By Kevin Kelley
When members of the Greater Cleveland Genealogical Society learned that the position of genealogy specialist at the Fairview Park branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library was being eliminated, they were naturally disappointed.
However, their greater concern was about the fate of the branch’s extensive genealogical collection, located on the building’s second floor.
Their concern is based on what happened in 2006 after the library system abandoned an organizational structure that centered on four regional libraries, one of which was the Fairview Park branch. Under a structure that had been in place since 1948, regional branches had more extensive collections in certain fields than the branches. When the regional branch model was discontinued, the extensive collections that were maintained at the regional branches were dispersed throughout the system’s other branches.
Genealogy Society leaders feared the same thing would happen to the genealogy collection that had been built up over many years at the Fairview Park branch. They said breaking up the collection would be a big mistake, as it would make research more difficult.
In addition to holding its meetings at the Fairview branch specifically because of its holdings, the genealogical society has donated roughly $500 each year for the past five years to enhance and preserve the collection, Mary Jamba, president of the Greater Cleveland Genealogical society said.
The location of the collection at the Fairview Park branch may not be convenient for someone on the other side of the county who wants to do research. But Jamba said keeping the collection in one place makes it easier for researchers.
“If you’re going to do genealogical research, you’re going to want to have access to everything,” explained Jamba, a Fairview Park resident.
Deb Shell, the society’s vice president, noted that many books in the genealogy collection are reference books that do not circulate.
“May of them are out of print,” said Shell, who also serves as archivist and curator of the Fairview Park Historical Society’s museum at Bain Park Cabin. “They’d be impossible to get a copy of anymore.”
Many resources in the collection are specific to Cuyahoga County and available only in published books, Shell added.
“The impression today is you can do all your research online,” Shell said. “That’s just not the case.”
Officials at the Cuyahoga County Public Library say Jamba and Shell have nothing to worry about.
Fairview Park branch manager Elaine Wilkinson said she understands the concerns of the genealogical society. But, she said, there are absolutely no plans to break up the collection.
“It needs to be kept in one spot so when you’re doing your research you don’t have to drive hither and yon,” Wilkinson told West Life.
Hallie Rich, the library system’s director of marketing and communications, reiterated Wilkinson’s assertions.
“The collection will remain intact,” Rich said. “The collection will not change.”
Joni Michelich, the current genealogy specialist, will be reassigned to a position in the library system’s development department, Rich said.
That position, along with two other specialist positions in the fields of business and health/science, were eliminated due to budget pressures, Rich explained. In addition to cuts in funding from the state in recent years, the library system will lose more than $4 million in local property tax revenue this year alone, Rich added.
“We had to make some really difficult decisions in order to balance our budget,” she said.
No layoffs were required due to the budget pressures, Rich said, explaining that the positions were eliminated through attrition or reassignments.
Wilkinson said her branch’s other librarians have a good grasp of what’s in the genealogy collection and are competent to assist patrons conducting research.