Out on a Limb: Shelf Life

Out on a Limb: Shelf Life

Checking out the lure of libraries and archives.

I was the kind of kid who hung out in libraries. Some kids hung out in pool halls (or so I imagine — I never associated with this kind of rough crowd), others in gyms (again, I suppose — I avoided the gym with the same fervor with which the gym kids evidently avoided the library). But I liked the tall, sheltering stacks of books, the riffle of library cards, the inscrutable precision of the Dewey Decimal System. I made friends at the library, both real and fictional (sometimes the Hardy Boys, more often out-of-this-world pals like Lucky Starr, whom author Isaac Asimov sent to The Moons of Jupiter and The Rings of Saturn — and I, of course, went along).

Not even I much enjoyed hanging out at the library to labor over research papers, however. All that hand-cramping note-taking and tedious citing of sources. It was almost as bad as going to the gym. So I never would have envisioned the grown-up me ever going to the library to research — for fun. Much less going on a weekend!

But there I am, on a Sunday afternoon, grappling with microfilm reels and photocopying pages out of books at the public library. (I wonder if the pool-hall kids, now grown-up delinquents, still spend their free time down at the pool hall?) And nobody’s making me do it — unless you count the relentless pressure of all my ancestors, imploring me to dig out answers about their long-ago lives.

We’re lucky here at Family Tree Magazine, having one of the nation’s best public libraries just a few miles away from us in downtown Cincinnati. In fact, in this issue’s cover story (page 26), contributing editor Rick Crume picks the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (pictured above right) as one of the 10 best public libraries for genealogists in the whole country. Rick — who’s scrutinized the genealogy holdings of the nation’s libraries to create the invaluable Genealogical Library Master Catalog <www.onelibrary.com> — selected our own hometown library without any prodding from us. (He lives in Minnesota.) It and the other top 10 libraries represent a genealogical treasure chest — as does your own public library, wherever you live, thanks to the miracle of interlibrary loan.

What better way, we thought, to celebrate October as Family History Month than to honor the best places that bring genealogical resources to the public?

Our special Family History Month section on libraries and archives also includes an insider’s tour of another treasure trove for genealogists, the National Archives in Washington, DC. Author Paula Stuart Warren and her husband and frequent co-author, James W. Warren, spend many weeks each year researching there; she shares their secrets for getting the most out of the National Archives, in person or from home, starting on page 40.

We also tour Fort Wayne, Ind., the surprising home of the nation’s largest public-library genealogy collection — second overall only to the private Family History Library in Salt Lake City — at the Allen County Public Library. Even if you’ve never heard of this research gem, you’ve probably come across its invaluable Periodical Source Index (PERSI). Managing editor Allison Stacy takes you inside on page 36.

Would any other magazine put libraries and archives on its cover? Probably not — but we’ll gladly leave the swimsuit models to Sports Illustrated and the luscious platters of food to Gourmet. We know what makes family history buffs salivate and where genealogists would rather spend their time.

You like to hang out in libraries, right? It’s OK, really. You’re a lot less likely to get hit with a pool cue there, and nobody will throw a dodge ball at you. See you in the stacks!

From the October 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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