Ask A Librarian: When the Genealogy Library Book You REALLY Need Doesn’t Circulate

By Amy Johnson Crow Premium

Dear Mr. Bookborrower, 

Thank you for asking about borrowing our copy of The Bookborrower Family in America. Unfortunately, we cannot let it out of the building.

With the exception of genealogy how-to books and general history books, nothing in the genealogy and local history department circulates. All items must be used within the library.

The book does have an index and we would be happy to do a quick look-up in it. We can also provide copies of some pages. (Unfortunately, the book is still under copyright, so we cannot copy the entire book for you.)

Let us know if there is a name we could look up for you.

Your Genealogy Librarian


5 Ways to Make it Better

As much as we’d like to, it isn’t always possible to check out that family history book from the library or borrow a copy through inter-library loan. Unlike books by Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, most genealogy books don’t have thousands of copies in libraries around the world. Some books are literally one-of-a-kind.


That’s why titles in genealogy departments tend to be restricted to in-house use—they don’t circulate. If that book were to get lost, the librarian can’t just jump onto Amazon and order a new copy.

But this isn’t to say that there aren’t ways to access that book. Here are some suggestions:

  • Search for the title using your favorite web search engine. You might get lucky and find a copy of it somewhere else online.
  • Use the FamilySearch catalog to see if it’s available on microfilm. If so, you can borrow a copy and have it sent to your local FamilySearch Center for a small fee. (Some public libraries can also borrow microfilm through the Family History Library. Definitely look into that possibility, as they’ll likely have better hours of operation than the local FamilySearch Center.)
  • Request photocopies. Even if the book hasn’t been digitized or microfilmed, your situation isn’t hopeless. Most libraries offer a copy or scanning service for a small fee. They might not be able to copy the entire book, but they could copy the index or table of contents. That would give you a starting point to work with.
  • Hire a researcher in the area. It’ll likely cost you more than the copy charges from the library, but it might be faster than the back-and-forth you of requesting the index and then requesting copies of specific pages. If you don’t know of a researcher in that area, contact the local genealogy society. Most maintain a list of researchers and some offer their own research service.

Of course, you also could go to the library yourself. Chances are if it has one book you need for your research, it also has several more you need! It isn’t always possible to go in person, but if you can go, it’ll likely be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Click here to check out our downloadable Libraries and Archives Web Guide in Family Tree Shop.

And here’s our Instant Research Binder Kit, which helps you organize your work so you’re ready to head to the library whenever.

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