Friday, February 12, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Online Databases

Week 6: Online databases at your public library. Search your library’s web site and see if your card grants you access to online databases. Libraries (even small ones) often have wonderful online tools including genealogy databases, historical newspapers and more! Take some time and play with these little perks that come with a library card. You just may get some help in your own genealogy research and gain some free research tools to boot. If you don’t know how to access online library databases or you’re not sure if your branch has them, ask a librarian for guidance. If you have a blog, discuss which databases (if any) to which your library subscribes.

As an academic librarian at a state university that is part of a large statewide university system, I have access to lots and lots of databases. However, I decided to take my friend Amy's challenge to heart and see what my local public library has to offer.

I knew from their website that Hood County Library has access to the TexShare databases, but I wasn't sure exactly how to get into them. Someday (at least ten years from now, though), I will be retired and will no longer have access to my university databases, so it's good to know how.

TexShare is a cooperative program among academic, public, and four clinical medicine libraries in Texas. Besides facilitating interlibrary loans and reciprocal borrowing (allowing registered users of participating libraries to directly borrow materials, within limits, from other participating libraries with a TexShare card), the program saves participating libraries by purchasing statewide access to 50 databases. These databases, which cost the state about seven million dollars, would cost the 694 participating libraries over $101 million if they purchased individual subscriptions. Many of these smaller, more rural libraries could not afford these databases otherwise.

I figured that the databases might only be accessible from within the library, so I stopped there on my way home from work last Tuesday. I logged into a public access computer with my library card number and last name, but I did not see any link to the databases. I asked at the circulation desk and was given a bookmark with the URL and a login and password.

The databases include Heritage Quest Online and Texas Digital Sanborn Maps, as well as WorldCat with the FirstSearch interface I am more familiar with. Bridge to TexShare for Small/Rural Libraries provides search tips, FAQs, tutorials and annotated lists to help users, including a genealogy pathfinder. The Library of Texas metasearch "allows you to find information within a group of libraries, online collections of journal articles and other information collections with a single search. Materials from the TexShare Databases are included." If you choose to search all the collections in an advanced search, that's 232 sources!

I found that I can also access these databases from home with the URL, login, and password I was given; a pleasant surprise.

[52 Weeks to Better Genealogy was developed by my friend Amy of We Tree and is hosted by]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

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