Monday, May 19, 2008

The Most Important Announcement from NGS

There was a flurry of announcements from the National Genealogical Society Conference in Kansas City last week - I tried to summarize them here.

In my opinion, the most important announcement - with far reaching consequences and a real advance to all genealogists, was the FamilySearch and FamilyLink.com announcement "... a partnership between FamilySearch and FamilyLink.com to publish the Family History Library Catalog -- the largest single database of genealogy sources in the world -- in Web 2.0 fashion."

The FamilySearch announcement is here, and the FamilyLink announcement is here. Paul Allen (CEO of FamilyLink.com) blogged more about the background and the details of this announcement here. Please read ALL of Paul's blog post!

The most enlightening parts of the announcement are in Paul's blog post, including:

* "Whenever a source listed in the catalog has been digitized, and exists somewhere online, there will be links created to the digital version by users or through automation technology that FamilyLink.com will utilize. "

* "Since only a tiny fraction of the known genealogical content in the world is in digital format today, the catalog serves an incredibly valuable purpose, directing researchers to offline sources including microfilms that contain the answers they are looking for. (And those microfilms can be accessed from over 4,500 family history centers around the world, for a very small fee.) "

* "As more and more sources become transcribed or digitized, the catalog will directly link to the online version, whether they exist on Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com, FamilySearch.org, Footnote.com, NEHGS.org, or on Google Books, Microsoft Live Books, USGenWeb, WorldGenWeb, or other web sites, saving researchers countless time."

* "The new catalog, which will be available via both FamilyLink.com and FamilySearch.org in the future, may become the single best starting point for family history searches, the way Yahoo used to be the best place to find any web site, and may help any researcher quickly see which sources will help the most, and which other researchers have used those sources previously."

* "This means that individual genealogists, librarians, archivists, and others from around the world will be able, when the Catalog 2.0 comes online in the coming months, to enhance and extend the value of the catalog. Users will be able to add new sources that are currently in the library catalog, and thus extend its scope of coverage. They will be able to improve the source descriptions, and even rate and review sources as to their usefulness."

The way I read this last paragraph is that users can suggest new sources NOT currently in the Catalog - otherwise how would it extend scope of coverage?

It took me awhile to understand the importance of this announcement. Just making the FHLC available on FamilyLink is one thing - doing everything that Paul says they are going to do is breathtaking. This FHLC 2.0, when it comes to fruition (and I don't doubt that it will, do you?), will be the "GO TO" starting point for every genealogy researcher. It will include:

* Links to online digitized information for surnames, localities, events, indexes, and record collections - wherever they are online. Note that some records may require a fee for access.

* Links to the sources of non-digitized information, such as books, manuscripts, databases, etc. currently in the FHL Catalog but hidden there because researchers have to know where to find them - they aren't searchable.

* The ability for users to annotate and rate sources, and to suggest new items for the Catalog, is fantastic!

How is this going to be achieved? The scope of the LDS Family History Library is amazing - over 2 million microfilms, over 1 million microfiches, hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts and other documents. Some of these resources are already online at government, commercial or free web sites - these links need to be found and added to the library catalog item. This will be a tremendous undertaking to create the links and then to manage changes.

Will this be a wiki-type environment? How else can "users" add content or enhance Catalog items - perhaps through an editor-type control? A wiki makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Did you know that FamilySearch is already developing a wiki?

Lastly, I started wondering just where a genealogy researcher like myself could find access to nearly all of the resources that will be in this Catalog. Why, the LDS Family History Library and Family History Centers, of course! There is access to www.FamilySearch.org with their digitized records, www.Ancestry.com World, www.WorldVitalRecords.com, www.Footnote.com, NARA, www.HeritageQuestOnline.com, Godfrey Library, and other online commercial sites at the FHL and selected FHCs. Isn't that wonderful? Visionary, even!

2 comments:

FamilyTwigs said...

I read the article, but when you laid it all out, . . . WOW. It makes perfect sense though. To me it looks like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. :o)

Twigs^..^

mcwieser said...

Randy;
It might not be a wiki. There are several libraries around the country that use a combination of blogging software and other social software to create "interactive catalogs." The first and perhaps the best known is the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan. www.aadl.org. There is even a library in Upstate New York that is using Wordpress for their entire webpage including catalog. The sky is the limit apparently. This is exciting.
Heather