On 9 January 2013, Amy Coffin posted “Mind the Gap: Comparing Genealogy Associations to Other Info-Based Groups” in her We Tree Genealogy Blog. The post referred back to a blog post written by the CEO of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “SLA in 2012: Laying the Groundwork for an Essential Association.” I would invite all of my readers to read both posts, as well as the comments on “Mind the Gap.”
Amy wrote that genealogy organizations should look to the organizations of other fields, such as SLA, for inspiration in meeting their members’ needs.
Though I am a member of no less than six state genealogical societies, a few more historical societies, and a handful of county societies, I am only on the Board of Directors of one organization—which is also a professional organization in the same vein as the SLA. Of course I mean the Association of Professional Genealogists.
Quite honestly, while the CEO of SLA used a lot of inspiring catchphrases, I cannot see what actions the organization has taken that could be implemented by APG or any other organization as an improvement. A “vision” without action to back it up is mere fantasy.
Amy made a comment that resonated with me: “Why is APG membership essential to my development?”
For me, the answer is simple: The APG membership itself is essential. By this, I mean the members, individually and collectively. The knowledge of local history, repositories, records, etc., of members of APG is the greatest genealogical resource in the world, in my opinion. Learning from these members–not just in a classroom or lecture hall, but through one-on-one discussion–has been the single most important factor in my genealogical education.
To bring this perspective back to the discussion at hand: Amy and several other commentors mentioned several things that APG should be doing better.
APG (and other genealogy organizations) are volunteer-run membership organizations. They rely on the hard work of volunteers. So, in essence, “they” are us.
When a genealogist says, “XYZ County Genealogical Society doesn’t provide any essential services or products to me, so I didn’t renew,” there is a distinct, discernible belief that “the Society” must be a provider to its members.
The reverse is closer to the truth.
There is no “Society” without the work of its members. If you, as a member, are just sitting around waiting for “them” to give you something, then you will probably be disappointed. As a member, you should be contributing–whether it be as an officer or on a committee or even just something as simple as writing an article for the newsletter.
What societies do provide to their members rests solely on the backs of other members who are willing to volunteer their time, energy, and hard work to making the society better. The members who contribute nothing but complain that nothing is being done are the biggest problem with societies. There can be no “take” without someone “giving.”
I recognize that time is limited, and not everyone has free hours to contribute. But the dues that members pay themselves help to keep the electricity in the library on, or purchase new books, or pay for a speaker to present. Just by maintaining your membership, you are contributing. And if you suddenly find yourself with a free weekend, maybe you can spend some time organizing or indexing the vertical files, or writing an article for the newsletter, or baking cookies for the next meeting, or filling some other need.
Genealogy organizations, including APG, exist through the efforts of volunteers. Members can either complain about the problems, or work to change them.
My choice to do the latter is why I sit on the Board of Directors of APG and several committees, as well as paying dues to all of the societies of which I am a member.