Over the summer I have been thinking about the future of this web site and I have come to the conclusion that I have been asking the wrong question. What I should really be thinking about is the future of my “history library”.
Think of the library as an iceberg where the web site is the small visible part at the top. Should the web site be closed to new material it could probably find a permanent place on the web, and can easily be copied onto a memory stick. The "hidden" library in its widest sense (it includes quite a lot of non-genealogy material) occupies far too much of our house for comfort - is not cataloged - and the spare room is required for a visitor in a few weeks time!
So what does the library consist of?
- There are family records (photographs, documents, and memorabilia – some going back over 200 years.).
- There are my own family and history research records (draft notes and reports, family trees, transcripts, etc., built up over 35 years, and in some cases only existing as files somewhere on my PC).
- There are documents I have acquired which should be properly documented and/or end up in a records office.
- There is a considerable number of printed books, booklet, post cards, maps, engravings, etc. which I keep for reference purposes but which are not unique.
- There is the Hertfordshire Genealogy web site and the associated Newsletter
- By volume there is an equivalent amount of records, etc., not related to genealogy or local history.
All these things are jumbled together – so it is not immediately obvious what is important. At some time in the future the physical library will have to be downsized, and if no plans have been made important items could end up in a skip as part of a house clearance.
The safest part of the collection is the web site – which could easily be kept online indefinitely while extra copies can be made in minutes. The least important part of the library are the published books and magazines – virtually all of which will be available elsewhere (and many of the older books are already online as google books, etc.). The most vulnerable are unique pictures and documents of long term interest to the family, genealogists and local historians.
So the top priority is to identify vulnerable material and to ensure that it is clearly identified and arrangements made to ensure that the information it contains survives. Much of this information is relevant to the web site – so the way forward is to to digitize it, put relevant material online, and where appropriate find a home for the originals.
Over the next few months I will start working on a five year plan, which will be on the assumption that I still be here for my 80th birthday – but by then all vital information will be safeguarded, and the system can be downsized gracefully whenever required..
Details are not yet finalised but the way changes are likely to effect the web site are as follows:
- There will be a small number of “projects” covering selected areas in depth. Details of two projects will be posted shortly. The aim will be to safeguard information which might otherwise get lost, and the projects will be run on a “How to” example basis wherever possible..
- Many towns and villages are now getting their own historical web sites – often with detailed histories and hundreds of pictures. There is no point in my spending a lot of time updating place pages when more comprehensive information is available elsewhere. My site should be complementary to such sites and updates to the place pages will be to point people to where they can find information. Hopefully I can get more people to notify me of new web sites, publications, etc., so I can post details.
- Over the last few years I have spent quite a lot of time acquiring material to add to the web site, and/or to help me answer questions, and I have a large backlog of material available. I am freeing up time by cutting right back on monitoring sites such as ebay for interesting bargains. Because of the backlog there will be no immediate effect on what visitors to the site see - apart from limitations of time to carry out the updates...
- Many “work in progress” pages will remain as they are, unless, as a result of queries, etc., it is appropriate to update them. The tutorial will not be updated to reflect the changes to the material on the web since it was created – simply because it would take too much time and the target changes with every major update to the top half dozen commercial web sites.
- I will continue to answer questions, provide larger images of post cards, etc., but may have to be more selective, and more issues may just be dealt with briefly on the Newsletter.
Behind the scenes down reorganisation and downsizing will be taking place. I will need to go through my library to identify priority items which need safeguarding and those which are needed to provide a question-answering service. I will also identify duplicate information (which could include books which are now available free online – so I no longer need a hard copy) which can be disposed of. Other items which have been used so little over the last ten years that they don't justify shelf space will be flagged for possible downsizing. (Quite a lot of history books which do not specifically relate to Hertfordshire fall into this category.)