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Be a Valuable Friend to Public Libraries & Research Facilities
Column published: 22 March 2007
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Each of us can be a valuable friend to our public libraries and research facilities.

Many times we think that there is nothing that we can do as individuals to help our libraries. I would like to share the following ideas with you. There are many ways that we can be of help in addition to making financial contributions.

Be a regular patron
Being regular patrons of our libraries and archives sends a strong message to those in the administration. When they see a large number of patrons using the genealogical and historical collections they understand how important they are to the general population.

Volunteer time
We can also volunteer our time. Most facilities are very grateful for volunteers since most of them have experienced staffing cuts in the past.

Donate books and resources
Libraries are always trying to add materials to their collections. Many times we find materials that can be useful to them. I am always interested in checking out garage sales and other places where they might be disposing of materials that would be useful to a library. I have found that churches, schools and fraternal organizations some times have extra copies of directories that they are willing to donate. Many times at meetings I will ask individuals to let me know if they have things that they would be willing to contribute. One evening a lady approached me and she said that she wished she had heard me twenty years before. She had worked for a law firm and many times when they were settling an estate they had to dispose of materials that they family didn't want. Things like church directories, Bibles, scrapbooks etc. had just gone to the trash bin. I try and recommend that library and societies contact the law firms in their areas and make arrangements to pick up items like these. Several societies have picked up a lot of materials for the libraries in this way.

If you are able to get involved with a library or foundation please do so. I am sure most of you will agree that you receive far more by volunteering than you can ever give. It is a wonderful experience. The amount of time you choose to volunteer is completely up to you and any time you give up will be a help somewhere.

Courthouse Square I serve on the Board of Directors of the Courthouse Square Association, Inc. (CSA). This foundation was formed for the preservation and rehabilitation of the 1885 courthouse in Eaton County, Michigan.

I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing, Michigan. They have both proven to be very rewarding experiences.

The most common fear people experience when thinking about volunteering is being uncomfortable or "out-of-place" at their facility. Often times people hesitate to sign up for a volunteer opportunity because they are afraid that the other volunteers will already know each other, or that they won't know what to do once they get there. Don't worry about not being helpful because wherever you end up, the people who run the organization will find good use for you.

You can volunteer time, money, material, labor, services or anything else that you can think of. There are always many projects that need whatever you can give. Just being there is a step in the right direction and shows that you care.

In addition to local societies that we belong to I am always looking for materials that can be contributed to some of our favorite research facilities.

I want to give you some examples of things that facilities will accept. I have used three of my favorite places. I asked them for guidelines so that you would know the type of items they can accept. I would encourage you to contact the facilities that you would like to support. They can tell you exactly what they will accept.

  • Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame.
    Because of limited space, they have limited their collection to materials that pertain to Michigan women, especially the women in the Hall of Fame. Hard copy of library materials are best. They do accept some artifacts for their collections, but it is on a limited basis (again, because of storage). It is best if people wishing to donate items call them first to discuss the materials.

  • Library of Michigan, Genealogy Department
    They would accept most anything genealogy related, so long as it comes already bound or at least in a ready to bind format. Items do not have to be professionally printed. Materials printed on a home computer are totally acceptable. Types of materials could include: family histories and genealogies, personal recollections and reminiscences, local histories, indexes (even to records they don't have), plat maps, city directories, yearbooks, etc. About the only thing they couldn't take would be loose genealogical notes, etc.

    Library of Michigan

    They have emphasis on states east of the Mississippi and Ontario and Quebec, but with donations, would gladly accept materials covering anywhere. In many regards, donations really are the backbone to the Library's genealogy collection, in that they reach geographic areas and subjects that their limited collections dollars can't support.

    Their main concerns usually focus on the condition of the items. They will eagerly accept fragile items, but will not add Items that have been wet or may contain mold. Many times people take items from a love one's basement and assume that they are all it great shape. Mold can be passed from book to book, so they need to keep them out of the collection.

  • Ohio Genealogical Society Library
    Planned Ohio Genealogical Society Library They will accept family history and local history. Although their emphasis is Ohio, they also collect material on other states and countries, especially those that were the home to Ohio's pioneer families.

    They accept books, manuscripts, photocopies of family Bibles, identified photographs, Ohio obituaries, Ohio school yearbooks and city and church directories, family charts and ancestor cards, etc. Books may be anything from Gateway Press down to a printout from a personal computer program placed in a binder.

    In their manuscript area, they accept Ohio materials - original items such as old township JP ledgers, store accounts, early property deeds, to contemporary materials - such as one's genealogy collection if they are going into a health care facility and have no one in their family who are interested in preserving same.

    They do not accept museum type physical objects, duplication of what they already have, phone books, non-Ohio yearbooks and directories, very general history and biography, fiction and anything that isn't history, etc. You can check out their online catalog and do a subject search for the county of interest to see what types of things they have.

    If it is a new publication, they will provide a free book notice for the donor in the OGS Quarterly.

  • Quotes:
    • "The public library has been historically a vital instrument of democracy and opportunity in the United States ... Our history has been greatly shaped by people who read their way to opportunity and achievements in public libraries." --Arthur Meier Schlesinger (1888-1965)

    • I go into my library and all history unrolls before me. -- Alexander Smith

    • Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. -- Lady Bird Johnson

    • The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them. -- Mark Twain

    • Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul. -- Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
    Until next time :)

    Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

    Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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