In the last month, a collection of Madison County genealogy materials has gone from the London Public Library to West Jefferson’s Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library to the hands of the Madison County Genealogy Society.
At the root of the moves is the question of ownership, which was settled on Oct. 14 when London Library turned the collection over to the Genealogy Society. The change came the day after Society members made a presentation at the London Library board meeting.
On Oct. 13, Genealogy Society member Yvonne Hiteshue presented to the library board a copy of a memorandum of understanding that what drawn up in 1997 by the Madison County commissioners and signed by the individuals serving as library board president and Genealogy Society president at the time.
The memorandum states that the genealogy collection is “the property of the Society…on permanent loan to the library.” Hiteshue said the document was found re-cently when Society members researched their records to compile a list of purchases to show their commitment to building the collection over the last several years.
The Society’s presentation was prompted by London Library’s decision in September to move the collection to Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library to free up space yet keep the collection accessible to the public. Society members were unhappy with the decision, saying the collection belongs in the county seat. They also felt that as the group that worked to build and maintain the collection and voluntarily staff London Library’s genealogy room, they should have had more say in what was done with the collection.
Until the memorandum was presented, current library officials and Society members assumed the collection belonged to the library.
“I would never have tried to move the collection if I didn’t believe we owned it free and clear,” said London Library Director Gary Branson.
After seeing the memorandum, Branson looked back through library board meeting minutes for further documentation. He found that in June 1999, an ad hoc genealogy committee was formed to take a second look at the 1997 memorandum. (Branson was not director at that time.) He said he did not find subsequent records that indicated the committee followed through on that idea.
“We’re not going to fight this matter,” he said. “Unfortunately, (the collection) won’t be as easily accessible as it was in West Jefferson, but we’ll just move on… It still comes down to the fact that it is a good collection, it should stay accessible to the public, and it should stay whole.”
Laura Eldridge, president of the library board, made phone calls on Tuesday to inform the Genealogy Society that the collection was theirs to pick up from the West Jefferson library, something Society members planned to do on Oct. 17.
“The Genealogy Society made a very legitimate argument and, in fact, they were right,” Eldridge said. “They put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into building that collection, and they should have a say in what happens to it.”
Eldridge said the library board should “apologize for any upset the move created,” but that the all-volunteer board had the best interests of all parties in mind and made their decisions based on the information they had at the time.
“Had we had that memorandum earlier, the board would have responded very differently,” she said. “I hope there’s no hard feelings. I’m just glad there’s a resolution, and we’re acting on it quickly.”
Grace Yerian, a charter member of the Genealogy Society, said she is thrilled that the collection is in the hands of the Society.
“We’re very pleased and happy with the outcome. The library board was very fair and cooperative in listening to us,” she said, adding that the Genealogy Society must meet to figure out where they will house the collection and when it will again be available to the public. The Society’s annual picnic at the Madison County Historical Society was held Oct. 15.
Cathy Allen, director of Hurt-Battelle Library in West Jefferson, said she is disappointed the collection is leaving her library after only two weeks on the shelves.
“We had a lady come in just today and say how excited she was that the collection was here. All of the feedback we’ve had has been very, very positive,” said Allen on Oct. 14, noting that the collection was used every day during its short stay in West Jefferson.
Allen expressed hope that the Genealogy Society will find a good home for the collection that, above all, is accessible to the public.
“It’s moving. To where, I do not know, but it will not be at West Jefferson after Friday (Oct. 17). I guess it’s up to the Genealogy Society to decide and to tell people where it’s going to be used,” Allen said.