2015 began without knowing that the Mesa FamilySearch Library would still not be open by 2016. The library had closed for remodeling in late 2014. Mold and termites were found, leaving decision makers to repair or demolish the building. Well, there was always the state capitol library, affectionately called “Linda’s library” But 2015 also began without knowing that, in late July, the Arizona State Library’s Genealogy Collection, which began during territorial times, would close and move with only a one week notice to the public. Suddenly, instead of three large genealogy libraries in Arizona, we had only one - the West Valley Genealogical Society Library. How dare state officials close the Genealogy Collection without prior public input and only one week notice!
After receiving the press release from the State Library, an “all hands on deck” call went out to the AzGAB membership. AzGAB and its member organizations stepped up to the challenge. Much of what little information we received from the “closers” would be suspect and change often. AzGAB members went into overdrive with calls, emails, text messages, meetings and personal interviews with the leadership of our library, and with publicizing our concerns to the media. For several weeks, dozens of volunteers from AzGAB member organizations; FHSA, WVGS, BFGHS and the McClelland Irish Library, with lunch sacks in hand, provided hundreds if not thousands of hours of service reviewing 19,000 items, culling duplicates, assisting with re-cataloging duties, and packing hundreds of boxes of books. A couple of retirees were overheard saying “this is like going back to work” .They couldn’t have done it without us!
Although space (and less than perfect record keeping) doesn’t allow me to mention all the volunteers by name, kudos are due to Sharon Atkins, Suzanne Brayer, Ro Hein, Linda McCleary, Arlene Sampson, Rosalind Matthews, Cindy Patricki, Connie Sheets, and Karen Zeppenfeld for their tireless efforts “above and beyond the call of duty” to work together as an informal committee (now the Action Committee for Genealogy Library Preservation - ACGLP) to coordinate the response. Connie Sheets deserves special mention for documenting the committee’s efforts and keeping the AzGAB Board and other members of the genealogy community informed.
As a result of advocacy by AzGAB, its member societies, and others in the genealogy community, FamilySearch.org is currently digitizing up to 5,000 titles published before 1978 that are in the public domain, and we have assurances that, while not on shelves that can be browsed, the remaining books should remain available to the public upon request at the State Archives for 3 to 5 years.
In early December, I made a presentation to a meeting of the Arizona State Library Advisory Board. Michelle Reagan, the Secretary of State, and other LAPR officials were also in attendance. I want to thank Linda McCleary and Karen Zeppenfeld for their attendance and support, and Connie Sheets for preparing the written statement from ACGLP that I presented. The efforts of all the wonderful volunteers who worked to save the library - at least for now - are a testament to why AzGAB exists, and what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it. The fight is not over, and keeping the State Library Collection in Arizona and available to the public will continue to require our full attention in 2016.
-Larry Lee, President