- The fact that the microfilm collection in the Granite Vault will be entirely digitized within a relatively short period of time
- The continued digitization of books and other materials uploaded to the FamilySearch.org website now totaling over 304,000 volumes
- Statements made concerning the fact that the future Family History Center will be in the home and the continued increase in resources available in the home
- The Find, Take, Teach program that emphasises Family History Consultants as providing direct support to people in their homes
Years ago, a larger Family History Center, such as was the Mesa facility, was extensively used as a research center because it had a substantial collection of readily available microfilm and a lot of excellent reference books. It was also designated, as are all Family History Centers, as the place you had to visit to obtain access to the vast microfilm collection primarily housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rented microfilm was and is only shipped to officially designated Family History Centers. In addition, the Family History Centers provided support personnel in the form of missionaries and volunteers who could help patrons with their personal research.
It doesn't take a great deal of analysis to realize that if the microfilm is digitized it will not be available for shipment on loan. If, as has been announced, the end of the microfilm era of family history is imminent, then this major function of a Family History Center disappears. In addition, larger centers, such as the Mesa FamilySearch Library, now have the majority of their book collections digitized and online. At the same time, independent of anything being done by FamilySearch, the amount of digitized genealogical information continues to explode.
The one thing the Family History Centers retain as a unique resource is the Family History Center Portal.
I had personally noticed that as time passed at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, that few of the microfilms in the center's archives were being used almost none of the books were being used. Patrons primarily came to the center for help or to use the free resources provided by the Family History Center Portal. Three of the most prominent offerings on the Portal are now available for free in the homes of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From time to time the content of the Portals "free" programs has changed as the ownership of the programs has changed and as other online resources have become available. For example, the Digital Public Library of America now has over 14 million free resources that were not available just a few years ago. In fact, it has been recently announced that the Digital Public Library of America has an agreement to make the the FamilySearch.org digital historical book collection accessible through the DPLA website.
For some time now, FamilySearch has been developing the Family Discovery Center concept. At one time, the Mesa FamilySearch Library was discussed as a possible site for such a Center. The main such center is located presently in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Another such center was also opened in Seattle. Since the initial concept was introduced, there has been relatively little said about the future expansion of this concept but there is still some discussion among Family History Directors and personnel about how the Family Discovery Centers might impact existing Family History Centers. The main floor of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah was remodeled and there was some discussion about the possibility that the main floor would become a Family Discovery Center, however the main floor is now mostly computer stations and nothing has been said recently about any further changes.
All of this certainly raises some significant issues about Family History Centers, especially those with very little patrons usage. In the southern portion of the Salt Lake Valley, many local centers were closed when the Riverton FamilySearch Library was opened.
Of course, I have no particular insight or knowledge about the future plans for Family History Centers. But it is clear, at least for the larger centers, that technology and alternate sources of information primarily from the continued digitization of microfilm and books will impact their future.
Speculating, I would think that the resources now going into the larger centers and in developing Family Discovery Centers would be more effectively used to expand the training and support of Family History Consultants and Outreach Family History Service Missionaries.
Meanwhile, facilities such as the Brigham Young University Family History Library, which is not part of FamilySearch, will continue to function as major research facilities and provide the high level research support needed by some researchers.