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A Sneak Peek at the New Church History Library

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 20, 2009

I somehow found myself in the new Church History Library today, wandering around on my own, doing a test-drive of the furniture, poking my nose into all public areas. Some random thoughts on the physical facilities, which will FINALLY open for business on June 22, after several weeks of public tours, open houses, and a dedication:

The lobby and reading room are gorgeous – soaring ceilings three stories high, woodwork everywhere, tall windows letting in lots of natural light (and a beautiful view of the east side of the Conference Center, where the landscaping is finally maturing and filling in, in a lovely way), art works on the walls (I hope they’ll post cards identifying the artists and dates). The Church doesn’t often invest in such nice woodwork, furniture, and architecture in buildings that are intended mainly for utilitarian Church business, so I take this as an indication that the powers that be recognize our crown jewels for what they are.

Over the door leading from the lobby into the library proper in gold lettering is the favorite scripture of LDS historians: “There shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1). Underfoot is a carpet in reds, browns, and creams, with a pattern that is reminiscent of the marbling seen on the endpapers of elegant old leather-bound books.

There is so much woodwork in the library, and the colors of wood and carpet are so rich, that the atmosphere of the library could easily be dark and even overbearing, except for all that glorious natural light coming in from the wall of windows. And it really does feel like “a wall of windows” befitting a building with true architectural design. It is not a glass wall left over from the outdated and sterile glass-and-steel boxes that have dominated too much urban architecture for decades.

The open stacks appear to cover more area in the new building than in the old, although I don’t have any idea of the number of feet of shelves in either place. The ranks of shelves are all in one large block, not in two sections as in the last configuration or running in two directions as they did in an earlier configuration – this is a more natural and comfortable arrangement for users.

The tables have electrical sockets on each side, and the tables appear to be plugged in – no more scrounging for too few places to plug in a laptop!

The chairs are designed for work: wooden, with seats parallel to the floor and fixed backs at just the right angle for production typing – none of those loungey swivel chairs that are meant for leaning back to read in casual poses, which never hold their heights. Some users are going to find them uncomfortable, but I find them seemingly perfect (I didn’t have my laptop with me to actually try working). I’ll probably bring a cushion to sit on, both for comfort in sitting and to raise me up the inch or two more that will be necessary for the proper position for typing hours on end without fear of carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are some upholstered chairs – six or eight, I think – for more casual reading. And joy of joys, since this library is across the street from the Church Office Building, employees won’t be dropping in to spend their lunch hours sprawled in those chairs and yakking on their blasted cell phones as if the library were an employee lounge.

The old hulking microfilm readers are being phased out in favor of itty bitty contraptions that hold the microfilm reels and scan an image for display on computer screens. Users will be practically sitting on each other’s laps, though, the way the machines are arranged, with barely – barely – enough room to place a laptop on the tables. That arrangement could definitely use some further work.

There are lockers for patrons to use, larger than the old ones, and made of wood rather than clangy metal.

There was one (two?) “consultation” room for people who just have to talk, which should make things more pleasant for other library patrons. A large glass window allows staff to keep an eye on things there, so the room shouldn’t turn into the private office of the first self-important patron to arrive in the morning.

There are far more catalog computers in the new library than in the old.

The staff counter (reference desk) is just inside the door and at some distance from the work tables, which should both encourage new patrons to ask for help as they arrive and also remove their conversations from the immediate attention of people who are trying to work. The reference countertops are probably some manmade material but look like granite, another rich touch to the atmosphere.

Since no one else was in the library I couldn’t tell how well sound carries. In the old library, anybody speaking in the furthest corner could be plainly heard everywhere in the room. This almost certainly has to be an improvement, if for no other reason than that the employee and missionary work areas are in another part of the building — maybe a suitable reference library atmosphere can be maintained in the new library.

The lobby where the security guard sits is full of echoes. I mean, REALLY echo-y. And they’re going to continue to use the same icky procedure of having a new paper badge printed up every day you go in. I’ve begged and begged to have them make the slight adjustment to have those badges valid for a week or more so that I didn’t have to stand in line every single day – especially in the upcoming months where hordes of people who assume that this is the new Family History Library are going to be wandering in and making the lines long (I’ve had to wait as long as 12 minutes to sign into the library – not often, but occasionally that long – which really eats into my productivity when you think of how that adds up day after day after week after month) – but the guard told me today that no, it’s the same, same, same ol’ system.

But that’s the worst complaint I can come up with. It’s a beautiful library, beautifully arranged, with every sign that the patrons’ needs are as important as the staff’s workflow and the security of the materials. I’m looking forward so very eagerly to settling into a work routine there.

Only one month more to wait!



19 Comments »

  1. I can tell you’re in love with the place! May you have many happy times together!

    Comment by Tatiana — May 20, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  2. What can I say? I wear my heart on my sleeve! :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  3. Ok, Ardis: is it oak? walnut? cherry? maple? quarter sawn? lots of figure? did they sand or plane or scrape the jointer tracks out of it? Come on, tell us the important stuff!! :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — May 20, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  4. Dunno, Mark. I’m hopeless. I think you should come out and inspect it yourself, then write a guest post for Keepa. It’s THAT important!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

  5. I can’t wait until the mission reunion in June when we’ll get a tour. I have a backlog of mysteries to solve. If my old legs were up to it, I’d re-up for another year.

    Comment by Curt A. — May 20, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  6. Thanks for this, Ardis; I can’t wait to see it myself.

    Comment by Ben — May 20, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  7. Wow! It sounds fabulous! I hope all your dreams for the new library come true.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — May 20, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

  8. And where are the secret photos you snapped, Ardis?! Great descriptions, but I was hoping you would have scooped the Church News and given us some photos.

    (THAT would have helped your standing with administrators and employees there, I’m sure. Not.)

    We’ll be in Salt Lake this week – but of course our visit will be shy of the opening of the CH Library (as well as the opening of the new Oquirrh Mountain Temple). Boo hoo. We’ll have to drive by on North Temple and take a look.

    Comment by Hunter — May 21, 2009 @ 1:14 am

  9. Alas, Hunter, if I didn’t hate them too much to carry one, I’d have snapped lots of pictures on a cell phone. (And have I mentioned how much I hate cell phones in libraries?) If you have a minute, you should at least go up to the library door and see the lobby. It’ll make you want to come back at the end of June.

    Curt, Ben, Michelle, thanks. The treasures inside would turn any dark old shack they might use for a library into a palace. Having it actually be a palace turns it into heaven.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 21, 2009 @ 6:02 am

  10. Wow. Sounds like a lovely facility. It does, however, undermine the image of an archives as a dim, dusty place. What a wonderful place to look forward to working in.

    Comment by Researcher — May 21, 2009 @ 6:46 am

  11. This was fun to get a “sneak peak” since I live too far away to see it for myself. I like the “crown jewels” thought.

    Comment by Clean Cut — May 21, 2009 @ 8:11 am

  12. I’ll be down there in August, Ardis, so you should have the staff all broken in by then. The “Crown Jewels” thought makes me think that they might need to get some security guards with pikes and the big bearskin hats. That would be something.

    Comment by kevinf — May 21, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  13. By the way, Ardis, what are the procedures for checking in? Does a patron need to post bonds? Provide references? Show a driver’s license or birth certificate? Read and sign an agreement to abide by all library policies? Or simply sign in?

    Comment by Researcher — May 21, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

  14. Ardis:

    I can’t believe they didn’t consult you on security procedures! What were they thinking?!

    Sounds like a wonderful facility. I don’t know when I’ll get to go and see for myself. But I will definitely look forward to it.

    Comment by Steve C. — May 21, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  15. I can’t believe it either, Steve. Go figure.

    There’s a two-step procedure for using the library. Step one is to pass the security guard. Anybody with a picture ID who isn’t on a no-admittance list (which consists, I understand, of a vanishingly small list of names of people who have created disturbances on church property or stolen/damaged archival materials) can get in to use the library. The guard either takes your picture or scans the picture on your ID to make a temporary badge which you’re supposed to while while on the premises, and which allows them to keep track of people who have entered and know that they have all left at the end of the day.

    With that badge you can go into the library and talk to anybody and use any open stacks material, make photocopies, read microfilms, whatever. If you want to use materials from the closed stacks, which have to be ordered via a computer request system, you have to fill out a form to get yourself entered into the computer. The form asks for your name, address, and phone number, and a very broad indication of your purpose for researching (“dissertation” or “family history” is detailed enough for their statistical purposes in asking that question). IIRC, there’s a yes/no box to indicate whether it’s okay for them to connect you with another patron if they realize you’re working on the same topic. And then you have to sign a statement that you’ll protect the achival materials by proper use, that you’ll request permission from the church copyright office before publishing archival materials, and other typical requirements for use of any private archives.

    Then they key your information into the computer, and you can start mining for gold.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 21, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

  16. Thanks, Ardis.

    How long does it typically take to access closed-stack information? Is it a same-day process? Is there an online catalog of the collections, or are the catalogs only available at the library?

    Comment by Researcher — May 22, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  17. Closed-stacks things came down within 15 minutes in the old library, assuming there was no snag (such as the printer at the vault end having run unnoticed out of paper), and I would expect the new system to be at least as efficient.

    If you’re requesting something that hasn’t yet been cleared for public use, there has been a form to use for making your case for access, and the answer usually comes within a day or two, sometimes longer if it’s especially tricky. When I’ve known people were coming in from out of town and want to use items that might be restricted, I’ve suggested that they contact the library ahead of time, or even have me fill out the request form, so that they won’t lose research time waiting for decisions to be made once they arrive.

    The catalog is not yet available online, but they’ve said recently that they intend to do that. (The library for published materials and the archives for non-published materials have had separate catalogs, which they have been working to unite into a single catalog. I think they want to finish that before they put it online.)

    I’m always willing to help people who are planning research trips by checking catalogs and indexes for them, as long as they have specific requests (“Do they have XYZ’s diary?” “Are the minutes for ABC Ward available?”) and not so general that they require research time (“What diaries do they have that might mention my grandfather who was a bishop?”)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 22, 2009 @ 10:23 am

  18. I’ll be out there in August. This time for a planned visit, not the “drop everything and go” visit I made last time. I have a backlog of stuff that I was hoping to send now and get in the queue. Turns out they don’t want a backlog of requests to build up.

    Dear Bruce Crow:

    This is an automated response. The Church History Library will begin moving to a new building in April 2009. To prepare for the move and to ensure that we have completed the requests we have already received, we are not accepting any new research requests. We will open in our new building on 22 June 2009. Please resubmit your request(s) after that date. We apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to serving you in the future.

    Thank you,
    Church History Support

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 22, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  19. This is wonderful, Ardis. Thanks for the sneak peak!

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

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