The largest research library focused on genealogy in the entire world is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, the second largest genealogy library in North America is the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both libraries are open to the public for free, however, the first is a private, Mormon library, while the second is a public library.
The Allen County Public Library functions like most public libraries, in that it has popular books, DVDs, etc. available for the local community to borrow. However, one large section on the second floor of the library houses the genealogy collection, which does not circulate, meaning that you can only use its resources inside the library, and not take them home.
When you walk into the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library, you are greeted by several librarians sitting at a desk. They are specially trained to assist patrons with genealogy research. When I visited the library, I went to the desk, and a librarian provided me with a basic orientation of the Genealogy Center. This means that she explained to me the layout of the collection, provided me with a map, and gave me brochures related to the places where my family originated. These brochures listed helpful resources to get me started on researching specific topics of interest. The librarian also provided me with a temporary password so that I could log into any of the research computers and access the genealogy databases.
The Genealogy Center’s website recommends that you do some preliminary research before visiting. For example, they recommend that you visit their website, http://www.genealogycenter.org/, to see what resources they may have on your topic, thus saving you some time upon your visit. Additionally, the Genealogy Center’s website provides some orientation videos that you can watch ahead of time: http://www.genealogycenter.org/Services/orientation.
The Genealogy Center’s collection includes books, microfiche (newspapers, books, etc. compressed into rolls or slides of film that can only be read using a microfiche reader), videos, and databases. The majority of the collection focuses on United States history. However, there is also a significant amount of resources focused on other countries, since the United States’ population has historically been made up of immigrants from all over the world. The library’s databases are only available inside the library, but are free to use, and include Ancestry.com and numerous newspaper databases.
The Genealogy Center has a large reading room full of tables, where you can sit and research. It also has microfiche readers and photocopiers that you can use to scan and copy pages from books. When you are finished using a book, you are asked to place it on a cart, instead of putting it away yourself. This not only ensures that the book is re-shelved correctly, but also helps the library keep usage statistics to see how often a resource has been used.
The Allen County Public Library partners with the Internet Archive to scan print books and place them online. What that means is that if a library wants to work with the Internet Archive to digitize a lot of books in its collection, but is not located close to the Internet Archives’ headquarters in San Francisco, California, it can work with one of the Internet Archives’ partners instead. For example, libraries located in the Midwestern United States that want to digitize their books with the Internet Archive would be assigned to work with the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, since that library is located closer to them than San Francisco is.
Any serious genealogist should definitely consider visiting the Allen County Public Library.
Sources and Further Reading
Allen County Public Library. https://acpl-cms.wise.oclc.org/home (accessed May 30, 2020).
Genealogy Center. http://www.genealogycenter.org/Home.aspx (accessed May 30, 2020).
“Scanning Services Digitizing Print Collections with the Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. https://archive.org/scanning (accessed May 30, 2020).
“United States Archives and Libraries.” Family Search. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Archives_and_Libraries (accessed May 30, 2020).