Cataloguing in Gippsland

Musings of a Cataloguer at Large in Gippsland. Just personal thoughts - absolutely no bearing on the thoughts of any organisation with which I am working.

My Photo
Location: Victoria, Australia

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Etiquette for Visiting or Accessing Collections

It is a really wonderful experience to be able to visit where your ancestors settled, and often this includes a visit to a local historical society and/or museum. I did it a lot when I started off on family history, and had a wonderful time. And found heaps. But this is a post I have been meaning to write for some time, after speaking about it at the GSV a couple of years ago. Because I am now on the other side of the counter, and I think there are a few things that need to be said. Make a cuppa, settle in, and feel free to add comments.

Firstly, this is a really hard post to write in a positive manner, so please bear with that. It is not intended to be negative, and helping visiting family historians is usually a pleasure - it is the ones where it is not that stand out though.

What to do before you visit? The best thing is to write or e-mail where you are visiting, with sufficient details about your family so they can give you best advice, or connect you to the best people. Just phoning does not work - and neither of the collections I work with will do family history over the phone, no matter how demanding people are. And sometimes they are, and I have seen elderly volunteers reduced to tears. Phoning to confirm times (after you have written) is fine - demanding family details over the phone is not. Write about a month ahead, with full details of anticipated time of visit. You should try to fit the normal opening hours, and understand if there is no-one available to drop everything for a time that suits you.

When you do arrive, please bring with you a family chart - you may understand your family, but telling people is no substitute for handing them a chart. Give a brief outline of your family, and then ask specific or general questions about the family, and listen to the answers. This is not an opportunity for you to talk to a captive audience at length about your family. If you arrive without notice, you cannot expect whoever is on duty to be able to access the computer to assist you.

Both collections I work with currently do not allow outside flash drives to be used with our computers as, virus concerns aside, too may people are out there boasting about how they have stolen entire databases and indexes off computers because they have been left alone with computers by unaware people on duty. For the same reason, we will not allow the use of portable scanners with archived photographs without prior arrangement and payment of a reproduction fee per photograph. The volunteers involved have been fund-raising for years to maintain these records, and should not be expected to hand them all over just because people do have the ability to copy them on the spot. There are also records that need to be checked to ensure there are no restrictions on reproduction. Many collections will not allow photography at all at the collection. If there is no signage, it is polite to ask first.

Once you have visited, send an update on the family for the collection's files. Please provide material in A4 format, or smaller. If you are sending digital material, send it as a widely accepted word processing document (eg many do not have Publisher). Do not set material up for display (eg as posters or framed) and expect it to be put on display. Make sure that you include your snail-mail address (e-mail addresses change), and give permission for the details to be given to anyone else enquiring about the family.

The bottom line is - how you interact with us will influence our actions if we find any further material on your family. If you have been courteous, filed material on your family and paid your way, there is every chance we will contact you again. If you are like one recent visitor, who went to both collections, and then wrote to each one complaining about the other, there is not a lot of chance we will.

Negative? Probably - but there comes a time when it has to be said. And it does need to be said that we get great pleasure from many of the family historians who visit. Just sometimes a little more thought about what you are doing makes it possible (or easier) to find information for you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great advice! I have been timid to ask for help at a small town historical society because I wasn't sure about the protocol. Your tips actually give me confidence to approach them for help and know how not to overstep my bounds.

September 29, 2012 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Hello Anon,

So glad this helped you - we do enjoy finding material for people to help connect them to our town and their family. Just we could help so much more with a little bit of pre-planning. I hope you have a ball with your visit!

September 29, 2012 at 6:59 PM  
Anonymous small business funding australia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

June 22, 2013 at 2:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home