Every now and then, someone in the genea-blogging world brings up the topic of genealogy as profession rather than hobby. While this is mostly not the realm of my own efforts, I am part of a small family business and naturally take an interest in reading business topics. In addition, because I participate in genealogical endeavors as a board member of a local genealogical society, I have an additional vested interest in following these posts.
Last Wednesday, Blaine Bettinger took up the topic in his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in a post entitled "Charging for (Genetic) Genealogy Services." Not only was the post thought-provoking, but one that generated a great deal of conversation through nearly fifty comments appended to the bottom of the page.
Examining just why it is that genealogical services are undervalued in comparison to a number of other businesses, Blaine points out the cost involved in properly equipping one's self to become a qualified genealogist—especially a genetic genealogist. He touches on issues of cost of education and training, supply and demand, even the ethical considerations surrounding the expectation of pro bono services.
Blaine's conclusion wrapped up all these considerations in the statement (emphasis his):
The genealogy community must be careful about...fostering a general expectation of free or cheap services while still being sure to offer pro bono services. An expectation that all genealogy should be free or cheap devalues who we are and the highly specialized skills we have worked so hard to develop.
While he brings up some valid points, I couldn't help but think that genealogists cannot expect others to adequately value them and their skills without first showing that same respect for each other. In reading this post, my mind went immediately to the instance of a meeting, back during the first year of my position on the board of our local genealogical society.
Granted, such societies are often the venue of non-professionals taking a lead role in self-help for fellow enthusiasts. However, it is these same organizations which rely mainly upon the services of professional genealogists, particularly in the realm of providing speakers and training for meetings.
How much do those societies generally pay their speakers for a worthwhile hour of instruction?
Before you answer that question, consider the numbers on the flip side of this equation: how much effort and knowledge go into the making of those hour-long educational programs? I can vouch for the likely numbers in answer to this question, as my family's own business produces educational programming requiring many more hours to design than to execute. Plus, before that training session ever begins, the instructor often has to invest time in travel to and from the meeting location. All of this time investment should be reflected in the formulation of the program's value.
I don't know what the current answer is for other genealogical societies, but I can safely say that, before our society decided to step up their game and offer quality programming for our monthly meetings, we weren't paying our speakers much at all. Even now, though we do provide a much more reasonable "honorarium," if the amount were divided out over the full time it takes to formulate and deliver such a program, the hourly remuneration would be embarrassing.
Yet, if we feel the services of genealogists ought to be valued more reasonably, why aren't we as societies leading the way in this issue? It does no good to talk about the problem if we aren't willing to serve as examples through our own collective actions. If we want others to value the services of professional genealogists, we need to first do so, ourselves.