In part one on this topic I responded to Michael Hait's post "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new experts" by touching on the topics of the old and new paradigms in the genealogical community. Here in part two, I will respond the second half of his post where he discusses whether it is a good thing or not.
Part 2 - Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a Good Thing or Bad Thing?
As Michael continues in his post he says "Almost single-handedly Thomas [MacEntee] has led the charge in gaining respectability for genealogy bloggers" I can't agree with this more. Whether people like it or not Thomas has revolutionized communication within the genealogical community and has lead the community into bold new territory. What Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com have done for digitizing records, Thomas has done for individual genealogists by giving them a voice and the tools to express it. Thomas couldn't have done it without a great support team, but the truth is it's unlikely any of us would have done it so dramatically and rapidly without his indefatiguable energy.
Michael touches on the what genealogists of the future will be like when he says,
"A new generation of genealogists has already started to be born. They are not genealogists first and online genealogists second. They will be raised under the new paradigm, and may start by thinking that “everything is online.” Even once we dispel this notion, we will have to deal with another issue that is far more frightening."
Yes, genealogists of the future are going to be different. Let's embrace it. Two visionary leaders in our community, D. Joshua Taylor and Dick Eastman have both spoken about what the future of genealogy looks like. Dick most recently presented his views in his talk "The Family History World in 10 Years Time." I would highly recommend every listen to it (I will check to see if the online version is available to everyone). Josh and Dick both caution that the face of genealogists will look very different in a few years time, from their desire to use the internet to their varied backgrounds in non-traditional regions of the world such as China, South America and India. Will the genealogical community step up to meet the needs of these new genealogists?
Michael regrets the decline of genealogical societies across America. He questions whether bloggers can replace the support and expertise that genealogical societies provide and rallies his readers to create a resurgence to support societies.
I have two thoughts on this: 1) Bloggers are not replacing societies, the greater overall paradigm shift is making them redundant and 2) Genealogical societies need to change to meet the changing needs of the community.
Bloggers versus Societies
"GeneaBloggers do not generally scour every cemetery in a specific county and publish full listings of the gravestones. Genealogical societies do."
Actually it's genealogists who scour cemeteries not societies. At times they implement and publish their work through societies and sometimes they do it on their own. The paradigm shift has seen a move to Findagrave.com and BillionGraves.com not bloggers. Bloggers do some transcriptions but nearly enough to impact or threaten societies. Thus it is the large data collection websites who are a challenge to societies in this regard. Has Findagrave.com been a bad innovation? I don't think so. The fact that we are moving from published transcriptions by genealogical societies is an example of how the exchange of information has changed not only within the genealogical community but also in the world at large. Let's also keep in mind that quality among transcriptions vary whether they are done by individuals or societies. Some transcriptions are nearly perfect and some are riddled through and through with errors. Just like any document used in research, each transcription regardless of who created it needs to be evaluated for its own merit.
"GeneaBloggers do not abstract all of the obituaries of some small county newspaper from the mid-19th century and publish them. Genealogical societies do."
Again, the paradigm has shifted from genealogical societies to large information providers such as Genealogybank.com and NewsBank.com's "America's Obituaries and Death Notices." Bloggers are not threatening societies, the information paradigm shift is. In fact, bloggers are providing a better, though limited service, by compiling obituaries and other information within the context of families and localities rather than strictly as an out of context individual record.
"GeneaBloggers do not maintain genealogical libraries containing decades of work on local families. Genealogical societies do."
The introduction of this issue again shows lack of recognition of the changes that are happening in the greater world. All libraries are under threat not just genealogical libraries. Only major archives and large state or regional society libraries have financial viability. Most people who belong to larger societies like the New England Historic Genealogical Society or the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society do not even live within a reasonable distance to use the libraries regularly, if at all. The members instead derive their benefit from online database and superb publications. These societies are not under as great a threat as are the smaller town, county, regional or even state societies.
Michael concludes this portion of his blog post by stating "These resources can only remain available as long as we continue to support the societies that provide them." I completely disagree (for some of the reasons stated above).
Societies have a lot to offer but they need to change with the times. They can not continue to offer services in an outdated manner when change is happening all around them. I am not going to give my money to a society who provides me with nothing. A society needs to provide value to me, their member, in order for me to continue to support it. I belong to a number of societies and will continue to do so. But I have also lapsed my membership in many other societies. Societies need to change to meet the needs of their members and have a forward vision if they want to continue to exist. Supporting outdated models is not a viable option.
However, I do agree that genealogists can support societies by becoming active members of them. Their energy, passion and leadership involvement can help transform smaller societies so that they can remain viable for the future. Simply sending money to a society is not enough. Active participation and transformation is the answer.
Are Bloggers the New Experts?
Michael is concerned about the varied quality of bloggers and the visibility they have within the genealogical community. Of course, this begs the question, who is the genealogical community? Are the folks watching Who Do You Think You Are? and dabbling in family history part of the genealogical community? Is it inclusive of everyone or a smaller subset of actively engaged individuals?
There are two main issues (amongst a myriad of others) that need to be discussed. The first is the paradigm shift of information in the world at large. No longer do people watch the three network stations for their news. People now watch the news that suits their needs and opinions whether it is accurate or not. Bloggers have entered the arena as an alternative news source for the genealogical community. The quality of that news or information is just as varied as the news you can get from the mainstream media. This is the way society has evolved whether we like it or not. People have choice and they will decide which outlet suits them best.
The second issue is autonomy. Yes, bloggers are operating in a public forum but no longer is information controlled strictly by the entities that have the means to finance television and radio stations and printed publications. Now everyone has the opportunity to have a voice. Blogs are autonomous and we are free to disseminate whatever we like as long as we don't break any laws.
Would I like genealogy bloggers to provide quality content? Absolutely. But bad content in genealogy has existed since the beginning of the field right alongside good content. I would love for it to go away, especially in regards to erroneous family trees spread across the internet. I agree with Michael when he says " Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional." The fact is bloggers are autonomous and can choose what to publish on their blogs. The best we can do is to lead by example. And that's where we should focus our energy as role models. And as members of the existing establishment embrace blogging, we will start to see a demise of the fringe bloggers and the rise of a more mature blogging community.
Are bloggers leading the genealogical community? Are they guiding the future of where the discipline is headed? Let's not get confused here about leadership versus advancement. The positions of leadership within the community are held by the editors of publications, the officers in state-wide and national genealogical societies and professional organizations, and by the directors of institutes and certificate programs. How many bloggers are in those positions? If they are, then you could make an argument that one or two bloggers are leading the community. In reality, bloggers are a vocal and visible segment of one aspect in the advancement of genealogy.
I could be wrong here but I think Michael is defining leadership in the development of genealogy by the strict discipline of rigorous research. I would say that leadership is the ability to move a community forward while adhering to its principles.
The principles of genealogy have already been defined by the creation of the reasonably exhaustive search and the BCG Standards Manual. True vision takes place when we harness these already existing tools and combine them with future needs to move the community forward.
Technology will be a big part of that as we have seen with the creation of RootsTech. The changing demographic of future genealogists will also be a big part of that. Will bloggers be a part of that as well? Certainly. Will we choose to meet the needs of future genealogists or will we further pigeon-hole genealogy into a restricted field because the new entrants don't meet our view of what genealogists are?
Michael Hait has started a great dialog about genealogy as a whole by planting seeds of thought about bloggers and their role within the genealogical community. Michael is a brilliant thinker and voice within the genealogical community. We are typically in agreement on most topics. Over the course of this two-part series I have chosen to nit-pick based on some of the examples he has used to express his ideas. But ultimately we want to the same thing - to move the field of genealogy forward in the best way possible.