by Janice Schultz, Genealogy Librarian
This article is the first in an occasional series of posts about great genealogical libraries across the country.
The Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library System, opened its doors to researchers on June 21, 2008. The Center had formerly been located in a 12,000-square-foot building in northern Independence named the library’s Genealogy and Local History Branch. The new building warranted a new name due to its increased size, 52,000 square feet, and its grandeur. Mid-Continent Public Library is a consolidated library system in Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties in Missouri with thirty branches.
Display cases line the entryway of the new facility. A changing array of material from the Center’s collection and artifacts on temporary donation from various local residents and historic sites can be viewed in them, as well as in display cases throughout the building. A patron lounge is to the right of the entry where researchers can take a break from long hours of researching. Lockers and vending machines are available in the lounge. The lockers are available for convenience, not for restricting items brought into the library. Visitors are welcome to bring any and all items needed for research into the research area.
Internet computers are available on the first floor and Wi-Fi is available throughout the building for those with their own laptops. Many of the computers are on large work stations, allowing plenty of room to spread out one’s research materials. A computer lab offers additional computers for research when not used for classes. The library subscribes to many research databases including, but not limited to, Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, America’s Genealogy Bank, Footnote, Digital Sanborn Maps, ProQuest Obituaries, Access Newspaper ARCHIVE, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Although a library card from Mid-Continent Library is required to use the computers in the library, an Internet card is available for out-of-district visitors to allow their computers access in the library.
The over 2,000-title periodicals collection is also on the first floor. Many periodicals indexed in PERSI are found on the shelves. Over 400 of the titles are active subscriptions. Periodicals are a great way to find material that cannot be found elsewhere, learn about resources in another U.S. county or foreign country, or discover how to research a difficult subject. A list of the periodical holdings is available on the library’s website and in a notebook in the library. Additionally, there are subject and geographic indexes at the service desks throughout the building.
Microfilm and microfiche are an integral part of the Center’s collection and are also found on the first floor. There are microfilmed records of passenger lists, Native American resources, African American resources, military records, local newspapers, state and county records, and much more. Topical guides describing those collections can be found on the library’s website. Mid-Continent Library also has borrowing privileges with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and has many microforms on indefinite loan from them. Photocopies may be made in the microform reading room. In the computer lab one can make digital copies to save on a jump drive or email home. The digital copier will scan microfilm, microfiche, photographs, paper documents and books, slides, and negatives. Photocopies are 10 cents per page but digital scans are free.
Classes are held several times each week in the first-floor classroom and computer lab. The classes range from beginning to the advanced. While advanced registration is often required, there may be openings on the day of your visit. Ask at the front desk for availability or check online for a list of classes prior to your visit.
The Center’s expansive book collection is found on the second floor. Titles can be found for every state in the U. S., as well as Canada. There are even some French and German language publications in the stacks. Other coverage includes African American, Native American, passenger lists, the Ante-bellum south, military records, and much more. While the majority of the collection are reference books – those to be used in the library only – an increasing amount of circulating titles are being added to the collection daily. Some circulating titles duplicate the reference titles, but others have been donated specifically by authors to circulate and are not in the reference collection. The circulating collection, designated as Genealogy from the Heartland, can be borrowed by local patrons and on interlibrary loan by distance patrons. The library does not charge for this service. The library catalog can be searched online. To find the circulating titles, log on as Guest, do a power search, and incorporate the series title Genealogy from the Heartland when searching by word or phrase, author, title, or subject.
The library has a future-expansion area which was built into the original design. This excess space is currently a gallery for a collection of George Caleb Bingham portraits and lithographs. Bingham was a nineteenth-century painter who lived in Independence at one time. He painted scenes of everyday life and frequently depicted the common person. He also painted almost 500 portraits of Missouri residents. On long-term loan from a local attorney, the collection can be viewed at the Center at no charge. The expansion space will also be used for special events until it is needed for housing part of the collection. On March 14 and 15, 2009, the Midwest Genealogy Center will host a 2-day workshop entitled Trails, Rails, and Paddle Wheels: Migration Patterns. Nationally known speaker Pam Boyer will be the main presenter along with exceptional local speakers. A traveling Abraham Lincoln exhibit, Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made Man will also be featured in the event space beginning March 29, 2009, and running through April 24. The exhibit is free.
Four private research rooms are located throughout the library. Varying in size, the rooms hold from two to eight people. These rooms allow small groups to research together without disturbing other patrons or for private consultation and research assistance with a staff member or volunteer. Check for availability at the front desk.
The greatest asset the library has is its staff. The building is always staffed with knowledgeable, experienced librarians and library assistants to answer every research question. Every effort is made to help find answers and instruct patrons in research methods and equipment operation. Ours is a do-it-yourself facility with open stacks, but with help at your fingertips.
The Midwest Genealogy Center’s staff can help you plan your research trip to Independence. We can send you introductory packets ahead of a planned visit. The library also has a list of nearby hotels and restaurants for your convenience. For large groups, the library will forward your information to the Independence Tourism Department, who will assist in making accommodations and providing coupons to area historic sites. A visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center – at the center of the country – can be a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Come and find your history in Independence, Missouri!
Janice Schultz is the Genealogy Librarian/Branch Manager of the Midwest Genealogy Center of Mid-Continent Public Library. Janice has worked for Mid-Continent Library’s genealogy section for over 21 years and has been the branch manager since 2001. She is a native of Michigan and often refers to her ancestry as “Heinz 57.” Janice is the 2nd Vice President for the Missouri State Genealogical Association and is Chair of the Genealogy Committee for the American Library Association. She is involved in the community through her church and the Lion’s Club, and is involved in Youth Friends as a youth mentor. Janice has a BA in Elementary Education from Michigan State University and a MA in Information Science and Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri.