The State of Library Genealogical Collections – Another Look

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

On October 30, 2008, I posted an article that summarized findings from a survey sent to Virginia public library acquisitions librarians. The pilot survey inquired about the current state of library acquisitions, specifically the purchase of genealogical materials. The survey’s goals were to gain a clearer understanding of the impact of a difficult economy on library purchasing power and to learn ways in which Genealogical Publishing Company/Clearfield Company could enhance a librarian’s ability to learn about the companies’ products and services.

While the Virginia survey analysis provided helpful information as noted in the October blog article, it remained unclear if Virginia acquisition librarians accurately represented library purchasing experiences elsewhere in the country. In order to gain information from a wider geographic audience and to receive responses from a cross-section of librarians, the pilot survey was revised and reformatted using the services of An account with Survey Monkey offered two significant benefits. First, the site offers access to user-friendly survey development software; and second, the site provides automatic tabulation of responses and an online ability to analyze data. Thanks to Drew Smith, I was able to post a link to the survey on the Librarians Serving Genealogists listserv in January 2009, with a final participation reminder posted in March. Ninety-two responses were received.

Demographics: Anyone subscribing to the listserv was invited to respond to the survey. A geographic cross-section of responses came from Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New Hampshire, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Okalahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah and Washington.

The majority of respondents work in public libraries (79.6%). An additional 10.2% work in genealogy/history libraries, 6.1% in special libraries, and 4.1% in academic. 85% of respondents indicated that they are active researchers. In a departure from Virginia responses, this group of librarians regularly attends conferences and is more aware of genealogical blogs and their usefulness.

Library Purchasing Patterns: A clear majority of responding librarians (76.1%) have collection development funds specifically dedicated to the purchase of genealogical materials.

Librarians now buy fewer materials from GPC/Clearfield than they did five years ago by a slim majority (55.2%). However, when asked to indicate the single reason that most impacted this reduction, more than half (58.0%) indicated that they already own the GPC/Clearfield titles needed for the scope of their collection, and an additional 22.0% indicated that they only purchase new editions or newly reprinted items. This fact differentiates the library market from the individual market, as the latter has the potential of continued growth as new researchers are continually introduced to older titles.

If quantity discounts were offered, two-thirds would purchase neither additional titles nor multiple copies. This response implies that libraries generally buy neither multiple copies of genealogical titles for their circulating collections, nor copies for multiple reference locations within their library systems. It may also mean that if an item is essential for a library’s genealogical collection, it will be purchased despite the lack of discount.
Librarians prefer to purchase materials in either hardcover or paper format. Downloadable PDF files ranked third and online subscriptions to full text genealogical e-books ranked fourth.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (84.7%) use publisher direct mailings to identify materials for purchase, although many also use periodical and online advertisements, review sources, and publisher exhibits at conferences. Ordering directly from the publisher is the most frequent method of purchase (94.1%), but purchases are placed on an “as-I-see-it-I-order-it” basis, rather than issuing annual, semi-annual or monthly orders. This fact places significant emphasis on the need for library customers to suggest titles for purchase, and implies that publishers need to provide publication information to librarians on an on-going basis. Librarians responding to the survey ranked direct mailings and catalogs as the top method for receiving information about new titles, editions and reprints. A slim majority (59.3%) expressed interest in receiving product fliers emailed as pdf files. In addition, the survey also provided GPC/Clearfield with a list of specific titles and subjects to be considered for new titles or reprints.

This survey was successful in reaching a wider cross-section of librarians, both in terms of geographic location and job assignment. Two findings for GPC/Clearfield were:

  1.  Libraries have funds to spend on genealogical materials. From the anecdotal comments in the survey, it is clear that GPC/Clearfield library customers are loyal and appreciate the quality of the product. They have purchased in the past and will continue to do so as long as new titles and new reprints are published.
  2.  Multiple-format marketing efforts continue to be essential. If GPC/Clearfield publishes it, libraries will buy it and library users will use it…but they have to be aware of what is available.

Thank you to all of you who participated in the survey. Your input will continue to be very helpful to GPC/Clearfield as it continues to provide quality genealogical publications to libraries and individuals. If you did not have an opportunity to participate in the survey and would like to add to its results, please share your comments here on the blog.



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