Saturday, November 29, 2008

One Society Bites the Dust; Another One Celebrates a Milepost

Consider the irony of two genealogical societies, both of whom had posts written about them today memorializing one's success and another's failure. We would do well to shun one's model and follow the other's example.

Dick Eastman, in his Eastman's Online Genealogical News blog mentioned the demise of the Sangamon County, Illinois Genealogical Society:
After 40 years in existence, the Sangamon County Genealogical Society is shutting down next month. Declining membership and dues revenue, as well as the abundance of genealogical information available on the Internet, all contributed to the group’s demise, its leaders said this week.
All I can say about this statement is "Rubbish!" It was not the "abundance of genealogical information available on the Internet that contributed to the group's demise", I assure you. With 100% confidence, I can declare that it was the group's refusal to 1) adapt to the changing times and to 2) view the "abundance of genealogical information available on the Internet" as a tool and a means to promote their society, rather than as an enemy. To blame Internet genealogical resources as a cause of society closure is like insisting that televised church services will shut down churches as we know them. Yes, there are many people out there who prefer to do "pajama genealogy." But sooner or later, they will hit a brick wall, and who must be there to help them break it down? Genealogical societies, with their "how to" classes, their offline resources, their members with decades of research experience and high citation standards. Genealogical societies need to arm themselves with knowledge and skills about the Internet, computers, and online research in order to ensure confidence in those they are assisting, as well as to keep their societies viable for the coming generations. Compare the Sangamon County, Illinois Genealogical Society with the California Genealogical Society and Library, who has just celebrated their blog's one-year anniversary ("blogiversary"):
Just one short year ago during our regular monthly meeting, members of the CGS board of directors took a look at the blog I created for the society and gave permission to go live. They were all wonderfully enthusiastic about the idea and have been supportive contributors throughout the year. I sold this experiment as a way to communicate with members and promote CGS at no cost to the society. So far, in my humble opinion, the blog is a success.
So writes Kathryn M. Doyle, blogmeister and board member of the CGS. Some of the regular "columns" the CGSL blog features are Wordless Wednesdays, a post every Wednesday that does not have an accompanying written article, but instead shows one or more photographs of the society in action, whether at a meeting, a workshop, or assisting researchers in the library. Another feature is having members post a small series of articles about a research trip they've taken. Just like EWGS, the CGSL blog posts upcoming programs and summarizes their meetings for those who missed them or who live out-of-area. The CGSL is an example to follow, not just in its blog, but in the attitude, perspective, and vision of its board and members, which has allowed the society to not only adapt with the times, but be a leader and standard-bearer for other societies.

So, EWGS members, how are we to respond? I hope that I am pricking the conscience of a few readers out there by insisting that we cannot survive if we continue to conduct the society "as we always have." I believe, by and large, that most of our membership and leadership is willing to go forward and this has allowed us to be successful thus far. But for those who are holding back, please consider the state of the Sangamon County, Illinois Genealogical Society--and many other societies which have recently gone by the wayside--and determine within yourself that this will not be the end result of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society!


Kathryn Doyle said...

I was gobsmacked when I realized that the CGSL blog was the "other" society you were writing about! Wow! Thank you so much for your very kind words - high praise coming from you. I've already forwarded your post to our entire board and they are so pleased. Our newsletter editor has requested permission to re-publish your post. I'll be in touch by email to work out the details.

Taneya said...

agreed! I wrote to the Illinois Genealogical Society echoing similar sentiments and provided the California blog as a great example. I am very sad to learn of their demise.