LibraryThing for local and family history societies

LMDHS covers

I’ve been saying for a while now that I think LibraryThing is ideal for allowing small societies and libraries to maintain and display their library catalogues. Not only is the software practically free (US$25 one-off fee for unlimited books) but it is online, allowing members and potential members the ability to search their catalogues for free.

The Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society has been using LibraryThing to show off its catalogue since 2009. I admit that I didn’t know there was such an organisation, and I found it while seeing who else had a book I had just added to my catalogue.

LMDHS profile

If I was ever looking for books relevant to a geographical area the library of the local history society would be the best place to find them. Not every society has the funds or the means to create a library catalogue on their own website. LibraryThing allows them to do so for minimal cost. Accounts are free for up to 200 books. For a one-off fee of US$25 you can catalogue all the books you can  afford to buy, and then the ones that you would like to buy.

Here’s an example from the Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society’s library catalogue:

LMDHS catalog

Books can be catalogued manually by filling in the details yourself, or you can search for the book in any one of over 700 major libraries around the world, such as the US Library of Congress, the National Library of Australia, and the British Library. Bookstores such as Amazon and Amazon UK are also included. All data can then be imported directly into your own catalogue, with a book cover photo if there is one. You can use a barcode reader to read the ISBN from the book into the Add Book screen, making the cataloguing process even quicker and easier.

I’ve been using LibraryThing since 2007, and my ambition is to catalogue all of my books, not just the genealogy- and history-related ones. In the meantime, I can search the catalogues of libraries such as the Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society, and start a new wishlist!

Tumblr for Family History Societies and Libraries

I think Tumblr is a great platform for a blog. You can share enormous photos, links and news, and the format is large and easy to read. It’s perfect for a family historian who doesn’t want to do a lot of writing, or only occasionally.

Here is an example of a Tumblr blog (mine):

Tumblr blog It's Your World

If you click on the picture you will go to my Tumblr blog.

What does this have to do with family history?

Now this is a personal blog and it’s not just about genealogy, so I need you to use your imagination a bit. Imagine you can

  • share a few pictures of historic photos or documents
  • tell a few stories about what you have in your collection
  • tell stories about what other researchers have found to solve their research problems
  • explain what your society does
  • have a link over on the side to let people know where you are and how they can join

The way Tumblr works, and the reason it is so popular and easy to deal with, is that what you share takes centre stage. Pictures are not tiny little things that you have to click on to get a bigger image; it’s right there in all its glory.

You can also reblog the posts of other people, to create more interest, although I wouldn’t go overboard with this. There is someone on Tumblr called librarianista who shares magnificent photos of libraries (and cafes near libraries, such as the one above). There are historic photos and retro fashion photos, all of which can add interest to a family history society blog, to encourage people to think about the context of the ancestors’ lives.

The more popular blog sites are Blogger and WordPress, and these are the best if you want a lot of control over the layout of the words and smaller pictures within the text. This blog, for example, is written in WordPress.

The advantage of Tumblr is its ease of use and the fantastic way it displays images. They are BIG. Images are what get people in, no matter what the post, but if the blog is mostly images people will stay and look, and keep looking. And that’s what you want.

What, share all our photos for free???

I have heard the argument many times from family history societies – why would we give away our images for free on a blog? I am not proposing you put everything up there. Just a sample is enough. After all, you are not going to attract people to the society to see the photos you have if no one knows they are there.

Once you have a blog, you need to link it to your society website, and vice versa. The point of a blog for a society or library, in the end, is to get people interested enough to go to the website for more information, and perhaps to join.

This post was inspired by this post at Mashable about using Tumblr for non-profits. Whenever I see something about ‘non-profits’ I think ‘societies’. You can read the post at


After writing this post I came over all enthusiastic and created a new blog on Tumblr called Social Media and Genealogy to demonstrate a bit of what I am talking about. It’s more for family historians than societies, but it may give you a better idea of what such a blog could look like than the ones that are there now.

Social Media for Family History Societies

DoorA lot of large companies and organisations are using social media to attract new customers and members, and to keep in touch with the ones they have. Those that don’t are learning how to do so.

I think small volunteer organisations like family history societies should do the same. It is even more important for societies to use low-cost ways of reaching people that cost little more than the time of a regular volunteer or two.

Most family history societies have at least a basic website so that people searching on Google can find them. Every society needs a website, a blog, and a Facebook presence at the very least, and perhaps a  Twitter presence if you’re up for it, although this is not essential. If you don’t already have a website you can build a combined website and blog all at once.

The website is where you get people to join your society. It is your window to the world. The website is the most important presence you have. The blog shows them why they should join and helps them feel part of a community of like-minded people. The blog points to the website and keeps the website interesting to existing and potential members, and to search engines like Google. The Facebook page points people both to the blog AND the website and keeps them in contact with you and each other on a daily basis.Your Twitter announces your posts on the blog and the Facebook page and leads people back to them.

Let’s look at each element in a bit more detail.


A blog is a specialised website that allows you to write short articles that are usually date-stamped. The articles, or posts, appear on the front page, or homepage, in reverse order, with the most recent one at the top. Posts are usually categorised and tagged so that they can be searched more easily. A blog can also contain pages, which are static web pages that are reached by links in a menu, like a normal website. This is where you might put things like contact details, membership benefits and so on.

You need a blog to publicise what the Society does and what information you have, and to help people get to know you and see why you are worth paying money to join. Blogs are searched by Google, and if you post regularly you will be higher in the search results, and you will get to more people who may never have heard of you before.

The person or people who create the posts should be the ones who know what is going on within the society. It’s no good appointing someone from outside who isn’t involved in the new things that are going on. If the organisation has staff they should be involved, and if not then one or two of the organising committee.

?BloggerA blog can be set up and hosted on a free site such as Blogger or WordPress very easily. Blogger is owned by Google and allows you to sign in with your Google ID. WordPress is open source and a bit more flexible. If you already have a website you may be able to install the WordPress software directly and link the website to it. My own websites and blogs are all WordPress installations on my own sites. You have much greater flexibility and range of templates because you can upload them, change them, even create your own. You can design your own logo and put it on the top of the pages.

It’s not necessary to do all that though. If all that sounds too hard go with a free site. You can always move all your posts into a new blog later if you change your mind.

The naming of the site is also a consideration. It is easier for people to understand if you have a domain name that reflects the name of the organisation. The domain name is the bit after the ‘www’ in a website name, so the domain name for this website is ‘’.

looks better than

A domain name is like a company name in that you can choose anything you like as long as no one has already claimed it. There are a lot of companies that will allow you to choose and pay for a domain name. The cost is only about $20 for two years, so there’s no excuse to not have one.

Your posts can be about many things, for example:

  • what is happening in the society
  • what new indexes or information you have (or what’s already there – a ‘featured’ database or collection)
  • profiles of members or volunteers
  • news in the wider genealogy world

You can become their source of information about new developments in the world of genealogy as well as in your more specialised area of interest. You can ask questions of your readers and members, and get them to engage with you by leaving comments. It really works!


Once you have a blog, you can give it, and the website, wider exposure by creating a Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook yourself it might be time to start, as it is easier to start the page when you already know your way around at least a little.

SAG Facebook pageA few societies in Australia and elsewhere have Facebook pages, such as the Society of Australian Genealogists, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, and the Southern California Genealogical Society. You can post general news about the Society or the website at any time, as well as whenever you publish a new blog post. Asking questions gets them talking and keeps your society and its activities in their minds.

When you publish a new post on your blog you can set it up so that it is automatically posted to Facebook. It’s a good idea to do this, as a lot of people will see it first in Facebook instead of reading it in their blog reader.

In Facebook you are trying to attract followers – people to ‘like’ you. Once they are followers anything you post will appear in their feed, so your message is directly in front of them. I have found that by far the best way to build followers is to post often. I try to post something every couple of days at the very least – usually a link to an interesting site or blog post, or a question to get people engaged in answering or giving advice. More is better – the more you post, the more followers you will have. It is as simple as that.

I’ve tried paid Facebook advertising and it is not worth the money. Perhaps genealogy is too specialised to work well in Facebook.

I have found that Facebook is better than a blog for engaging people to leave comments, but the blog is better for attracting newcomers. They are two different things and they work together. Ideally you will have both.


Twitter is like a blog except that you are limited to 140 characters. It is most often used to send out links to blog posts and websites, and for direct communication. Twitter is the best place to see what’s new, and to get quick answers and advice. It is far more useful for genealogy than most people realise.

Twitter works much the same as Facebook – you have followers, and they get your posts in their feed. Posts are called tweets. The more you post, the more people will follow you. Your followers may retweet your tweets to their followers, thus reaching more people. Twitter is different from Facebook in the level of privacy. Tweets are all public, unless you send a direct message to a specific person, whereas Facebook allows you to restrict your posts to followers, or specific people. As a society looking for members you wouldn’t restrict them, but it is useful to remember.

You can set up your Facebook page and your blog to tweet automatically, which is what I do.

I have 5 Twitter accounts, which I run from Tweetdeck, which is a 3rd-party application that allows me to show the different accounts in separate columns, and post from one or many accounts at once, all from the one place. It’s the only way I can manage all the different Twitter accounts without having to log on and log off each one in turn.

There are many, many more users of Facebook than Twitter. Twitter seems to me to be better for networking and communicating with other researchers, repositories and libraries quickly.

Unless you are already comfortable with Twitter I would leave it alone for now, and we can come back to it later.

Where do we start?

If nothing else, start with a blog. No question.

When you have a few posts under your belt you can expand into Facebook, or you can launch both at once. The website can have a link to show people how to follow you on Facebook.

Start a blog. Now!

Photo courtesy of  devonsun at Dreamstime