27 July 2015

Razing Arizona*: AZ State Library to shed it 20,000-volume genealogy collection

Rhys Asplundh on Flikr
Arizona genealogists are being left in the lurch. 

First came the slowly developing story that the Mesa FamilySearch Library, initially closed for renovations that were to take about 6 weeks (from November 2014-January 2015), will not reopen until... well...no one is really saying, but I'm holding out for as early as 2016.**

Now comes additional unwelcome news that the Arizona State Library will move its 20,000 volume genealogy collection to the Arizona State Archives. The following statement was sent last Friday by the State Library's Digital Content Director to the Family History Society of Arizona:

The Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records is preparing to announce that the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building will house the genealogy research center. Researchers will now have access to a rich portfolio of resources, including unique Arizona materials, online genealogical sources and expert staff for support. The former location of state genealogy resources at the State Library of Arizona, located in the Historic Capitol Building, will close to the public on July 31.
A few obvious questions. 

First: what the heck does this mean?!? This message is a little bit shy on the whys and wherefores. Does this mean that all of the more than 20,000 books, vertical file materials, periodicals, microfilm/microfiche materials and other physical items will be moved to the Archives? If so, how will the Archives, which does not have much space and does not have open stacks, plan to guarantee continued open access? If the State Library does not plan to transfer all the material currently housed at the State Library, what will happen to it?

Since the message sent to the FHSA was penned by the State Library's Digital Content Director, there is a concern that the State Library may be operating under the mistaken belief that everything necessary to do genealogy is online: books are no longer important.

Second, we in Arizona already thought we had access to "a rich portfolio of resources..." so, why the move? How will the research opportunity and experience be improved?

During the last year or so, in addition to my role as chair of the Phoenix Jewish Genealogy Group, I have become involved in the Family History Society of Arizona (FHSA). Each meeting at the chapter I attend, money is collected for the FHSA book fund. In consultation with the State Library, the FHSA uses this money to purchase books to donate to the AZ State Library Collection. According the the FHSA website, the book fund has provided over $10,000 in books to the Arizona State Library genealogy collection. Here is a list of books donated. Apparently, despite what seemed to be a good relationship, the AZ State Library did not deem it important to consult with FSHA or any other genealogy group before announcing its decision.

So, the third question is why the short notice about this? What is the rush?

The FHSA is asking these and additional questions and has requested that the State Library send a representative to the FSHA board meeting this Saturday, August 1. Of course, by that time, the collection will have already been moved.

Daniela Moneta, MLS, CG, CGL, former Arizona State Library Genealogy Librarian, posted this about the collection in the Transitional Genealogists forum on Rootsweb.com:

The Genealogy Collection started when Arizona was made a Territory by President Lincoln on Valentine's Day in 1863. The Governor of the new territory was assigned to purchase books for the Territorial Collection. This is when many of the genealogy books were purchased. These books were sent by buckboard to the new capitol in Prescott. The Territorial Collection moved to Tucson, back to Prescott, and eventually ended up in Phoenix where it is today. The collection built steadily from then on to include sets of the colonial records from all states. The largest collection of genealogy books in the Arizona Genealogy Collection  are for Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, etc. The Arizona books in the collection are the most complete in the country and available for reference by mail from the Genealogy staff. Many of these books still have the Arizona Territorial stamp in them.

The fear among those in the Arizona genealogy community is that the Archives will not be able to handle this influx of material and that the next decision will be to scatter the collection among several repositories.

As a Jewish genealogist, one might ask, "Why should I care? The collection does not hold many resources relevant to my family." 

This is the first question posted here to which I have a response. First, if your family arrived in the United States before 1880, there could be quite a few resources in this collection that are relevant to your research. Second, while there are some volumes in the collection that have been digitized by others and are online, the majority of resources are not available online. Third, since we are seeing more frequent attacks on open access to records, we must try to hold the line whenever and wherever we see that access to resources may become more difficult. 

While change is not always a bad thing, change without positive purpose, in my opinion, is folly. As an Arizona taxpayer (and as someone who has contributed to the FHSA book fund), I would like to know that our efforts at building this collection of genealogical resources are not for naught. This genealogy collection is not a random assortment of elements, but a well thought-out compendium of resources built over more than a century to serve genealogy researchers in Arizona. I hope that breaking the collection into separate pieces is not the goal.

As of this coming Friday, we will have the interesting situation where Phoenix, the sixth most populous city in United States, will have no genealogy library available until well into 2016. Now, I worked in government service for a long time and I know that sometimes it is tempting for agencies to make what may be unpopular decisions in a vacuum - it's less messy than asking our customers what they think and want. Shutting down general access to the State Library collection when the FSL is not available - that's not only poor planning, it's also lack of respect for patrons and partners.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (a joint effort of several nationwide genealogy societies) brochure notes that 78% of the U.S. population is interested or actively involved in family history research and that genealogists are the largest single constituency of users supporting state archives. Apparently, the Arizona State Library no longer wishes to cater to this potentially powerful clientele.

Time to flex some muscle.

Please help by emailing Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan <www.azsos.gov/contact>,  Arizona State Librarian Joan Clark <www.azlibrary.gov/about>, Digital Content Director Laura Stone <lstone@azlibrary.gov>, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

Tell them about the importance of the Arizona State Genealogy Collection. If you have used the collection, explain its importance to your family history research.
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Late Breaking News: The Arizona Secretary of State's Office issued this news release this evening. The information about the free databases is a bit disingenuous. They are currently available at all libraries in Arizona.
* With apologies to the Coen Brothers and Judy Russell. For an additional take on this AZ State Archives issue, see the Legal Genealogist's post.
**I still have FSL microfilms (inaccessible to me) sitting in limbo somewhere is Mesa that I ordered from Salt Lake City in December 2014 with the (silly) notion that they would be waiting for me when the Mesa FSL reopened in January 2015. 


  1. Emily, your comments ring so true. I do hope that all who read you will respond to the plea to let the politicians know our opinions. Please write them. Fill their email boxes with our protests.

  2. Thank you, Suzanne. Yes, indeed. And I hope the discussion with the AZ State Library representative on Saturday is open, honest, informative and constructive.


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