Our interview reveals the genealogy librarian's side of the research equation.
Maira Liriano assists a lot of genealogists as assistant chief of
the New York Public Library’s Irma and Paul Milstein Division of US and
Local History and Genealogy
. Her facility serves more than 60,000
patrons a year, about 75 percent of whom are doing family history. We
asked her about the librarian’s side of the research equation.
Q. What is your favorite thing about working with us genealogists?
A. Your enthusiasm and wonderful curiosity.
You’re researching something that’s very important to you. I can get
infected by it. I admire your willingness to commit time to doing the
research. You don’t expect quick answers or the complete story right
away. And you enjoy a mystery, or trying to put the pieces together,
which is what librarians do. We share that in common.
Q. What should we understand about librarians’ expertise in genealogy?
A. It depends where you go. In most public
libraries, the staff may not be trained in genealogy. But somebody on
the staff might be, and you need to find that person. Don’t assume that
the first person you talk to represents the entire library’s
experience. Genealogy is something that only more recently we as
librarians are recognizing we need to learn more about.
Q. How do your reference librarians deal with family history inquiries?
Everyone on our staff is trained to handle
genealogical questions. But again, we’re not necessarily genealogists;
we’re librarians. We help people get the most out of their experience
here. We know how to use our collections, new databases and other
online sources most effectively. We also know a lot about resources
outside of this building and other repositories we can consult. Don’t
overlook what we can help you with.
Q. How do you help with complicated questions?
A. Sometimes people ask what [they know how] to
ask, instead of what they really want to know. A good reference
librarian knows how to draw out your real question. Then we break the
question into manageable parts. We get you started on one part at a
time. Occasionally, we may get a question that’s a little difficult. We
need some time to process it or to ask a colleague, so we check back
with you later.
Q. How would you encourage a genealogist who is intimidated by your facility or staff?
If you can just walk in the door, we’ll do our best
to make you feel at home. Other libraries feel the same way; it’s not
just us. We’re here to make information and knowledge available for
people—that’s why we exist. We exist for you. You have to believe
that’s really true.
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine