After almost four years of hard work, I’m excited that my library is unveiling our newest online database: the Benson Memorial Library Obituary Index. Community members can now search our obituary index online from their home or inside of our library. It contains more than 18,000 listings.
So why’s this such a big deal? When I got to this library our Obituary Index was in two places: one was a series of index card drawers with thousands of hastily scribbled upon index cards and the other was on an out of date Windows based computer running Works that was only to be updated by a patron who “did the work on their own free time.” There was no formal agreement or volunteer paperwork with this person and the Windows computer was sadly still running Windows XP. It was time for a change.
I’ve talked about the importance of local history (including genealogy and obituaries) in this region many times before and obituary listings were a part of that much larger puzzle. One of the questions I asked myself was “how can we better serve this community and those that are interested or connected to this community?” I found that the answer to that question was to make the resources and tools we had at our disposal more readily available to everyone. The index card drawers and the obituary listings running on the sole Windows XP computer inside of the library was good for 2-3 people but overall a pretty terrible solution for most everyone else. To improve and grow the library, we would need to expand our minds, open up our resources, and take things to a new level. We’re doing that as we speak and every few months we have a victory. This is our victory right now.
While a massive 18,000 entry Google spreadsheet may not be the most beautiful or ideal solution, it is our solution and it is working for us. We could have easily given up at the get go because we didn’t have the fanciest tools at our disposal but at a very early stage we adopted the approach that it was better to do something that wasn’t perfect than to do nothing at all and long for a day when the perfect thing fell into our laps. To me, this is the way forward for so many public libraries. We have to stop waiting for the perfect thing to come along and instead seize the moment and DO what is best for our community.
As we move ahead, we continually remind our community and the users of this tool that this is a living document, that listings are continuously updated and new obituaries are added each day, and that we are here to edit or modify the tool if there is any wrong information or discrepancies in the obituary index.
And finally, I have to give major kudos to the folks that drove this project: Jessica Hilburn, Lisa Kellogg, Kait Griffin, and the many other folks that wrote out all of those obituary listings on index cards in the 115 years that the Benson Memorial Library opened up to the public. Jessica Hilburn and myself started the index after some conversations on Tuesday December 29 2015 and then Jessica and Lisa Kellogg, & Kait Griffin did all of the data entry work at the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, PA over the next few years.