Friday, July 20, 2007

NYG&BS has a problem

I've not posted about the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society vote to abolish the voting rights of 5,000 members who have been able to vote on society business and officers, in favor of a 15 member Board that will decide all society issues. Dick Eastman, Dick Hillenbrand and others have discussed the issues involved over the past few weeks.

The meeting of the NYGBS was yesterday, July 19th, in New York City. Dick Hillenbrand provides his summary of the meeting in a blog post here. The Society approved the measure to eliminate voting rights of its "members" and vest all responsibilities in a 15 member Board of Directors. What bothers me the most about the meeting described by Hillenbrand is the utter lack of information provided by the Society leaders, who managed to smile throughout the proceedings but managed to drive the railroad train to their destination.

Needless to say, there was an outcry by some of the current members over the loss of voting privileges - which essentially turns "members" into "subscribers." Time will tell if this move will result in a loss of subscribers or, in the worst case, the loss of the society itself. Has NYGBS burned their bridges with many of their members, er, subscribers? It's too early to tell.

In reading the reports by Eastman and Hillenbrand, it seems to me that the leadership of the NYGBS has not been very forthcoming about the plans for the society itself. They have sold their building in New York City, and have two years to find a "home" for the Society library, publications and other holdings. NYGBS made a "windfall" profit from the sale. If NYGBS is going to be a long-term continuing and useful society, it needs to invest that money wisely for the perpetuation and improvement of the Society itself.

With my small voice, I suggest that the "subscribers" of the Society urge the Society leadership to identify goals and objectives for the near future - the next two years and then the longer-term. The leadership would likely be able to improve their customer relations if they created advisory board(s) to do this, composed of current subscribers and especially professional genealogists and librarians with a stake in the outcome.

NYGBS has a long storied history, and has been a force for genealogy goodness. The publications and library have been first-rate, according to what I've read. My hope is that they will re-invent the Society to continue to be a useful presence in the ever-changing genealogy world of the 21st century.

FWIW, I am not a member of NYGBS, and have not been to their library. Therefore, I have not had the emotional, even visceral, reaction to the events of the last month or so, but I understand where the Society members with those reactions are coming from.

1 comment:

Janice said...


I've read your posts, and those over at Dick Eastman's and Dick Hillenbrand's blogs about the NYG&B. I've been a member of that organization for several years.

What I HAVE seen is a society on the decline. What I do KNOW is that the more people you have involved in decision making the LESS that gets done (whether they are well-intended or not).

There is a real hysteria it seems about what the new board is going to do or not do. Having served on several boards of directors myself, I am going to give them a chance to succeed. They are fully aware of the problems they face. Cutting their expenses by divesting themselves of a large building that needs a complete overhaul is a good start. Investing in a method to share more of their proprietary documents and databases via the internet is important (and they DO indeed know this).

I was one who voted to approve the NYG&B measure to change how their society is governed. The vote was made thoughtfully. This vote is not up for debate (i.e. I won't argue with anyone whether I made a good choice or not.)

Over a thousand people voted FOR the change. You can argue that they were simply uninformed ninnies... or you can see them as visionaries who know that change is necessary, and what was proposed just might work.