dee_burris: (Default)
Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-02-07 04:50 pm

Are historical societies becoming irrelevant?

I realize I may ruffle some feathers with this entry, but I cannot imagine I am the only one who asks this question, even if not aloud.

Admittedly, I probably do not have as much experience with historical/genealogical societies and associations as others may.

In the past three years, I've had contact with eleven such organizations - one as a member for one year. That one was a very local group who gathered once monthly for a two hour meeting at various restaurants in a small town one county away from me.

To talk. The talk was about doing things.

And for the nine months I attended, they continued to talk. As far as I can tell, they had been talking for two years before I joined.

One of the ideas for "doing things" that was presented was creating a bound book of 19th century census records for that county.

I asked why they would spend precious volunteer time creating something in print that can be so easily found in digital form.

To raise money. To one day do things.

When they changed the meeting time from evening to mid-day because autumn was approaching and some of the older members did not like driving after dark, I made my regrets and quit.

I do not have time in the middle of my workday to spend two hours once per month listening to people talk about doing stuff.

My other contacts with historical/genealogical societies and associations has been in the form of finding their website, seeing that they have a publication I need, and trying to access the publication.

Six of those organizations have been in my own state, and the others out of state.

In each case, the website has listed the publications it has for sale, included a form for ordering them that has to be printed and mailed in, and in three cases (two in Arkansas) no prices on the form, so I had to call and "catch" a volunteer to find out how much the publication cost.

None of them had the capability to take and process an order over the phone.

All of them had a hierarchy from which they *could not* deviate. The shortest amount of time from which my check was cashed to delivery of the publication was six weeks.

In each case where I inquired, I was informed that things had to be done per the hierarchy - meaning the lady with the PO box key (because you never send a check to a street address, even if the organization has a physical location) had to go to the Post Office to retrieve the check. Then she had to give the check to the treasurer, who in turn had to contact the volunteer who was responsible for actually addressing an envelope and putting the publication into it for mailing.

So if a couple of those people go on vacation or become otherwise engaged, well...

You just wait.

One of the in-state organizations is run by a (many times removed) cousin of mine. I talked to her about bringing the association into the 21st century. I offered to digitize their cemetery transcription books for them, so they could be placed on their website in a "members only" section. In order to access them, you would have to pay dues and become a member.

They are not interested in that, but would love for me to join the association and drive an hour and a half once a month to have lunch with them and listen to a guest speaker - for a fee. Then drive an hour and a half back home.

We finally worked out a better arrangement. Since it takes no less than two months for me to purchase and actually get my hands on their publications using the surface mail method - they have quite a few - when I want one, I drive down there during hours when the museum is open, and buy them there.

But I call first to make sure the volunteer will be opening the museum that day.

I know there are more cutting edge historical societies out there. I read about them on other people's blogs every day. I yearn for the day when I have need of what they offer.

In the meantime, what can I do to at least persuade the ones close to me that one of the reasons they are having a hard time raising money is because they make it hard for people to access their services and products, and that technology is not a bad thing?
oakmouse: (Default)

[personal profile] oakmouse 2011-02-08 12:27 am (UTC)(link)
*nods* I wonder if it's partly a generational issue, then. My experience with fraternal lodges and also with clan societies (my husband is of Scottish descent on his dad's side and has tried once or twice to get involved with societies for his clan) is that folks approximately our age (I'm 50) or older may be unusually slow to cyberneticize. It seems IME to be partly a matter of being habituated, or not, to the web. Those of us who do a lot of net stuff for work seem on the whole to be nicely habituated, and those who don't often aren't.

In short, bringing in a bunch of cyber-savvy members who can actually put together new web-friendly protocols, do some of the work and show the extant members how the world has changed, may be one way to go. On the other hand, if my experience is anything to go by, being a lone voice crying out in the wilderness is likely to give you ulcers.