I posted this on Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter today as a comment, but I thought it deserved its own post. I've expanded upon what I said there below.
The Isanti County Historical Society in Minnesota had their building attacked by arsonists.
They lost everything.
The first two comments on the Eastman page said it all to me.
"Shouldn't the arrest and conviction be of those that didn't get the records digitized? Clearly something is broken in the historical society model."
"If it did not require thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours, I’m sure all societies would “get the records digitized.” When someone makes such a comment, I can’t help but wonder how much money and how many volunteer hours they give to their local historical and genealogical societies in support of digitization projects…"
You know, this is the same argument that's been waging on for a while.
Digitize and back up records?
"No, I can't, its too much money and too many hours"
"But you must, what happens if there's a disaster?"
"That would be horrible. But its too much money and too many hours. We don't have enough help or money to do it."
Here's where I think most people are lacking. It IS possible to do a digitization project without having thousands in the bank and armies of volunteers!
I understand. You're tired. You've been with the same core of volunteers since 1911, and it ain't about to change anytime soon. If it needs to get done, you've got to do it, and that's one MORE thing you have to fit into your schedule.
But...there's a thought. What if you did go out for more volunteers? What if you did start working on a project. What if you could get people energized about history and genealogy? Maybe you wouldn't have to be the ONE volunteer left.
If you're with me, and ready to make that leap, read on. If not, and you're already irritated with what I've said, feel free to comment or move on.
Need volunteers? How about posting on volunteermatch.org? How about reaching out to your local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts troops? How about reaching out to the local Junior Chamber and your Chamber of Commerce? Have you reached out to your local university or community college? Developing a digitization project could be a great project for some interns! Have you reached out to local bloggers, Google+ users, Twitterers, Facebook users? These people can all be a source for volunteers.
Need money? Run a project - sell a digital cookbook or history book. Or a hard copy one. Or sell Tupperware, run a fundraising night at a local restaurant or bakery, or open a cause on Facebook. Work with a local group to fundraise like the Junior Chamber or Chamber of Commerce or Development Corporations. Do a calendar like Calendar Girls did! Auction off hours of your time for other people. Think like any other organization - wash cars - do whatever it takes to get some seed money together. So many organizations I've seen solely confine how they fundraise to just genealogy type projects - a local history, a history day, selling research time, selling memberships. Those are great, but they aren't the ONLY things you can do!
Or work to partner with a local organization to help with some of the costs - one of my favorite societies partnered with a local library to get ALL of their newspapers scanned. The library hosts the data the society scans for them and OCRs for them.
Another group I've worked with worked with their local phone company to sponsor pages on their member-only website with old phone records. It just depends on where your group's strength lies - sponsorships work great for orgs with members in the business community.
Need knowledge of how to do the process? Reach out to people like Dick Eastman and others that willingly give out tons of good instruction guides and reviews.
All you really need to do is make sure that there are digital copies of your documents out there with your members. You don't have to build some slick website. You don't have to OCR your files (though that is nice...). You don't have to even have them in PDFs (TIF files in a labeled folder work just fine). You need to get those digital copies, and put several discs/hard drives/flash drives out there with your members (you know, in case one of their houses burns down or floods). All the rest can come later.
To end this off - my point is, you CAN do a digitization project. Focus on things unique to your library - there's no point in doing a US Census book, for example - like local history books, local censuses, photos of the area, etc. Start small and work your way up. There's no need to do all of your books and documents RIGHT NOW.
One society that I've belonged to in the past had a goal to do one book a week. By the end of the year, the entire library was digitized, and they discovered a new revenue stream as other people (including myself) could buy copies of books we liked and have them emailed to us.
It IS doable. People just need to make that leap between making the excuse (aka the comfortable way) and doing it (aka going into the unknown).