Did you know that ACPL has the second-largest genealogical collection in the United States? It’s true! The only collection larger than ours is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. While we are primarily a North American collection and the Family History Library collects for the world, our partnership with them provides access to filmed records from all over, making our “virtual collection” quite large indeed. Today our growing collection includes 350,000+ print volumes, 513,000+ items of microfilm/microfiche, and subscriptions to well-known databases like Ancestry.com.
How did we come to have such a large collection? It all began with Rex Potterf and Fred Reynolds back in the 1930s. The Great Depression was in full swing and there simply wasn’t much money in the library’s budget to purchase new books for the collection, so Potterf and Reynolds scoured used bookstores in order to add titles to the ACPL’s shelves. Along with standard fiction and nonfiction, they chanced upon county histories and genealogical periodicals at bargain prices and decided to purchase those as well.
Potterf retired in 1959 and Reynolds succeeded him as director. The financial hardships of the ’30s were a thing of the past, but Reynolds’ clever means of building the collection was not. In 1965, he made an arrangement with R.L. Polk & Company and the American Association of Directory Publishers to secure annual copies of directories for hundreds of U.S. cities.
Reynolds also developed a unique partnership with the Newberry Library in Chicago. The Newberry Library had been one of the major local and family history research centers in the country for more than half a century, but it was facing difficulties in the 1960s. Hundreds of books in its collection had fallen into such a state of disrepair that they were relegated to storage, unable to be used. Over the years, Newberry sent titles from its collection to ACPL and we made two high-quality photocopies of each book sent — one acid-free copy for us, one for them, preserving precious volumes for generations to come.
Similar partnerships continue to this day; the Genealogy Center maintains strong relationships with other family history collections and genealogical societies. While the print collection continues to grow, the Genealogy Center also welcomes donations of electronic files and indexes. Digitization of family Bible records, photographs, and military records are among the goals for this unique collection.
While Genealogy is considered North America’s fastest-growing hobby today, genealogical collections in public libraries were rare when Reynolds assumed directorship of the library, and it’s fortunate for us that he possessed the foresight to fill that void. He reasoned that an excellent genealogical collection and services would attract more people to the library, and he was correct; not only is today’s Genealogy Center a wonderful resource for residents of Allen County, it also draws visitors from all over the United States.