The new library opens on June 22, at 9:00 a.m., with public open houses scheduled yesterday and today, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. If you live near enough to Salt Lake City to go to the open house today, stop reading and get going. It will be well worth your time.
The tour begins with a short (15- or 20-minute) video on the importance of history to church life. Its opening could have been taken straight from Keepa’s play book: “The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the story of people,” a narrator says, over a montage of photos of people, modern and antique, from cultures around the world, mostly portraits, a few activities. I recognized many of the historic portraits – there was B.H. Roberts in his hobo disguise, Jane Manning James, (Elijah Abel’s photo appeared later in the movie), and others that you will recognize.
As with most Church-made films, this one was right on the line between sentimental and smarmy – the little actress was insanely cute, there were a few too many trembling lips and quivering chins, a few too many Meaningful Glances. Yet I suppose most viewers will love it: Even though I realized exactly which lines and glances were manipulating my emotions, I still couldn’t keep from tearing up. I heard sniffles and saw other hands wiping eyes, so I wasn’t alone.
After a little too much repetition in the opening minutes (voice overs in a mix of obviously international voices), the main part of the movie dramatized a well-known incident from Church history (I’ll add a comment later to identify it, but don’t want to spoil it for anybody who might go to the open house). We saw the event dramatized; we saw a dramatization of the main character recording the event in his journal; we saw a dramatization of the man’s daughter, all grown up, copying the incident from his journal to her history; then the scene dissolved into a real shot of the daughter’s history, opened to the page where the incident is recorded, which history is part of the Church’s collection. (I guess the father’s original diary is not; it would have been more dramatic to have omitted the copying by the daughter if that hadn’t been necessary). That history is one of many items displayed in the library during this period of tours and open houses.
From the movie room, with its high tech computer controls built right into the wall, you tour the rest of the building at your own pace. Plastic carpet protectors are laid out to mark the path you should follow, and there are arrows and/or missionary guides at every point where you might turn in the wrong direction. Somebody has planned a labyrinthine path through several floors of the building, taking you through or past just about every key area you could ever hope to see (it bypasses the deep-freeze rooms for obvious reasons). In the first few rooms and hallways I noticed an exciting range of artworks on the walls; after a short while, though, the art vanished and didn’t appear again until the main reading room was reached. In conference rooms you see displays arranged by various projects – the Joseph Smith Papers, the Church’s Historic Sites people, a display of histories produced over the years by church historians, and other special research groups – along with members of those projects to explain what’s going on. Because the tour is at your own pace, you can zoom right on past, or stand and ask questions as long as you want – I like that arrangement.
You see one of the rooms where historical materials are stored – just a room of shelved boxes, not books or documents, which might have been a security decision – and the parts of the library where donations are received, where cataloging occurs, where collection development goes on, where employees of all kinds have their offices. Most of those areas are, if I can be pardoned a certain level of charitable exaggeration, merely utilitarian in design and decoration – “drab” and “industrial”and “sensory deprivation” come to mind; Dilbert’s cubicle is a colorful, cushioned day spa by comparison. If my working environment were as sterile, my historical imagination and empathy would suffer and you would enjoy reading my grocery list more than you enjoy reading Keepa. Perhaps the best that can be said for the employee work areas is that not a single penny of your tithing money was needlessly squandered.
I don’t mean this to be as snarky as it will inevitably sound, but here’s the place to say this: A notable exception to the colorless environment of the employees is the office of Richard Turley, assistant church historian. His office is large, with a bank of windows facing the landscaped east side of the Conference Center and probably with a view of the Temple, with furnishings as rich as those of the lobby and main reading room. The tour bypassed the office of Marlin Jensen, church historian, but I’m guessing from its general location that two walls of that office are windows, and that his furnishings are just as nice. That’s fine with me – if the money is available, their positions merit nice surroundings. But I know how much of the daily work of the library and archives, how much of the direct assistance to me and to other patrons, comes from the employees in the gray or tan cubicles, and I can’t help saying that they deserve better.
The most interesting of these rooms for me was the conservation lab, where one of the workmen answered my questions about some of the equipment, and demonstrated one of the antique-but-still-functional (and extreeeeemely heavy) machines for me.
Eventually the tour winds up in the public reading room and the lobby, which I have already described. This time, though, instead of being an empty chamber, the library was staffed with many of my favorite library people, dressed more formally than they usually are, greeting visitors and ready to answer questions. The library was also equipped this time with display cases holding photos and documents from the library’s collections. We saw the record book featured in the orientation film, an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, a Book of Commandments, a book in Deseret Alphabet, diaries kept by Wilford Woodruff, and lots of other items that most of us will ordinarily only see in reproduction or microfilm.
All along the tour, small signs with factoids were mounted on the wall – the number of feet of microfilm held by the library, the number of carpet squares in the building, that kind of thing. But many of those little signs repeated the hours of operation of the library, which is when I first learned of the new, extended operating hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
If you haven’t visited the library and don’t realize it, that’s extremely good news for patrons who have day jobs: The library will be open one evening a week, and a good chunk of Saturday.
Only nine more days until the library opens. But who’s counting?