In the 4th of my Society Spotlight themed blog posts, I look at the second of the questions I asked the three responding societies:
‘What is a society’s biggest challenge?’
This question is probably the one with the most variation between organisations, as each one identifies what it is that they are trying to overcome.
Some of the themes in these answers were straight forward and as you might expect, but all of them surprised me with a comment about the expectations of those who contact them – which has probably become more prevalent by genealogy and research TV shows.
Let’s delve into their answers…
“The biggest challenge for a genealogical society is that people are not aware of the vast amount of services a society can provide for members.”
“At the Society of Genealogists, members are allowed free access to the Library, which houses the largest collection of parish register copies, as well as many other record types. The library is helpful for beginners as well as seasoned genealogists. Members also have free access to the online Society data which is always being updated. This includes digital images of original documents, as well as searchable indexes. Members also have access to free advice from volunteer genealogists, including a telephone advice service, one-on-one consultations, search services, lectures, and society published magazines. Members make provision for non-members to use the Society’s Library on payment of a daily search fee.”
“Our biggest challenge is to get more people to join and be active members. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, people joined and we all worked together searching the county archives, transcribing records and sharing their finds.”
“Nowadays I find attitudes have changed, due I expect to so much information being on the internet, now some people find they have a spare couple of days, so they decide ‘to do’ their family tree, they contact me and expect our archive to have the details of their family sitting there waiting to be given to them.”
“Our biggest challenges are retaining membership, engaging the next generation, getting the message across to go out and explore the archives and not sit behind a computer screen.”
“Thinking about what we can offer, that the Internet cannot – perhaps ancestral tourism, education, an opportunity to meet with like-minded people and learn from each other.”
Competing with the giants
What stands out here is that the smaller societies are feeling the weight of the larger online family history websites – the Ancestry, Geni, FindMyPast, GenesReunited types, and the ‘instant’ trees that they can seem to give their users (i’ll skirt round the quality of that elephant in the room for now).
Whilst the Society of Genealogists is a much larger society that is perhaps more able to digitize content, what’s next for the smaller societies? How can they attract new members and interests? How are they going to compete in the future?
In tomorrow’s Society Spotlight post, I explore their future, when they answer my question of ‘How does the Society plan to preserve its knowledge for the future?‘.
As ever, leave your comments below, or join in the discussion at LinkedIn.