My friend, Peter Thorne, provided me with an excellent narrative of some of the challenges of establishing and operating a Family History Center. With his permission, I thought I should share what he wrote. I needed to make a few edits and will have some comments at the end of this narrative. Places have been removed and some editing of the comments has been done for privacy reasons.
Your post today in Rejoice and be Exceeding Glad was quite interesting to me as I was involved in converting one of those dead in family history centers into a vibrant community center in ... When I became the high priest group leader, responsibility of the family history Center fell in my lap. As I became acquainted with its operation, I found the director [needed to be released] and that her administrative functions were being done by her assistant director. That was change number one director became the Ward librarian and the assistant director became the director. We then took all the microfilms and moved him into a separate room in started decommissioning some of the microfilm readers. Only one of the computers was up-to-date so we arranged for 4 new computers from FamilySearch plus a new printer and six new chairs.My comments: One of the challenges of maintaining a vibrant Family History Center is making the atmosphere helpful without being "too Church-oriented" to the point of discouraging use by those who are not members. Everyone who comes to the Center for help should be given as much assistance as is possible without being made to feel that there is a Church involvement with the help. Over the years that I served at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (and all its previous iterations), we had a good balance between the religious and secular sides of genealogical research. All of the patrons were made to feel welcome. Some of the most mutually beneficial experiences that can assist the growth of a Family History Center is to involve the local genealogical community in its operation and maintenance.
Meanwhile, the new director was busy also. She started involving all auxiliaries in classes on FamilySearch. In addition, [she] got the scout council to send scouts over to obtain their family history merit badge. In addition, she encouraged community organizations to visit including one youth Jewish group. About that point, all the nonmember helpers at the library quit. Apparently they felt things were getting too religious. Without missing a step, the new director recruited full-time missionaries (with the permission of the mission) to help staff the library. Not only did this help them become more family history oriented, but it also meant they were also talking about family history to less active members and nonmembers they were teaching.
In short, the family history Center became a vibrant place for genealogy research and training. All of this is highly dependent on people - the stake president, Bishop, high priest group leader and center director. While it may not be possible convert family history Center into a FamilySearch Discovery center, there are a number of software apps available on computer that can display many of the whizbang displays in FamilySearch Discovery Centers. Perhaps in one of your blogs point out some of the apps that are available. Like Relative Finder, Roots Mapper, Twile, Virtual Pedigree and others.
The question of using full-time missionaries other than those specifically called to serve is problematical. Young full-time missionaries are called to proselyte and it would clearly depend on the Mission President's decision about their involvement. It is much better to involve local members. However, in any event, it is of the utmost importance that the volunteers or those called to serve be trained.
There is another narrative that happened as a result of the first experience showing what happens when the greater community gets involved. Here is what Peter added.
There's an addenda to this story. You remember that the new director enlisted full-time missionaries to work at the center. Well, good news spreads. About two years later I got a phone call from a missionary couple in .... They had heard of the ... center through the mission. They were in the process of trying to open a new family history Center in ...
Earlier, they had gotten $3,500 in funding from two stakes and the mission to have a booth at the ... [county] fair not too far [away]. Things went well and they ended with almost 600 referrals. So why did they call me? They had visited ... center and talked to the new director and explained what they were trying to do. As they were leaving, the director said: "you have got to call Peter Thorne".
Apparently, neither they nor stake president were entirely sure how to create a family history Center. Fortunately, my contact in FamilySearch was just the person help us get center approved. He sent an application and advice about supplementary attachments needed for approval. Pretty soon the application was working its way up the administrative ladder. Signatures needed included, the stake president, the area church maintenance supervisor, area family history advisor and the regional FamilySearch representative. It's really hard getting people to sign something quickly.
Area church maintenance supervisor lost the original application and the area family history advisor, ... said he had mailed the application to the regional FamilySearch representative. However, the story has a good ending. My contact at FamilySearch apparently was on the committee to approve family history centers. Not only that, under certain circumstances he had the authority to approve centers. And he did after I sent him a copy of the application. I'm not sure if the original application with all the requisite attachments ever did reach Salt Lake.
I'll try to send you some pictures of the new center. I have a feeling it's probably the most beautiful center in the world. The new director and her husband were big on interior decoration. Consequently, they purchased used furniture and furnishings flea markets and refinish them in an antique green. They've got everything from infinite mirrors and antique desks to the fanciest sign-in register I've ever seen.
It was an Elijah moment visit this new center the day before I left on my trek to Utah to begin my mission on April Fools' Day 2016. Shortly after I left they had an open house. It also was fantastic with representatives of Jewish organizations, Ellis Island and a variety of genealogical oriented organizations providing displays and as speakers. There was standing room only. In fact, the opening program was so well attended they had to use the stand for overflow seating.Yes, there is a measure of difficulty in establishing and managing a Family History Center due, in part, to the multi-layered administrative functions involved from building maintenance to Stake officers. I don't recommend trying to circumvent the procedures by contacting someone at "FamilySearch" or whatever. Circumventing the systems may result in some long-term problems in the future. The people who should be most involved in this process are the local sponsoring Stake officials.
Likely every Family History Center that is at all active and viable has a similar type of story. I think these narratives raise some interesting issues.