RootsTech 2014

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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What happened to the FamilySearch books?

In July, 2012, one year ago, FamilySearch announced an upload of nearly 1,200 digitized family history books. The month before, in June of 2012, FamilySearch's report said:
This effort will enable these valuable books to be more easily accessible around the globe for free through the Internet. The highly-accurate OCR system we are using permits each book to be keyword searched for any word in the text. This post will be the first of several updates to help you keep up-to-date with the new books being added to Family History Books.
Apparently that effort has stalled again, since the July report, a year ago, was the last one published.

On 31 January 2013, the OCLC, a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs announced a partnership with FamilySearch to include the items in the Family History Library catalog in the online OCLC WorldCat.org. Here is part of the announcement:
Under this new partnership, OCLC will incorporate data from FamilySearch’s catalog of genealogical materials into WorldCat, and FamilySearch will use OCLC cataloging services to continue to catalog its collections in WorldCat. FamilySearch will also use the WorldCat Search API to incorporate WorldCat results into search results returned by FamilySearch genealogy services.
 I have written about both the digitization effort and the OCLC agreement in the past. I noticed that another year has past and many of the digitized books are still not online and since the announcement in January of 2013, there has been no further information about the incorporation of the Family History Library catalog into WorldCat.org.

First of all, both of these projects are extremely valuable to genealogists. For a very long time, it has been possible to order microfilm copies of records from the Family History Library. So, even if you could not travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, you could still continue your research with the microfilms. In addition, thousands of those microfilms have been rented for permanent status at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Now, there is a massive effort ongoing to put those microfilmed records online in the Historical Book Collections on FamilySearch.org. More millions of records are being uploaded every week. But the books in the Family History Library collection have never been a easily available. You could make a request for someone to make copies of the material in the book, but there was no way to obtain a copy of the entire book for research. Until the digitization project started some years ago.

The book project has been characterized by fits and starts. Over the years that the project has been ongoing, I have spoken with various individuals involved in the project and been assured on various occasions, usually about a year apart, that all of the digitized books are about to be put online; any day now. I did this as recently as in March at RootsTech 2013. The key here for me is that I had a book digitized over three years ago as part of the Mesa FamilySearch Library's participation in the project. I just checked and the book is still not online. This book has become the litmus test for me to see how or if the project is progressing.

The book is as follows:
Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa?, Ariz: M.G. Jarvis Overson, 1957.

I have the original copyright to the book in my possession and have signed all of the releases and such necessary to have the book put online. So, I will know that the digitization project is actually progressing when I see the book show up as available in a digitized copy. I will now also have a test to see whether the OCLC agreement is progressing when I see the Family History Library show up as a repository for the book on WorldCat.org. 

I am not privy to the inner workings of the Family History Library or its relationship with FamilySearch, but I am certain that there have been issues with the project. I suspect that the issue is with the resources dedicated to cataloging. In my previous life, I worked as a bibliographer at the University of Utah main library and became well aware of the backlog of books waiting to be cataloged. Very few libraries provide the staff or funds to do an adequate job of cataloging. I suspect the Family History Library has the same problem. The problem does not lie with the catalog staff but with the resources they are given to do their job. I remember the cataloger's desks in the basement of the U of U Library, surrounded by huge stacks of books waiting to be cataloged. Perhaps this is one of the problems. 

2 comments:

  1. James, I feel bad for you. It is one thing to wait for years for a site upgrade, but it is so much worse to wait for that item you donate to show up. I alerted Dave Harding to your post. You can also see the thread I was part of where there were some complaints earlier this year. https://getsatisfaction.com/familysearch/topics/family_search_books_is_a_total_flop I talked to a FamilySearch Books manager at ALA 2013 and he said that they have 90,000 books or added that many or something. He acknowledged that it is not a finished product for user interface either, but I hope they will address your specific concern of waiting 3 years for a book. I know their was a space issue that was resolved several months ago so I am not sure why your book would not appear.

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  2. PS I also asked about WorldCat at ALA and was assured that the data was/being turned over to them to add, that it takes some programing for them to be able to convert the data to OCLC's catalog format which I understood from them is still in process. Not much help for those of us who are anxious, but they did acknowledge it. :) I only asked FamilySearch, but OCLC was there too so I guess I ought to have asked them. I believe that it is being done though and just reconciled myself to wait like everything else.

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