Friday, 8 June 2007

The best public library for genealogy

How do public libraries compare based on the quality of genealogy resources provided? How do you know if your library is offerring good genealogy service? As a genealogist what do you look for from a public library?

I've selected three aspects of the service to genealogists and compared several libraries across Canada using the information on their web sites. You may consider other resources and criteria important. I'd welcome comments.

The libraries I choose are, from West to East, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, London, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, St. John's. Sorry Charlottetown, Fredericton, Regina, St John and many others.

First, a good public library should have a section on their web site dedicated to genealogy, preferable one that's easy to find. On Thursday 8 June Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and St John's all had a link to genealogy from their home page. Saskatoon, Winnipeg, London, Toronto and Halifax had rather more obscure genealogy content. No genealogy page could be found for either Victoria or Vancouver.

Second, most people think of books when they think of a library, so I expect to find a good selection of genealogy and genealogy-related books. I chose six books: Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner's Trace your Roots with DNA; Bryan Sykes' Seven Daughters of Eve; Angus Baxter's In Search of your Canadian Roots (all editions); Brenda Merriman's Genealogy in Ontario; Mark Herber's Ancestral Trails; and Elizabeth Mills' (ed) Professional Genealogy.

Seven libraries had all six including all the libraries from Winnipeg westward, Toronto and Ottawa. London, Hamilton and Halifax had five of the six, and St John's four. Montreal was excluded as the catalog appeared to be combined with a provincial facility and not reflect holdings at branch libraries. I did not consider Montreal in the final analysis.

Third, increasingly people want their library to be an information resource. The library should have a range of freely accessible databases of genealogical interest, with as many a possible accessible by card-holding patrons over the Internet. I looked for Ancestry Library, Heritage Quest, Pages of the Past (Toronto Star), Globe and Mail (Canada's Heritage from 1844 ), Times of London, Oxford DNB, Newspaper Archive. There was a lot of variability.

All the libraries from Montreal westward, except Hamilton and Winnipeg, offer Ancestry Library, the library edition of, for use in-branch. As the largest subscription genealogy database, and with the service not now being offerred through Family History Centres, Ancestry Library is a major benefit to genealogist-subscribers. It was given major weight in the final analysis.

Victoria offers none of the other databases. Vancouver offers the Globe, Times of London and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography with at home access. Calgary offers the most extensive range - Heritage Quest, Toronto Star, Globe, and Times of London all available for use at home.
Edmonton offers Heritage Quest and the Globe for at home use. Saskatoon offers no additional databases, and Winnipeg, which does not offer Ancestry Library, is the only library to offer Newspaper Archive which has some historic Manitoba newspapers. According to their web site Newspaper Archive is offerred free to public libraries so its puzzling that more libraries don't offer it.

The picture gets grimmer as you move east. Hamilton, Halifax and St John's offer no genealogy-related databases. London and Ottawa provide the Globe for use at home. Toronto offers both the Star and the Globe for at home use. Montreal gives access to the Globe at its facilities.

Congratulations to the Calgary Public Library which appears to offer the most comprehensive range of genealogy services and gets top rating, 14 points. Next are Edmonton (12), Toronto (11.5), Ottawa and Vancouver (11), London and Saskatoon (9), Victoria (8). Montreal was not rated and the others follow.

It's quite likely your library is not included. I know there are places outside Canada, and communities in Canada outside the Cities mentioned. Also it's possible I may have overlooked something for the cities rated. In any of these situations, especially where I missed something, please leave a comment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Sorry it's taken me a year to find your blog and especially your post reviewing various library's genealogical services. I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Regina in your initial list of cities to study but failed to mention Regina Public Library and particularly, the Prairie History Room, in the final assessment. Despite rumours to the contrary (not to mention the statement in Taylor's Canadian Genealogical Sourcebook), the Prairie History Room did not close its doors in 2003 or 2004. In fact, we are bouncing back and working hard to build up our clientele. One of the ways we are doing this is by building up our electronic resources (e.g. subscribing to Ancestry & Heritage Quest) and creating research guides recommending the best online websites for genealogists to use. I think it would be interesting for you to take yet another look at some of the libraries that you did mention in your study, including Surrey Public Library and its Cloverdale branch, which is recognized as having one of the strongest Canadian genealogical collection in Western Canada. Perhaps an updated survey might be in order?

May P. Chan
Prairie History Library
Regina Public Library