Friday, April 6, 2007

Bringing Society members into the Online world

Our recent CVGS member survey asked 26 questions about the experience, knowledge and skills of the members. We had 24 responses (about 30% of the membership). Of the ones who responded (mainly "active" members who attend meetings and programs regularly), 50% have been doing genealogy for more than 10 years. My best estimate, based on knowledge of the members who didn't respond, is that probably 75% of our members have been doing genealogy more than 10 years, and probably 40% for more than 20 years.

Every one of our respondents have a computer - 87.5% with a PC, 12.5% with a Mac. My guess is, based on my knowledge of the membership, that about 75% have a computer of some sort, and they have email access (our email list is about 70% of our membership).

Our respondents claimed that their "Internet skill level" was:

None - 0%
Poor - 12.5%
Fair - 50%
Good - 25%
Great - 12.5%
Expert - 0%

We asked how often they go on the Internet to pursue genealogy research, with these responses:

Daily - 20%
Several/week - 12%
Weekly - 32%
Monthly - 32%
Rarely - 4%

I guess one conclusion here is that many of our members have a life outside of genealogy! I also think that perhaps 50% of our members do no online research at all.

One of the questions we should have asked, but didn't, was "How would you describe your overall Computer skills?" Meaning, dealing with files, folders, Windows or other operating system, etc. We held a 4-session "Computer Basic Skills for Genealogists" class last year, and just started another one last week. The attendees were all, I think, survey respondents. I was surprised by the low level of computer skills demonstrated by the class attendees. In the main, these members struggle to do basic computer tasks. They can get on the Internet, they can do email, they can write documents, they can run their genealogy software, but they don't know how to create folders, save web pages, or put web info into a document using Copy and Paste. Our Basics class should help with that.

The conclusion I draw from our survey results, and my own observations, is that only about 20% of our membership have the computer skills to effectively work online. In addition, another 20% or so go online occasionally and try to do research, but are hampered by their lack of computer or Internet skills.

We are trying to improve our members research skills, by doing the following:

1) Teaching Basic Computer Skills in a special class
2) Using the online genealogy tutorial to help them learn how to use web sites, databases, message boards, etc.
3) Using our Computer and Research Groups to model effective online research and introduce new databases
4) Bringing in program speakers for specific online research presentations
5) Demonstrating/teaching genealogy software capabilities (60% of our respondents have FamilyTreeMaker)
6) Hosting an all-day seminar on Online Genealogy Research using our society members.

The hope is that this plan will "grow" more of our members into effective online researchers, able to mentor new members or members wanting to improve their skills. We hope that the planned classes and programs will bring in new members from the community if we can market them effectively.

One benefit of being a fairly small society is that we can know almost every member, and therefore can have personal contacts with them and offer specific help to them. Larger societies don't have that luxury.

Do these survey results match your experience in your local society? What else should CVGS be doing to improve the research capabilities of our members? What has worked for you?

1 comment:

JDR said...

Thanks for the information in this posting - informative as always. I wonder if you looked at the relationship between the years doing genealogy and computer skills? I've seen statistics indicating a sharp distinction between folks who used computers while still in the workforce and those who didn't. With an expected influx of new folks into genealogy as Boomers retire the computer barrier may become less of a factor.