guarantee that I’m not the only librarian who has experienced this.

So how can you, as a library patron reap the benefits of these later epiphanies? Here are my suggestions:

If you live locally or are still in town, return to the library a few days later to look for something else. This provides a no-pressure opening for a librarian to relay a potential revelation he or she has had since your last visit.

If you don’t live locally, or if the librarian who had helped you was not working when you returned a second time, send an email to the genealogy department thanking the librarian for their help while you were there even though you didn’t find an answer. Now you have created an opening if he or she wants to contact you with new information and you have expressed gratitude, which they will appreciate.

Don’t expect miracles to come of these suggestions. Like I said, it’s not an everyday occurrence. Very often we are able to find exactly what a patron looking for during their visit and sometimes the information the patron wants simply doesn’t exist. But if you have ever left a library feeling like your missing answer really is out there, here is a way to leave no stone unturned in your search!

Have you visited a library for your research? Tell me about your favorite genealogy library in the comments!

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