Crawford County Library to accept genealogical society collection

Ty Thompson
Press Argus-Courier

Since 1977, the Crawford County Genealogical Society has collected and made available to the public documents and records dating back to the 1800s.

The society has decided to cease operations and will be donating its entire collection to the Crawford County Library System.

At the Crawford County Library board meeting May 12, the library system agreed to take on the responsibilities of caring for the multitudes of documents and records held by the Crawford County Genealogical Society. 

The society decided that it was time for them to move on from the project and in addition to the archives, gave the library their building along with $17,000 to cover expenses. 

The Crawford County Library System has accepted a donation from the Crawford County Genealogical Society that includes their entire collection and building.

The collection includes marriage records, death records and photographs that create an extensive history of Crawford County and the surrounding region. 

The building itself sits three doors down from the Alma Public Library on Fayetteville Road in Alma. It dates back to the early 1900s and spent many years as a bank.

The library board's main concerns were the personnel needed to help patrons down the street at the genealogical building, the upkeep of the building and the if they didn't take on this responsibility they are leaving behind hundreds of years of genealogical history. 

"They have a huge collection of not only Alma but the entire county and in some cases the entire region," Jamie Balkman, chair of the library board said. "If they are destroyed because no one will be willing to take it on, then we will be lost and we are losing history."

Balkman also presented the idea of taking care of the building for a few years until a new Alma Library is constructed and dedicating space in the new library for the collection. 

"The amount of money they have in that account to maintain would take care of insurance and utilities for quite a few years," Balkman said. 

According to Balkman, the money won't cover the process of digitizing, organizing, or the personnel needed to help patrons. Since the genealogical society is down the street from the Alma library, the staff would have to spend time away from the library when needed. 

"I want to concur with you with the significance of the collection" George Fowler, director of the library said. "I believe this aligns very well with what a public library can and should be in a community."

Fowler compared this to being a free puppy and not a free beer. Meaning, that although it's a great thing to have, it will take some responsibility. 

"I think it's a burden we need to take on," Fowler said. 

Terry Carson, president of the Crawford County Library Foundation, mentioned that his organization's mission is to raise funds for the libraries in the county. 

"Last year we rose $20,000 for a new van," Carson said. "We could continue to raise funds for short-term needs."

Carson explained that the building itself has sentimental value for Alma as it was the original location of Commercial Bank that began in 1910. 

Carson proposed that the collection be moved and the building sold.

"I think there would be a couple of us interested in resurrecting the building," Carson said. "It's the only building in downtown Alma that has any historical value and is capable of being restored."

"There's no room in any of our facilities," Balkman said. 

Van Buren has their own space for genealogy in its library, but according to Fowler, the collection is only half the size of the Genealogical Society's collection. 

"A decision has been made, and we're going to find somebody. Through death, health, and just age we have to do something," Harry Keifer, president of the society said. "When I called Dr. Fowler and talked to him, we had our fingers crossed that you folks would take this on. I do realize you have to do what's best for your libraries."