Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah 30 Years Old

FamilySearch pointed out in a blog post entitled, "Mormon Family History Library Still Connecting Generations of Families after 30 Years" that the "new" Family History Library building in Salt Lake City, Utah is now thirty years old today. Here is the announcement from the post:
FamilySearch’s Family History Library (FHL) in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, will celebrate its 30th anniversary on October 23, 2015. When the new facility was completed back in 1985, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was already considered the foremost authority on family history research. During the past three decades, the library has been recognized by genealogists as the top research and collections library in the world—a designation it still maintains—in part, because it has evolved to keep pace with the changing demographics and demands of family researchers and the communities it serves.
 In conjunction with the announcement, there was a very interesting infographic showing how some of the technology used in the Library has changed over the years.

You may have to click on the image to read all the details. But the changes reflect not just changes in the technology, but the growth of the interest in the Library itself. I have experienced these changes firsthand over the years. When I started my research in the Library over thirty years ago, I spent most of my time looking at the vast accumulation of Family Group Records. Now, that huge collection is digitized and online. As I grew more sophisticated in my needs, now most of my interaction with the Library is through the Catalog. I still look at microfilm ordered from the Library, but most of my use of the facility is from outside of the physical Library itself through the Internet.

From my own observations this week working at the Family History Library, I find that the number of visitors to the Library itself, aside from online contact, remains very high. Despite the increase in electronic access, a visit to the Library is still a very high priority among researchers. It is true that the landscape in the Library has changed from a sea of microfilm readers to an ocean of computers, but the need to be in the Library doing research is still a high priority.

Quoting from the blog post and Director of the Library, Diane Loosle,
“The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is unique in all the world,” said Diane Loosle, director of the world-renowned library. She explained the focus of the library has always been to increase access to the world’s genealogical records and help patrons make personal family discoveries.

“To the family historian, this library is like Disneyland,” said Loosle, “There’s no place like it. People dream for years of coming. It is the largest facility of its kind and the largest of FamilySearch’s 4883 family history centers globally. Many people begin their journey of discovery at one of our facilities.”
Note the exact number of Family History Centers worldwide. This shows a significant growth from previous approximate numbers.  The post also gives some insight into the numbers of records that have been digitized and the numbers left to digitize. Here is another quote.
About 25 percent of the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm stored at the Granite Mountain Vault have been digitally published online. The Family History Library itself has about 1.5 million rolls on site. As physical films are digitized, they are removed from the library. Insofar as possible, the records teams plan on digitally publishing all of the microfilm online for 24/7 access.

In 1985 family history research was a very individual experience requiring each person interested in a specific record to scroll through microfilm or search microfiche. In 1985 over 600 microfilm and fiche readers were housed in the Library. Though microfilms and fiche still play an important, though less frequently used role, a large portion of today’s research is now computer-based. Today the Family History Library boasts 550 Internet-enabled patron computers while still providing access to over 200 film and fiche readers. The Library also offers free access to film, book, and photo scanning equipment to help patrons digitally preserve and share family records.
The increased usage of the Library has come from the growth in the number of local Family History Centers as well as the ability of users to access the Library's records online. Again quoting from the post:
“We know that many people will never have the opportunity to visit the Family History Library in person,” said Loosle. “So FamilySearch has been expanding its reach. We want everyone who desires to discover their ancestors to be able to do so, no matter where they live.” 
The physical makeup of the Library is also changing. On my visit this week, I noticed that all of the books have now been removed from the first floor of the Library. The post explains what is happen to re-configure the facility.
Visitors to the Family History Library find an amazing collection of resources collected over 120 years and hosts of friendly people with expertise available to help them. The Library delivers with an impressive cadre of 45 full and part-time staff, and perhaps unprecedented for libraries, 550 full- and part-time volunteers or “missionaries.” The volunteers hail from all over the world, many of them dedicating up to 18 months—at their own expense—to help patrons make successful discoveries.

The main floor of the library is specifically designed to assist inexperienced patrons in getting started. The floor has been outfitted with computers supported by volunteers trained to assist beginners. Volunteers and expert reference staff are also available for more in-depth research on the other floors dedicated to records from certain areas of the world.

On its lower level, for example, is found the largest number of Chinese clan genealogies outside Mainland China. This level is also used for storing family histories, and overflow films, and books available by request. Requests for digitalization of these and other personal books can be requested here, and is done at another facility in Salt Lake or at many of the Family History Centers and affiliate libraries.

“The library is not a repository for original documents as is the case with specialized archives; it is not an archive in that sense,” noted David Rencher, chief genealogy officer for FamilySearch. “But it accepts donations of published works of genealogical significance.” Books and serials are continually added to the library’s shelves—over 600,000 in fact—and the library is heading up an initiative with other public libraries to digitally publish historic books of genealogical relevance online—over 225,000 have been digitally published online to-date.
I appreciate this update to the Library's holdings. Despite the significant number of books online, it is still a valuable experience to visit the Library and review its still-to-be-digitized collections.

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