By Dawne

In The Genealogy Center’s previous incarnation on this site, most books in the collection were in “closed stacks.” That meant that patrons looked in the card catalog under the county name where their ancestors lived to identify books they wanted to see, and then put a call slip for each one into a tray. The call slip included the book’s call number and the patron’s seat number. Library staff called “pages” brought the books to the patron’s seat.

Fast-forward to 2003, when the library moved temporarily to Renaissance Square a few blocks away during the Big Remodel. Suddenly there was enough room for books in Genealogy to be open-stack and patrons could browse! And virtually all of The Genealogy Center’s materials have been open-stack ever since.

Being able to browse the stacks is mostly a good thing. We used to find that some of the established subject headings in the old catalog could be a bit misleading from the patron’s standpoint. The one that always comes to mind is “Registers of births, etc.” This subject heading was arbitrarily assigned to any book that had birth information in it. Many patrons submitted call slips for books they found with this subject heading, thinking they were requesting a birth records index. They didn’t realize that the card they saw was a subject card, not a title card, and that books with this subject heading did not necessarily pertain to birth records at all! In many cases, the book they received would be a cemetery transcription book.

But there are also reasons that checking the catalog and not relying solely on browsing should be done. I will give you two examples:
•    Family histories – You can browse by surname to look for published family histories on your surnames of interest. It is very convenient since they are arranged on the shelves in the Family History Room alphabetically by the main family name in the volume. The key word here is “main family,” however. Most published family histories include more than just one surname. Our catalogers have examined each book and cross-referenced it under other surnames that feature significantly. Sometimes this includes dozens of names in a single book – and that book is only shelved alphabetically under the one name. What if the name in which you have interest is one of the others? Search the catalog using the terms “Surname family” (with quotation marks, putting the actual name in place of the word surname) to identify books you might be missing by browsing.
•    At the beginning of each state section in The Genealogy Center are any books that have a statewide or regional focus, or cover more than one or two counties in a single volume. This statewide section is followed by a section of books for each county in the state, alphabetically. If you are browsing the section of books for the county in which you have interest but have skipped over the state section, you might be missing some valuable material. One example: The Mid-Michigan Genealogical Society in Lansing published a series of “Occasional Papers.” Because these are a set, they are filed in the statewide books at the beginning of the Michigan section. However, these are not all statewide books. No. 10 is Abstracts of the Early Probate Records of Ingham County, Michigan, 1838-1869 (GC 977.4 M59 No. 10). If you browse in the Ingham County section without checking the catalog, you might never know The Genealogy Center has this volume of probate abstracts.

All library catalogs are different. If you visit many libraries to do research, it can seem like a hassle to have to learn each system, particularly if the collection’s books are open-stack and arranged in a logical way. It can be tempting to just browse. But I would encourage you to do some catalog searching as well, just to be sure you don’t overlook something vital to your research.