Sunday, 1 November 2015

It's Time for OGS to Re-Invent Itself

Last week I learned from President Alan Campbell that the Waterloo branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society is going to become an "eSociety". The branch is struggling with membership and viability and has approached the OGS regarding closure.

In typical OGS fashion, they have stuck their heads deep in the sand and come up with what they think is an acceptable solution. In reality, it merely prolongs the demise.

In the past handful of years, OGS has seen the actual closure of the Haldimand branch, the Norfolk branch and now the Waterloo branch, but in an effort to save face they have called the first two branches "inactive" and now they are going with the idea of an online presence for the Waterloo branch. But, apart from themselves, who are they kidding? 

In the last handful of years, has anyone come forward to re-activate either Haldimand or Norfolk? No. It is a classic case of  "out of sight, out of mind" Few people even remember there were branches in these communities. 

With the eSociety, there will be no newsletter, no meetings, no mailing address. So, what's the point of this new method of survival? WHY would anyone want to be a member? Certainly not for the reduced membership fees of $4 a year. What am I getting for that? A website? Really? 

The OGS has within its bylaws, the ability of a branch, upon closure, to donate their assets (books, family histories, CDs, maps and such) to a local museum, historical society, library or like-minded society. At least in this instance, people get to access the physical resources and they get help from live people. This is exceptionally important for people new to either the field of genealogy research, or to the local resources. 

But by making the branches inactive, OGS doesn't have to admit failure. They can still boast that they have XX branches. Even dead in the water branches. 

I think, and have told Alan and the Board, that OGS is doing an incredible disservice to their Special Interest Groups by making this defunct branch an eSociety. The SIGs have a $5 membership (well, actually a $68 membership - more on that later) and for that, we slog tirelessly behind the scenes to produce regular email blasts with our members, newsletters for our members, webinars, symposiums, host tables in marketplaces and God knows what all else. By hosting a website for the defunct Waterloo branch, OGS is telling their other SIGs that we are only worth $1. That smarts. 

OGS recently sent membership renewal notices. And the "behind the scenes" activity on social media has lit up with private messages, emails and texts with "Are you renewing?" "I don't think I will renew this year" "What is the point of renewing?" This is not a new phenomenon this year. It is an annual happening. In reality, if people saw value for their money, there would be no agonizing about renewal. None. 

OGS makes it impossible for their branches and SIGs to be financially viable. Their membership fees are extortionate. In addition, people who want the grassroots assistance or grassroots resources have to add on a membership to the branch or SIG where that help or those resources are. So, as I said earlier, to belong to the Scottish SIG, for instance, and only the Scottish SIG, the membership is $68. But the SIG only gets $5 of that. We are the ones who produce the resources, the webinars, the symposiums (yes we charge for those, otherwise we would be somewhere between destitution and prostitution to provide the things our members actually want). We can NEVER raise our fees because OGS raises theirs. We will always be beholden. 

There is so very much that is intrinsically dysfunctional about the OGS. Too much for a blog post, and really, too personal for the worldwideweb. In not recognizing their dysfunction, there will never be active change. They will continue to stick their heads as deep in the sand as they can. And pretend that they are a major player who is supportive to their branches, their members and the genealogy community at large. If they want to remain viable as a major player, they need to acknowledge the deficiencies, look closely at what isn't working and make active change. It is time for OGS to re-invent itself. 


  1. Harsh criticism of OGS but good that you shared your concerns with board members first. The timing is off, though. As you know, the board is dealing with urgent, pressing matters of relocating the head office and what will become of our library, not to mention the entire NYCL Canadiana collection. Let's cut a little slack here.

  2. They also have several - several - other branches in the same boat as Waterloo and looking at closure. So, there really isn't time for slack just now. They need to re-invent or there won't be an OGS.