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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 12:08 am

Can I see your papers? No!

ALPLM ends interlibrary loans

A copy of A Survey Of The Ishams In England And America: Eight Hundred And Fifty Years of History and Genealogy is in the wind.

Published in 1938, the 672-page tome that traces the ancestry of the Isham clan from British roots to their service in the Revolutionary War would hardly appeal to fans of Stephen King or John Grisham. For genealogists, however, it’s a must read. But a copy owned by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has gone missing after being loaned to another library, and ALPLM officials say it’s this sort of thing that has helped prompt a decision to stop sending materials to other libraries via interlibrary loans.

Molly Kennedy was blindsided when she visited the library recently to do genealogical research.
Kennedy, who works at a local museum run by the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, is also a researcher for hire who’s retained by clients near and far to find out stuff about long-dead people. When she visited the library on Nov. 7, she was told that the newspaper room on the second floor, where microfilm is stored, wasn’t open to the public, and the two microfilm readers in the main reading room were both occupied. Pressed for time, she says she told the staff she would order the reels she needed and have them sent to the city-run public library, Lincoln Library. We don’t do that anymore, she was told.

Incensed, Kennedy put the word out on her Facebook page, and a stir ensued, with genealogists calling the decision to stop interlibrary loans a travesty and wondering whether someone is trying to profit from material that was once sent to libraries nationwide for free. Besides keeping materials on Lincoln, the ALPLM is the state’s historical library and keeps microfilms of newspapers from Illinois towns large and small. Kennedy says folks with disabilities in far-off states who once counted on the ALPLM for access to old newspapers are screwed.

“So many people in so many genealogy groups, they’re just stunned,” Kennedy says. “What they’re doing is not logical. And it’s not fair to the people of Illinois. It belongs to the public.”

Samuel Wheeler, state historian, says it’s a matter of protecting materials and being as consistent with libraries as with patrons who visit in person and are not allowed to take things home. “First off, I would say our number one concern is preservation,” Wheeler said. “We never let material leave our building, but we ship things off to other institutions.”

While libraries that received ALPLM materials via interlibrary loans weren’t supposed to allow materials to leave the safety of libraries, Wheeler says he wasn’t confident that the policy was always followed. The missing book on the Isham clan shows the downside of letting materials leave the library, he said.

Wheeler also said that ALPLM wants to ensure that materials are available for researchers who come to Springfield. “It’s a shame when we have to look someone in the eye who’s traveled from a long way away and say that we don’t have something here because we’ve lent it out, even though we’re a non-lending library,” he said.

Wheeler says the library’s old loan procedures were “haphazard.”

“We were loaning out copies of things that we only had one copy of, for instance,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said that library employees will send copies of obituaries to genealogists or copy microfilm for $45 per reel. He says that he appreciates Kennedy’s frustration. “I understand that change is hard,” Wheeler said.

“I also understand the old adage that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I also understand that our library hasn’t worked as well as it could for a long time.”

Policies at other presidential libraries vary. While some won’t allow any materials to leave, others, such as the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson libraries allow interlibrary loans, albeit with restrictions that generally bar anything that can’t be replaced from being loaned. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum, for example, will send out microfilm reels to other libraries with the stipulation that the reels not be allowed to leave the destination library. If a microfilm is somehow lost, it can be reproduced, says Kirsten Strigel Carter, supervisory archivist at the FDR library.

“It (loaned material) does need to stay in a library,” Strigel Carter says. “We loan mainly microfilm – essentially, we only loan microfilm. Books do not circulate.”

Via email, Chris Wills, ALPLM spokesman, said that other presidential libraries generally don’t have older, unique materials of the kind held in the Springfield institution. “After all, they’re devoted to modern presidents and they do not have collections about state history,” Wills wrote. While the library has duplicates of some microfilm reels, the library had been sending out reels even when there was no backup copy, he added.

The ALPLM has not decided whether to replace the missing copy of A Survey Of The Ishams In England And America: Eight Hundred And Fifty Years of History and Genealogy. Wills pegged the replacement cost at $200. On the other hand, electronic versions of the missing book are available for $4.99, according to a Google search.

“That was one of our frustrations,” Wills wrote. “Why are we lending our very rare copy when the borrowing institution or the individual could have gotten an e-version for a few bucks?”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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