The new Church History Library was dedicated this morning (Saturday, June 20), between 11:00 a.m. and noon.
After the last of the open houses and tours concluded late Thursday evening, workmen removed the display cases holding samples of the materials archived in the library, and carried away all the tables and chairs from the two reading rooms, and all the furniture from the lobby. They erected a raised platform at the north end of the main library reading room, with its podium placed so that everyone in that room and most in the lobby could see it. They moved in an organ, and hooked up speakers and television lighting and large flat-screen televisions in all three rooms so that no matter where guests were seated, they could see and hear. Then they filled all three rooms with chairs, enough to seat several hundred guests.
By 9:30, guests were lining up outside the main entrance, which wouldn’t open until 10:00. It was a happy crowd, and the morning was sunny (in contrast to the dark skies pouring rain this afternoon). The organ, played by Michael F. Moody, covered much of the chatter as everyone found seats in their assigned rooms. A few people holding tickets to the main room apparently did not come, and at 10:45 a few lucky late arrivals who had been expecting to sit at the back of the lobby were escorted into the main room to use those empty seats. A dozen cameramen, some recording the event for the Church and some representing the press, stood behind the long reference desk and caught everything in their lenses.
A few minutes before 11:00, President Monson and his counselors, and President Packer with several other members of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with other speakers and pray-ers, entered the room. Everyone stood in respect to President Monson.
Promptly at 11:00, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder, called us to order, welcomed everyone, and announced the first few items on the program. We all sang “Redeemer of Israel,” and Richard E. Turley, Jr., Assistant Church Historian, opened with prayer.
There were four speakers, with a musical number:
Elder Jensen spoke first, describing the completion of the building as the culmination of a long line of makeshift historical quarters from the earliest days of the Church, through a number of more formal libraries in various downtown Salt Lake City buildings – better than the early days, but always becoming quickly inadequate as Church records grew from the two boxes packed for transport across the plains to the millions of items held today. He quoted from dedicatory prayers at earlier offices, emphasizing the dedication of the record keepers and their desire to preserve our history and transmit it to us.
Bishop H. David Burton (the Presiding Bishop) spoke in more temporal terms, thanking the architects and contractors, and telling the stories of some the specialists who had come from elsewhere to help make this the finest building of its kind anywhere. He described parts of the physical plant and the technology intended to protect historical materials from deterioration.
A chorus of six men and six women, all employees of the Historical Department, sang “Sweet is the Work.” These are people that colleagues and patrons see every day handling telephones and manuscripts and computer keyboards. It was fun to see them in a new way, displaying talents that ordinarily aren’t on display at work.
Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke next, representing all of the patrons who will come to the library to search out the story of the past. All eight of his great-grandparents came from Europe as converts to the Church, and he told the story of his grandmother, Amanda Jensen Nelson, and her parents. He had known her, he said, as his grandmother, the lady who baked delicious raisin sugar cookies, but until she was gone and her story was found in a predecessor library to this one, he had not known her history. The gospel came to her family after her father was imprisoned for calling to repentance the people – including the king – of Norway. While he was in prison, two Mormon elders were also jailed. The elders sang hymns to the other prisoners, and Johan Jensen responded. He and his family, including twin daughters just two months old sailed for America, and then crossed the continent. One of those baby girls (Julie, I see by Family Search) died en route; the other grew to be his grandmother Amanda.
President Monson was the concluding speaker. He said he had first become impressed with the need for records when he was called as a ward clerk, and he determined that the minutes he kept would be so complete that there would be no question in the future of anything that had happened in those meetings. He told about the podium that all the speakers had been using. It had been the one in the chapel where he grew up, and where he served as a bishop. He gave his first talk at that podium, as a young boy with a Sunday School assignment for a 2-1/2 minute talk. He chose as his topic the story of the seagulls and the crickets (“I always loved birds,” he said). As part of his preparation, he went to Temple Square to see the monument there … and he admitted that what he noticed first was all the coins thrown into the fountain, and he gave some consideration as to how to retrieve some of those coins without being seen. Later, that podium became his altar as he worked late in his bishop’s office; he would kneel in a darkened chapel with his hand on the right edge of the podium, seeking the wisdom he needed as a bishop.
President Monson also spoke about building for the future, that men should build for the future and not merely for the present, that when the things they built were old, their children would revere them because their fathers had built with them in mind.
He then asked us to close our eyes as he offered a dedicatory prayer. He dedicated the building and the activities that would go on under its roof to the Lord and his kingdom, and asked that those who came there would be inspired by “the legacy of the past, the opportunity of the present, and the brightness of the future.” He prayed that the building and its contents would be protected from any harm, whether by man or by nature.
The closing hymn was “High on the Mountain Top,” and the benediction was offered by Sister Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society President.
As we left, workmen began stacking the chairs, and no doubt by now the furniture has been replaced and the building is ready for staff and patrons to carry on the historical work of the Church on Monday morning.
How blessed I am to be a part of that.