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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Thoughts on the future of Family History Centers

The main building of the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library has now been closed and unused for almost two years. The Mesa Library has been operating with a reduced staff out of the Training Center at 464 E. 1st Avenue, Mesa, Arizona. During the past few months, and even as recently as this past week, I have been involved in extensive discussions with Family History Center Directors who are concerned about the future of their particular Family History Center. There are a number of factors that create this concern:

  • 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 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 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. 


  1. I run a family history center in Scottsdale Arizona. We have many patrons who come for training that do not have resources at home like a computer so they are having to come to our center to do their research. We train our consultants to help those patrons (members and non members) learn how to research their ancestors easily and effectively. When asked about the Mesa family history library reopening, they are usually disappointed with our response. The MRFHC has been a great source for many patrons (both members and non members) and I for one wish that it would reopen. But that is not my decision. I love family history and will do all I can to help those that want to learn and to train others who want to engage in a wonderful opportunity to search for their ancestors and learn more about their heritage.

    1. Thanks for your insight. I am guessing that I will have to write another post or two on this subject. The training issue is an interesting aspect to the whole question of the future of the Family History Centers.

    2. I replied on Facebook and will reply here as well. I think there is a need for a Discover/Family History Center in Arizona. There are over twice as many people in Arizona as in Utah, for example. Non-members as well as members use the library. Discovery Centers are important for the youth as well. The youth are so important for the future of genealogy. There is a need for a PLACE of learning. With a Center missionaries can be called which is helpful for beginners. Also missionaries/volunteers with specialities can assist those who are stuck in a particular area. Seminars are also important and can be held in Discovery Centers. Miee is right in that not everybody has access to a computer. Many of us at one time or another are computer challenged. Most need help from time to time with computer as well as genealogy issues. Personally I would like a Visitors/Discovery/Library Center at the Gilbert Temple. Like Miee I will do all that I can to help those who want to learn and train others. Thank you James for bringing attention to this matter.

  2. My guess is that very shortly they will all be gone. I am at a very small FHC (like 1/100 of the size of Mesa) that over the past year has phased out their permanent collection. All films, fiche, CDs, and most of the books were removed ..... The only films there now are those patrons have ordered for short term. As a result lot of "staff" has left, hours have been cut, and it appears that there is essentially no help or training be offered. I have started offering help sessions at a local senior center, where many just aren't sure how to use a PC and what they need to make a useful tree. If it is not family email or Ancestry (where they have their tree) they have no idea about web resources, software, or any other use of their PC. Problem with Discovery Centers, which I like the idea of, they are not going to be available to help the smaller stakes and patrons that use them. As the small FHC close eventually something else will help to take their place. Find, Take, Teach may be a help to members but we need something similar for the other patrons. Wish there was an answer but at this time seems mostly a sit and wait is all we can do.

  3. I volunteer on Saturdays at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. All the computers have been cleared from the first floor of the library. Construction for the Family Discovery Center is underway.

  4. FamilySearch just opened up a new facility in Layton like the Riverton (only not so big) and the SLC FH Library. So we're not dead yet.
    If the leaders of the Church would do their own family history, we'd be in better shape. If your leader says keep the word of wisdom, and you know he doesn't keep it himself, how do you feel? You leader wants you to go to the temple frequently, but you know he doesn't go himself. Results? You leader tells you to pay your tithing, but he doesn't. Hmm. Your leader says our most important responsibility in this world is to seek after our dead, (Joseph Smith) but ..... And so on.