Challenges and Opportunities
It is once again the end of the year; a new year begins in a few days. In the past we asked if you had reflected on the old year. Had you made goals, genealogy related, for the coming year? Many of you had clear plans for attending seminars, conferences, and research trips. Some had specific plans for further education; others planned to learn more about local historic facilities.
This year started much the same way but there was a hint of a problem, a virus, half a world away. By mid-March we were closing down meetings, isolating ourselves and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer!
Online GroupsFortunately, the South King County Genealogical Society was more prepared than we had thought. When the Rootsweb lists died in 2019, it seemed like a disaster. We decided then to use Groups.io, a move that provided so much value to us, yet was free! Because we signed up early, we could create subgroups, had a built-in calendar, photo storage, file space and more. SKCGS special interest groups are thriving because we can share images via email or login directly to the group on the web, use the shared calendar to keep track of events, and discuss issues and deal with questions before, after and between meetings. Search https://groups.io/search?q=genealogy and find over 2000 groups so far.
Virtual SpacesMany years ago, a tech savvy person in our Society decided that the Google Suite for Non Profits (now Google Workspace) would meet some of our needs for online file backup, now more commonly called “the cloud.” GSuite was then and still is free for nonprofits. It took us a while to begin using many of its features; but now its use is routine.
We place meeting minutes, committee and budget reports in a shared file folder rather than sending endless emails. We upload flyers in various formats for posting to Facebook, Twitter, newspapers and group emails. We use Google Docs and Sheets to collaboratively edit documents and spreadsheets. We even have photo storage.
Virtual Meetings — FreeIn these pandemic times, the most important feature of our GSuite is Google Meet. Meet is free, more secure than most of the competitors, easy for the users and presenters both, and very flexible. People can successfully connect by telephone if their internet connectivity is temporarily bad. Best of all, closed captioning is available to all.
PublicityIt is not uncommon to have visitors from other parts of the country. The wonderful site ConferenceKeeper.org has been a life-saver for our society. In publicizing SKCGS meetings, we’ve announced them here in the blog, on the Washington State events page https://wasgs.org/eventListings.php?nm=76 and in the local newspapers. But most of our visitors report that they find our meetings at ConferenceKeeper, and they tend to come back!
Virtual Genealogical Society Advantages
“The elephant is not in the room because there isn’t a room for the elephant”Not yet mentioned is social distancing. Most of our population does not want to risk exposure. In our case, the facilities we were using no longer allow groups.
Increasingly we’re finding that people like access to meetings without having to leave home. Webinars and other video lectures and podcasts are booming. We want to be part of that! One advantage we didn’t anticipate is that nationally known speakers are still available for presentations. This opportunity is less expensive for our general membership, and has many advantages for the speakers as well. Virtual session contracts include no travel or hotel expenses and the speakers experience no travel fatigue, which is also true for our attendees.
There are now new ways to cooperate with neighboring organizations–societies, museums, libraries. We can advertise on each others’ platforms, do joint sponsorship of more expensive sessions, and give all of our members and patrons more ease of access.
We don’t know what the new “normal” will be or when it will settle in. We feel very fortunate that we had the resources right at-hand to allow us to communicate and move into the virtual world.
Like most of the rest of the world, genealogical societies were not prepared for the corona virus pandemic. Faced with cancelled meetings and seminars, society function and governance as well as communication, education and service to our general membership were in jeopardy. In the first month of lock down we had to scramble to get online quickly or we would disappear. How can our societies fulfill their educational mission if we’re not providing education?
It has been quite exciting to see new groups spring up almost instantly, and quickly organize to get things done, such as restoring a neglected country cemetery, give help to those with research challenges, and setting up a new study group.