London Public Library’s genealogy collection—from an index of over 60,000 obituaries to veterans service records—are now housed at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library in West Jefferson.
Library representatives say the move helps to alleviate space issues and will increase the public’s accessibility to the collection. On the other hand, some genealogy buffs say the materials should remain in the county seat.
The transfer of materials took place the week of Sept. 22 and became available to visitors to the West Jefferson library on Sept. 27.
The two libraries have an agreement that London retains full rights to the collection, which West Jefferson will house for the next five years. If, at any time, West Jefferson can no longer house the collection, it will come back to London.
“At the end of the five years, we will reevaluate the agreement. If we have space at London, then we will look at bringing the collection back,” said Mike Hensel, London Library’s communications coordi-nator.
Hensel said London Library is strug-gling with lack-of-space issues. Recent attempts to get a levy passed for a building expansion failed.
“A building expansion was going to allow us to meet the needs of the community and allow the genealogy collection to continue to be part of the library,” he said. “(Without the expansion) it came to a point where we can’t grow the building but we can grow programs.”
For many years, the genealogy collection was stored in a room in the lower level of London Library. Volunteers from the Madison County Genealogy Society manned it several hours each week. Now, that room will be used as a hub for the library’s outreach program, which delivers library materials to homebound residents, as well as a work space for other library staff members.
“Our outreach coordinator has been working out of a closet for seven years. She has done the job and done it well, but as we look to expand that program, we need more space,” Hensel said.
Opposition to the move
The genealogy collection’s northeast migration has met with opposition.
“They’re taking the history of London out of London,” said London resident Earl Ballenger, vice president of the Genealogy Society and a regular volunteer in the London Library’s genealogy room.
“A lot of people go to the courthouse (to search through records), then they come directly to us.”
The courthouse and library sit a couple of blocks away from each other, making for convenient research, he said. Now, people researching their family trees will need to make a trip to West Jefferson and to London to find the resources they need.
Ballenger said the change in locale also could be a deterrent for some of the Genealogy Society’s members who volun-teer their expertise to help people research their family trees.
“We have an aging membership. It could be difficult for them to travel to West Jefferson in the winter, plus there’s the gas prices,” he said. Of the Society’s 30-plus members, approximately half live in London, he added.
At London Library, the Genealogy Society, which has purchased materials for the genealogy collection over the years, also voluntarily staffed the genealogy room six days a week: six hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; four-and-a-half hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and four hours on Saturdays.
Ballenger and others say the library should have found another location in London to house the collection.
“We did want to keep it in London. We tried to. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out,” Hensel said, noting that Library Director Gary Branson approached the Madison County Historical Society about using the museum in London.
Dorothy Richmond, the museum’s director, said Branson proposed that the collection be housed in the museum’s library/meeting room.
“That would be good, but we can’t give up the space because we meet there, other groups meet there, and we have quilters in there weekly,” Richmond said. “We had suggested the Asher House but it needs to be renovated.”
The library board officially rejected Branson’s proposal for the library/meeting room in a letter sent on Sept. 8.
“We said we aren’t interested at this time,” Richmond said. “My personal opinion is that the records make sense at the historical museum or at the courthouse—in the county seat. It’s too bad (they’re not staying here).”
Other suggestions for a new London home for the collection came from volun-teers and business people. None of them met the library’s handicap accessibility requirements, Hensel said.
“We realize the collection has emotional ties to London, and we absolutely respect that,” he continued. “Unfortunately, we had to make a tough decision. Luckily, we found a place where we can continue to house the collection but give the community more opportunities to engage with it.”
Hensel said the Genealogy Society vol-unteers have been a great asset, “contri-buting to the collection and helping people here and across the country with their genealogy research.”
“We do feel that can continue at West Jefferson,” he said.
West Jefferson’s point of view
Cathy Allen, director of the West Jefferson library, said the agreement between Hurt-Battelle and London is serendipity.
“In March, we set aside space for local geneaology and history for West Jefferson, Madison County and Ohio. Our plan was to consolidate our books and resources in one spot,” she said, noting that they had been working with the West Jefferson Historical Society.
Then, when Branson approached her and the West Jefferson library board with the collection relocation proposal, the timing was right.
Allen put the genealogy collection on the far end of West Jefferson library’s adult section, where there is room for people to sit and do research. Budget cuts have sliced West Jefferson’s magazine subscrip-tion budget in half, leaving room for London’s materials.
“We could never have afforded to buy the collection we have now,” Allen said. “We have had positive feedback from members of the community that it is here.”
Hensel said the West Jefferson location offers many advantages:
• Because Allen placed the genealogy collection out with the library’s general collection, patrons have access to the materials anytime the library is open, rather than certain hours. West Jefferson is open 54 hours a week. At London, the genealogy room was staffed 31 hours a week.
• The West Jefferson library is a modern, one-floor facility with easy handicap access.
• The collection is located along an exterior wall where windows let in natural light.
• Allen will be training her staff in the basics of genealogy research.
“We also hope to be able to provide volunteers the same way London did. We’re still working that out,” said Allen, who said Madison County Genealogy Society volunteers would be able to provide more in-depth, expert help than her staff could.
Hensel also noted that the London Library is in the process of purchasing a new microfilm reader/printer to replace the one that was returned to the Probate Court at the courthouse when the collection was transferred. The new equipment will go to West Jefferson, which inherited one reader-only in the relocation agreement.
“The whole thing for Gary (Branson) and I is how best to serve Madison County—not just London and not just West Jefferson,” Allen commented about the agreement between the two libraries.