Times Leader Arts & Entertainment

Genealogists have big stake in libraries

March 22, 1998

Glenn Miller has a vision for Pennsylvania's public libraries.

It is a vision that would make local libraries throughout the state better able to serve the needs of genealogists and all other people who use them.

That vision is set forth in "The Platform for Twenty-First Century Libraries," published just this month by the Pennsylvania Library Association, of which Miller is executive director.

"There is a great gap between what is delivered and what could be delivered," said Miller recently from his Harrisburg office. The association's plan, laid out in its report, is based on requiring communities to allocate a higher level of funding, on the average, to their local libraries before any state aid would appear. Then, with greater local commitment demonstrated, that state aid would become more generous.

"We need the state to be a larger partner and provide incentives for local governments to provide more," he said.

Under that plan, a community would have to increase its library support from $2 per capita, which is now the minimum level to qualify for state aid, to $5 per capita. That $2 figure, the report says, was established back in 1961 and really should be $11 today, with inflation taken into consideration.

The state would then grant $3 per capita to every library meeting its goal, giving it a "funding floor" of $8 per capita to work with.

Then, state aid would match the local share dollar-for-dollar, penny-for-penny, up through a local commitment of $7.50 per capita, with the state's aid tapering off after that point. There would be some concessions and additional help for libraries in poorer communities.

The plan is designed to address a problem: While Pennsylvania ranks ninth nationally in state per capita help for libraries and 10th in non-governmental aid, the state ranks only 44th in help from local governments, according to the association's figures. The "villain," if there is one, seems to be the fragmented nature of Pennsylvania local government -- the state has 3,100 counties, cities, boroughs, towns, townships and school districts, many of them small and underfunded, the association says.

There is no guarantee that the Library Association's plan will become reality. But whatever happens, genealogists have a large stake in the question of library funding.

We rely heavily on our local libraries for microfilm copies of the U.S. Census and many, many other documents, such as military pension records and other records from the national and state archives.

It is to our local libraries we turn for backfiles of newspapers containing the wedding notices, obituaries and other articles we need to establish family relationships and dates. Many libraries have extensive local history collections that tell us the locations of the coal mines or factories where our ancestors worked.

Want detailed information on a long-ago battle in which one of your ancestors fought? Need to know about the famine or political upheaval that drove your ancestors from their homeland? Your public library, if it does not have the book, will get it for you quickly through interlibrary loan.

And it is not just our own local public libraries that we need. Genealogists know well that a distant library can hold vital information for us, and the friendly librarian who will help us over the phone or through the mail can be the difference between success and failure.

Miller believes that the report calling for a renewed commitment to our libraries is not just wishful thinking. Two Pennsylvania state legislators have prepared bills to help public libraries, and Miller is confident the Library Association will be able to get some of its ideas into one or both of those bills.

"What we do sense is that there is a pretty strong desire on the part of officials in both parties in Harrisburg to do something about this problem," he said. "The common wisdom is that there will be something done this fall."

  • A Shavertown woman is looking for some help with her research. Dolores Swelgin is seeking descendants and family of William Rittenhouse and Sarah Ann Cragle. William (1814-1893) and Sarah Ann (1821-1894) married in 1837. Sarah Ann was the daughter of Adam Cragle Sr. The couple had 10 children.

    If you can help, write to Dolores Swelgin at 415 Smith Pond Road, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-9742. Her email address is keeper@ptdprolog.net .

  • News Notes:

  • The next meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will be 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wilkes-Barre. The speaker will be Keith Parrish, from Eckley Miners Village. A slide show will be presented.

    Membership in the society brings many benefits, one of which is the highly informative quarterly newsletter. The current edition contains an article by Norman D. Nicol on interpretation of old personal letters. In "Faded Letters Speak," Nicol shows how letters are more than just pieces of nostalgia. They can be gold mines of information about people and families.

    Dues for the society are now $15 a year, a slight price increase to cover the growing cost of publishing the quarterly newsletter. You don't have to be a member to attend the meeting and check out the group. For memberships, contact the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-0776.

  • Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.

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