Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version



Published in Genealogy and the Librarian: Perspectives on Research, Instruction, Outreach and Management, edited by Carol Smallwood and Vera Gubnitskaia (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018), pp. 85-93.


Copyright (c) 2018 Carol Smallwood and Vera Gubnitskaia. Used by permission.


This case study examines the development of a new program to foster genealogical research in an academic library that did not encourage or promote genealogical research. In early 2014, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries set a strategic initiative of increased outreach. As one way to reach the goal, the staff development officer and the community engagement librarian proposed a genealogical program with three objectives: • to reach out to campus faculty, staff, and students • to involve library faculty and staff • to bring community users into the academic library The staff development officer and the community engagement librarian became the program's coordinators. They developed the program by initiating Genealogy Over Lunch and Genealogy & Family History Day as focal points to bring people to the library for interesting discussions to help the library's staff understand how family historians can use their expertise, and to introduce more researchers to the library's underused large collections. Planning, resources, publiCity, and assessment were crucial to the success of the program.

For decades, like many other larger academic libraries, the University of NebraskaLincoln Libraries did not encourage genealogical research. This had not always been the case. The dean of the library in 1925-1937 was Gilbert H. Doane, the author of the 1937 genealogical classic, Searchingfor Your Ancestors: The Why and How of Genealogy. In the 1950s, however, the library transferred materials that librarians considered primarily genealogical to the Nebraska State Historical Society, which is just two blocks from the main campus library. Reference staff actively urged genealogical researchers to use the Historical Society's collections. The re-introduction of genealogy into the library started more than fifty years later, in March 2012. The coordinator of Learn at Love, the library's public workshop series, asked the staff development officer to present a session on how patrons could use the library's collection to do genealogical research. The staff development officer used the library's online, print, map, and special collections to show how it was possible to research an unknown revolutionary soldier. Using Heritage Quest, he showed the soldier in the 1790 and 1800 censuses. The library's book collection and HathiTrust had many sources that helped to build out the story. These included lists of militia members, battle histories, effects of the war in the area, and even town histories that included genealogical information on the family. Fold3 provided payrolls, muster records, and personal dispositions. There were also sources to help find materials that were not in the library's collection, such as ArchiveGrid and World Cat. These resources made it possible to get copies of articles and pages of books. Historical maps gave context and understanding to the movements of the soldier during the war. Bringing all of these documents together resulted in a substantive history. The Learn at Love coordinator actively advertised on campus and was able to get promotion for the event in the city newspaper. It brought in more attendees than the large room could accommodate. Librarians were surprised to learn how much information could be found. The success of the presentation resulted in adding genealogy in later sessions, and the staff development officer presented these programs for the library once or twice per year as part of that library-initiated series. Over the next two years, the attendance at all of the Learn at Love sessions dwindled, and the library discontinued the series.

With the termination of the Learn at Love series, campus colleagues approached the staff development officer to find a way to do something to assist faculty, staff, and students to learn more about doing genealogical research. In response to a new library strategic initiative to increase outreach, in January 2014, the staff development officer approached the dean oflibraries with a proposal to have genealogically focused programs. The dean was enthusiastic, and they brought the community engagement librarian in as a co-coordinator with the staff development officer. The community engagement librarian Was an adept genealogist and had the essential expertise to promote the program.