6. Be courteous to research facility personnel and treat records with care and respect; support efforts to locate, collect, and preserve the records by compiling, cataloging, reproducing, and indexing documents; refrain from mutilating, rearranging, or removing from their proper custodians printed, original, microfilmed, or electronic records.
It seems crazy to think that anyone with half a brain would go into a repository and mistreat records or be rude to those there to assist us. But this item goes much deeper than just treating records with respect. Let’s take it one part at a time.
Be courteous to research facility personnel and treat records with care and respect
I remember going into a library where I was the only patron. I was asked to sign out the book I was there to use (it was about four feet from the librarian’s desk and the table I was using was positioned between that desk and the shelf from which the book came). Yes, it seemed silly to take time to enter my name, identification information, title of the book, author, and call number to use a book for maybe five minutes. (It took longer to sign out the book than to use it!) And apparently a lot of people balked at this procedure (I didn’t). Every repository has its own set of rules and procedures. As silly as they sound, follow them. The librarians are the gatekeepers. Refusal to follow the regulations can result in expulsion from the location and possibly end up with future genealogists being treated rudely due to the “bad taste” left in the “mouth” of the gatekeeper. As for treating records with care and respect, how many of us ignore the signs that say “no food or drink” by bringing in our water bottles, hard candy, or (horrors) an entire lunch to eat while browsing through records. OK, none of those reading do this, but I think we’ve all seen it done! Follow the rules. “No food or drink” – check before assuming that doesn’t mean water (at the National Archives in Riverside County it includes water bottles!). “Use gloves when handling documents” – if you don’t have your own, see if they have some you can use. “Copy only on paper provided” – some repositories keep track of their documents by allowing copies on colored paper only; don’t complain. Following the rules, however unusual, will help us all be more welcome in libraries, archives, courthouses, etc.
support efforts to locate, collect, and preserve the records by compiling, cataloging, reproducing, and indexing documents
Have you signed up to be an indexer? OK, perhaps you simply do not have time. Have you encouraged others to do so? I mention that option in almost every presentation I give. Is your society working on a cataloging or similar project? If you cannot physically help, you can still encourage others to do so. It’s not easy to run a genealogy business, write articles, update presentations, do client work, and be involved in a preservation project, too. Each day has only those few 24 hours. But we can get the word out so those who may have the time or resources to help are aware that the projects are moving forward.
refrain from mutilating, rearranging, or removing from their proper custodians printed, original, microfilmed, or electronic records
As mentioned in the introduction of this post, the thought of “one of our own” mistreating public or private records seems ludicrous. But some of the records we access are very fragile and easily mutilated. I remember working in Knoxville with the McClung Collection and being handed a file of loose newspaper articles. Some were over 100 years old. Just breathing on them was likely to cause a tear. Taking my time was the required remedy for that. Sometimes we rush into a repository, needing to take a fast look through a file, book, or other resource and we want to rush through the pages as though we were reading a paperback novel we just bought. If you don’t have enough time to take the necessary care while you are researching, save the visit for another time. We want those records to be around for a long, long time. I was in Salt Lake in January of this year and needed a film that was on a faulty reel (it was broken and really not usable). It took about five minutes of my time to turn it over to the staff there for it to be rewound onto another reel. If a film or a reel breaks when you are using it, don’t re-shelve it; take it to the “desk” for them to handle it properly.
I am always concerned about re-shelving microfilms in the wrong places (I like how some folks take little magnets to the Family History Library in Salt Lake and place them on the drawers where their films came from; this lessens the chance of misfiling. Rearranging any resources – films, discs, books, files, etc. – means that they aren’t available for the next patron. How many times have you looked for something that was missing, even though the “card catalog” (electronic or physical) said it was there? Save the next person the frustration: take extra care in re-shelving materials. And if the repository regulations state to leave the material for the staff to re-shelve, then follow that rule.
Oh, how I adore some of the books I have found in Salt Lake. I admit, I covet them. But no matter how much I drool (figuratively, of course) over their contents, I must content myself in scanning or photographing (if permitted) or photocopying the pages. Never remove from their proper custodians any records of any type! Quite simply: it’s thievery. And, depending on the resource that is stolen, can be grand theft! I know I don’t need to say that here, but I also know that some places have very poor supervision and security and the temptation can pull at even the strongest person’s morals. Just don’t, it’s as simple as that.
By adhering to the elements of number 6 of the APG Code of Ethics, we will be preserving for the future the records of the past. And isn’t that a major part of this whole genealogy thing?
Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD, MA, CG