Ryan Taylor Archives Rage


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By Ryan Taylor

I call it Archives Rage.

You know about Road Rage, when some small thing sets a driver off. They run a cyclist into the ditch, or end up in a fistfight with another motorist.

Archives Rage happens to genealogists when they cannot find something they want, or a book has been moved to a new location.

The library where I work is moving. Only three blocks, and only temporarily, but shifting several million books and microfilms, 150 people, their desks, computers and filing cabinets requires time and planning skills worthy of General Patton.

For the past several months I have been cataloging our genealogical magazine collection, so that the journals will sit on the shelf with other materials on the same subject in our new library. We are changing things from closed stacks (where pages brought the books to our patronsí desks) to open shelves (where people can browse freely).

Thus, as an example, the Waterloo Wellington Branch Notes, newsletter of the former Waterloo Wellington Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, will be classified with transcriptions of Mount Hope cemetery, church records from New Hamburg and extracts from the Elmira Signet. Waterloo researchers will find everything they need in one place.

Since our library has more than 7,000 genealogical and historical serial titles, they cannot be cataloged all at once. As the various titles disappear from their alphabetical shelves, they reappear in numerical order elsewhere.

An elderly man accosted me one day last week. "Where are all the books that were here?" he demanded, pointing to some empty shelves in the alphabetical sequence.

I told him they were still available. If he looked in the catalog, he would find them and someone would fetch them for him from the temporary shelves in the basement. (Our library seems to be one big mass of temporary shelves right now.)

"So theyíre all gone and we canít use them!" he exclaimed, raising his voice, his color and his blood pressure all at once.

No, I said, they were still available, and I tried to tell him how the system worked one more time.

"Iím leaving and Iím not coming back until youíre moved!" he said and stomped away.

One of my colleagues, shelving books nearby, muttered under his breath, "Good."

In planning our move, much thought has been given to the effects it will have on the customers. We have tried our best to keep everything available for their use. The fact is, the books are not in the same place and our new quarters will look very different to the old ones.

In dealing with public service institutions, we should all be prepared for change. Reorganization happens everywhere. We can only hope it happens for the best. Having temper tantrums at the librarians, archivists, clerks, and salespeople gains nothing.

One common remark made by frustrated genealogists is, "It has to be here somewhere." We can only hope. So many genealogical facts are well hidden or even missing. There is no Ďmustí in historical research, when there are decades of opportunities for documents to be lost, torn or misfiled.

If we are lucky, the materials are there for us to consult. If we are even luckier, something that was lost turns up behind a cabinet or in an old trunk, and becomes available for consultation.

Taking your car and pushing some unfortunate cyclist off the road proves nothing and could cause a lot of trouble for both of you. Taking your loud voice and knocking a tired librarian into their shelving is also unprofitable. Aside from anything else, Christmas is coming and you want to keep on Santaís good list, donít you?

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor

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