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Church History Library: First Month Report Card

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 22, 2009

The Church History Library has been open to the public for a month now. Here is my evaluation of how the library is working from the standpoint of a researcher. This is written in ignorance of how the past month would be evaluated by administrators, staff, or the curious public – it reflects only my judgment as a patron.

Appearance: A

The building is as impressive as ever: The landscaping, the approach to the doors, the soaring ceilings and natural light and window views are beautiful. I haven’t yet started taking for granted the first exciting view of the reading room from the lobby. Everything about that view says “Our history is important, and we are engaged in serious business here.”


Staff Availability: B

Short-handed as they are, what with a hiring freeze and extended library hours, the library staff are trying heroically to have a professional staff member on the front desk at all times, and a second member floating in the patron area whenever possible. The publicly available staff, however, is virtually all from the library side of the enterprise, with virtually no representation from the archives side. With the staff’s constant busy-ness, and without access to anyone who is an historian as well as a librarian, there is no longer any opportunity for professional consultation about sources.

Technology: Incomplete

There have been snags on the road to making the library as paperless as planned, and there’s a sharp learning curve – at least for someone of my age – for operating the new copy machines and microfilm readers. Both staff and missionaries are able and willing to coach struggling patrons. We all need more time to adjust to everything from faulty programming to faulty users. And do we really need the toilets to flush automatically? Especially when they too often don’t? (The unmarked manual flush button needs to be prominently labeled. Srsly.)

Security: B

I used to gripe about the nuisance of needing a new badge every day. Now that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Perhaps in an effort to be welcoming, the library no longer puts visitors through even the mildest of security checks. There is a security officer in the lobby, and I suppose there are cameras and probably other technology around, but the library is so wide open now that it no longer feels safe to turn your back on your belongings. This also makes for interesting company: During the first week, I shared a table with a gentleman who talked to himself about how as a child he could read auras and tell which police officers were possessed by multiple evil spirits, until a policeman picked him up by his ankles and banged his head against the ground. Last Monday another man, as filthy in body and clothing as I have ever seen, came in, not to read but to wander around pulling faces at readers. Not cool.

General Arrangements: B

The grouping of tables and computers and book stacks and so on is very pleasing; nothing feels crowded or out of place (except when patrons don’t push their chairs in because of the carpet resistance; more about that ahead). One of the most helpful, yet probably overlooked, innovations is that the signs on the ends of the book rows display not only the call numbers shelved there but also a general indication (“Lesson Manuals – BYU Speeches of the Year – Local Histories”) of the shelf contents. All periodicals have been grouped together alphabetically, regardless of whether they are church or secular, current or out of publication.

I find the chairs in the reading room as comfortable as when I first test-drove them. They do turn out, however, to be unexpectedly difficult to scoot in and out, because of the carpet (it’s real cut-pile carpet, not the plastic industrial stuff you usually find in public places). A better choice would have been armless chairs which would let users slide in and out from the side rather than fighting against the carpet.

These chairs, too, are a real nuisance at the microfilm readers. You may not be aware of how much you move while using microfilm – leaning over to advance the film, scooting in to get a clearer look at a difficult image, twisting toward your computer to take notes – and patrons really need the convenience of rolling chairs, the kind used by staff at the reference desk. The crowded conditions at the microfilm readers have been relieved a little (now only five machines stand where six were originally jammed in), but the ledge on which the equipment sits is too narrow, there is still too little space for necessary reference materials and notebooks, computer plug-ins are hard to find, and the chairs are too low for reading/typing comfort for people who are shorter than I am. (Those opinions are shared by the four other library patrons with whom I’ve talked about the microfilm readers.)

Catalog: F

No one at the library will be surprised by this grade; everyone is aware of the technical glitch that for a week now has prevented the catalog from displaying any entries for published books! But the failure goes far beyond that. Someone – and I have to think it was a clueless IT consultant, because I can’t believe any librarian would willingly jettison generations of professional librarianship for this nightmare – decided that the catalog would no longer be a listing of materials held by the library. Instead, they have dumped records from indexes and press clippings and the Journal History and reference files and the Overland Travel database and internet records and Baal only knows what other sources into the same pot, making the catalog a swampy, mongrelized mess that hampers every search, burying catalog records under a tide of unwanted miscellanea, much of it for material that isn’t even necessarily available at the library in any form. The same IT consultant apparently decided that users no longer needed such standard search limiters as “author” or “subject” or “exact phrase” – a search for “joseph smith,” for instance, brings up every record where “joseph” or “smith” appears anywhere in the record (even, perhaps, when “smith” exists in concealed donor information, because sometimes “smith” does not appear anywhere in records returned by the search). There are ways to broaden a search from hundreds of records to tens of thousands of records, but no easy way to narrow a search. I could not, for example, find the Encyclopedia of Mormonism by excluding 60 or more indexed newspaper articles or journal reviews, most with the title “Encyclopedia of Mormonism.” I finally gave up, and jogged up and down the book stacks until I spotted it on the shelf – a last resort that is not available, of course, if the material you need is in the closed stacks.

Staff members say this useless bastardization of a catalog is only “interim,” but cannot say whether “interim” means two weeks or ten years. Nor do they know whether a librarian will design the new catalog, or whether they will abdicate that responsibility to some technical geek.

Research Atmosphere: D

Part of this problem is beyond the power of the staff to cure: Right now, a stream of looky-loos is coming to see the library after all the publicity of its opening. The crowds and constant motion and talking of these people, together with the voices of the missionaries who try to herd them through, is something that will lessen with time. This disruption is understandable.

But inexplicably, hundreds of parents bring flocks of children with them – children who are bored, and who run and run and run and run and run, and cry, and run, and talk, and run, and giggle, and run, and climb on the shelves, and run, and bounce against the table I’m trying to work at, and run, and fight with each other, and run, and ask daddy “Can we go now?” With the exception of Monday when a staff member insisted on muting the catalog computer where a child was playing internet games, there has been no attempt to ask parents to take crying infants out to the lobby, or to corral their running broods. There is no effort to curtail cell phone use, either incoming or outgoing calls – and people, it does no good to take your phone over by the windows!You still make us all listen to every word of your dinner plans and which of you is going to pick up the dry cleaning.

Although the stretches where a decent respect for research are increasing in length and frequency (last week this would have been graded flat-out as F, while yesterday was actually a very good day), there have still been two days recently where I gave up and went home early because there was no way to concentrate in the playground atmosphere of the reading room.

Children under 8 are excluded from the Conference Center. There is no legitimate reason for failing to exclude them from the library.

This report card is harsher than expected, I know, and I’m sorry for that. The library is a beautiful place, but so far it is much more for show than for go. I haven’t been able to catch the ear of anyone willing to listen to patron feedback. There isn’t even a suggestion box. So, I resort to this public forum. Is anybody listening?



58 Comments »

  1. Yeah yeah, blame IT. :)

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 7:22 am

  2. I wonder if they could have created a “public” area, to basically funnel the flotsam away from the people actually trying to research.

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 7:52 am

  3. so far it is much more for show than for go

    oh jings, this is exactly the phrase I would also apply to new familysearch. I do hope this isn’t the prevailing mentality nowadays.

    As for children in research areas: if the Library allows such, there should be signs saying the onus is on the parents to keep them under control, and any complaints will result in a polite request to leave. I would say they should be banned entirely, but am mindful of an incident when my oldest was 3, and we were doing some trawling of newspaper microfilms in a library whilst on holiday. To keep him occupied I let him join in by pushing the button on the reader before I started work, and he pushed the button through several years’ worth of film to the EXACT obituary I was looking for. So sometimes children, if well trained, can be useful :-)

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — July 22, 2009 @ 8:05 am

  4. I am SO bringing my kids when I come to the library. And totally leaving them unsupervised while I ask annoying questions about whether or not there really is such a person as Ardis Parshall… (of course, that’s probably going to be a few years away, but…)

    Comment by Matt W. — July 22, 2009 @ 8:21 am

  5. If that’s training, Anne, I want you to write a manual on teaching it — that’s a “skill” every researcher needs!

    queuno, at the risk of alienating every church employee everywhere, I point out that your shop can hire IT folks primarily for their skills; your first concern isn’t whether or not they hold temple recommends. Your shop probably also makes technology the servant of whatever business you’re transacting, and isn’t so in awe of technology that the IT folks are the ones setting the agenda (as happened, for instance, when newFamilySearch was designed and the IT guys and gals, not experienced genealogists, got away with forcing genealogists to change their principles and practices to suit the machine, rather than having the machine aid in the genealogists’ work). I’m gonna be banned from the FHL library as well as the CHL now … I just know it …

    The lobby with its marble and wood and glass and high ceilings is a great public space, with a huge window giving a full view of the inner reading room (the place where closed stacks materials are used). I appreciate the missionaries’ efforts to keep the noise down by giving much of their vocal introduction there. But of course there are no computers to play with in the lobby, and everybody wants to wander around and see real books, so eventually the circus does move from the lobby, where it isn’t distracting, to the reading room, where it very much does distract.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 8:28 am

  6. Matt W., you wouldn’t be the first person who asked for me! And you’d fit right in with the mold of the tourists who have interrupted me several times by standing to watch me transcribing, then interrupting to say, “Gee, you type fast!” (duh, I didn’t know that; thanks for pointing it out) or to ask inane questions like “How long did it take you to get used to a flat keyboard?” (about two keystrokes)

    But I’m warning you, I might lob one of your kids through the nearest window if they get too close.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  7. “Your shop probably also makes technology the servant of whatever business you’re transacting, and isn’t so in awe of technology that the IT folks are the ones setting the agenda”

    If only this were true in most businesses and organizations.

    Comment by Wm Morris — July 22, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  8. “But I’m warning you, I might lob one of your kids through the nearest window if they get too close.”

    Eek! And said at only 8:30 in the morning! This could be a long day . . .

    “the IT folks are the ones setting the agenda”

    This happened in my office recently, too. We needed a new program and the IT folks designed it according to some one-size-fits-all template. And suggestions to improve it were met with offended huffs. So, good luck with that.

    Comment by Hunter — July 22, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  9. Ardis, what about the working space at the computers? I seem to recall your original judgment that the desks were too small, and there was no place to put papers and such. Is that still your view, or have you gotten used to the arrangement?

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 22, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  10. Ardis, if you are really upset about issues with IT, I’d recommend throwing a comment to Joel Dehlin. He has personally responded to me and been more than willing to help when I have contacted him.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 22, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  11. Kevin, the space shortage was at the microfilm readers, where each patron needs a microfilm carriage, a computer screen, a keyboard and a mouse, plus space for personal note-taking equipment. That’s the area where six machines have now been reduced to five (with the sixth being moved to a nearby carrel). Before that move, the first people to arrive would rearrange everything to give themselves a few more inches of workspace, which meant that latecomers had to squeeze into truly awkward positions, sometimes being unable even to put a chair directly in front of the screen.

    While the space is still on the short side, this is one area where the staff quickly responded to patron need, even though it meant defying the interior decorators.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  12. And don’t worry, I’ll warn you before I come, so you can make sure you have your tazer with you that day…

    Comment by Matt W. — July 22, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  13. I haven’t been to the library since the last day it was in the East Wing. Hoping the bugs would be small and easily worked out. I thought waiting a month or two would bring that about. That was a pie-in-the-sky apparently.

    Comment by W. Smith — July 22, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  14. As someone who works as a member of library staff *and* makes use of research libraries, I wholheartedly sympathise, Ardis. The vivid picture you paint of the hordes children rampaging round an archive search room is second only in horror to the use of mobile phones. Both should be banned outright, forthwith, from every such establishment anywhere. At all.

    Comment by Alison — July 22, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  15. Ardis, the IT person(s) who designed the catalog search must be from the same group as those who designed the search feature at lds.org and ldscatalog.com. Inefficient and clumsy, results are not ranked according to any (apparent) logical relevance. A user needs to go to Google to get a decent search of lds.org. Add this to your search terms without the quotes: “site:lds.org”

    You’re right, library information science is a mature field, and it sounds like they used IT folks who had no library experience, and that they tried to reinvent the wheel.

    For the library catalog, and even newfamilysearch.org, maybe the development of the web sites will go along the lines of lds.org, and after a few years of user complaints they’ll put some professionals in charge.

    ldscatalog.com is also still struggling with a system originally built by unsophisticated IT folks. (“unssophisticated” is my make-nice word for other adjectives I’d like to use.) It still suffers from a web-to-legacy-system interface that merely limps along. I have to order a good deal of foreign language material via phone or mail-order because they are not in the web catalog, even though they are in the legacy system.

    There were a couple problems at ldscatalog.com that were serious enough that I wanted to point them out to the presiding bishop’s office, but when a local full-time employee of the church explained to me how the temporal affairs of the church are run, I figured it wasn’t important enough to involve the higher-ups. Your observations are in line with what the local employee told me.

    This employee’s budget has been slashed to the point it really hurts, real meat and bone cuts, not just fat, and my guess is that members are going to feel it or observe consequences of the budget slash. He hasn’t said so, but my guess is that tithing (along with the church’s investment income) is significantly down due to the economy.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 22, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  16. Thanks for the review, Ardis. I second much of what you’ve said here. I will add my own personal appreciation for the new copy machines and microfilm readers, though (while obviously being sympathetic to users not familiar with the machines and consequently have to spend valuable time learning how to operate them).

    Yesterday, I was able to scan to my jump drive 100+ pages from a book only available at the CHL in about 10 minutes. That I now have those pages stored electronically on my computer means that my time at the CHL can now be spent researching manuscript sources and I can read through the book at my own leisure at home in the evening. Additionally, being able to scan manuscript sources on microfilm straight to my jump drive (those sources patrons are allowed to copy, anyway) saves loads of wait time compared to the old system, where I had to request copies to be made, pay a fee, and wait 1-2 weeks to receive said copies. It’s been really wonderful, especially for someone like myself who can’t make it to the archives everyday.

    I will also add that the individuals who I’ve been able to eat lunch with over the last few weeks have made my time spent at the CHL even more enjoyable. :)

    Comment by Christopher — July 22, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  17. W., one staff member told me that consultation with other new libraries about their experience suggested that tourism would be the most prominent library function for the first six months. One month down …

    Amen, Alison! If IT guys really wanted to be useful, they would invent a device that would deliver a high voltage jolt at the door of the library to anyone carrying a live cell phone. But Matt’s tazer would do in a pinch, too.

    Bookslinger, I feel kinda dumb for not having figured out Googling with the site:lds.org limit — I search the old magazines at lds.org frequently, and it’s a major flaw that the results don’t even appear in date order. Thanks for this very useful tip, as well as vivid descriptions of your own struggles with the church hodge-podge of tech programs.

    Christopher, yeah, I knew I had to accept much of the blame for my own struggles with the copy and microfilm machines (heck, I used carbon paper and mimeograph machines in my first few office jobs; gimme a break!). After the first few days when even the staff had widely varying levels of familiarity with the equipment, I haven’t had any trouble finding a staff member or missionary who would help me when I pushed the wrong button yet again. I should also give credit to the missionaries who practically race each other to set up a wireless connection for me every morning. I know I’ll adapt with enough time, and expect that a few of the other technological bugs — with the exception of the catalog, probably — will work themselves out.

    And while I gripe and whine about the number of tourists traipsing through, having comfortable and beautiful surroundings to work in has also seemed to draw out an unusually large crowd of grad students and other serious researchers, and THAT has been a pleasure!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  18. Thanks for the report, Ardis. I agree that the catalog is a mess. I thought you were exaggerating when you told me you couldn’t find the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, so I went to see if I could find it myself. Yea, five minutes later I gave up in disbelief. And the other day I went to look up a manuscript that I had seen just the day before and which I had previously had no problem finding in the catalog. It was nowhere to be found. I tried every which way to find it. I had to go to the reference desk, where luckily one of the full time staff was able to look at my orders from the previous day and order it that way. Yikes!

    Through all this, the professional staff has been excellent. They get an “A+”

    The missionaries are sweet folk, but they are no substitute for professional staff.

    But best of all is the company when great minds meet over Church Cafeteria fare :)

    Comment by Jared T. — July 22, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  19. Thank you so much, Ardis. I have been waiting for a report before planning my next trip to Salt Lake. I am definitely postponing it until after school starts again. Today’s post is a great help for those of us who must carefully plan our limited time in libraries. Knowing ahead of time such details about the chairs, workspace and catalogues will help me feel less of a dummy when I get there.

    Comment by Phoebe — July 22, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  20. Thanks for the endorsement, Jared; I’m a little worried that staff here might be offended by this post, and it helps to have other people say they’ve had the same experience.

    I think staff isn’t particularly concerned about the mobs of children because the inner reading room — a place I can’t take open stacks material to work — is child-exclusive. Maybe they’d be more sympathetic had I included an observation in the OP about the toddlers drinking from their sippy cups in here … red, sugary, carpet-staining, computer-destroying, bug-attracting punch.

    Phoebe, say hi when you come — and here’s hoping there’s an improved catalog by the time you get here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

  21. Ardis and others, this helps me in setting my expectations for the limited time I am going to have at the CHL next month.

    In defense of the church IT staff, and IT in general….well even though I am involved in IT myself, there is no defense. I recently had my first close look at the new familysearch site, and was amazed to discover the wikipedia features built in. Some well meaning and otherwise clueless distant relative has changed the spelling in Family Search on my family last name from a German to a Polish spelling, for some unknown reason. And I have looked at the microfilms of the original Danish parish records, and verified the correct spelling. Grrrr.

    A good friend of mine, though, left his great paying job at Microsoft a couple of years ago to go to work for the Church in IT for much less money, and I’ll have to admit that he is one of the brightest and hardest working people I know. Hopefully things will get better.

    Comment by kevinf — July 22, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  22. My brief visit to the Archives recently resulted in the feeling of being transfigured. But that was mostly due the company. I was absolutely ecstatic that Brittney and Allen are on full-time, as well.

    Regarding the catalog: not only could I not find several books that I knew to be there on the open stacks, but when I located a manuscript collection on microfilm, the description did not include details about which reels had which volumes! The thing is an atrocity. I ended out scouting around the stacks to find the books.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 22, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  23. I have worked at the new library for two days, so my experience may not be normal. But I got the same reaction from several other researchers during those two days. The first day I spent seven hours searching microfilms. It was pure torture sitting on the chairs which had no ability to move sideways or up and down. I am shortwaisted. I had such a horrendous headache when I left that it stayed with me for three days. The next week when I went, I actually took a pillow to sit on, and that helped. We really, really need chairs there on castors

    The first day, I was sitting between a missionary couple, I believe, who had been on a research project for a long time. The husband finally got up and angled the old microfilm reader to give him more space to put his computer and materials, then he angled my reader and his wife’s reader. That helped a lot, so the second day when I got there, I did the same thing.

    His wife grumbled a lot about the chairs and especially the catalog and said she would go back to the old building in a heartbeat. She told her husband that she had spent twenty minutes on the catalog looking for something (in vain) that she had looked at the day before.

    I thought the new area was going to have electrical outlets on the tables or behind the readers so we could easily plug in our computers. I found out that they were still on the wall, underneath the tables, so I had to do the crawl under the tables thing, with my hind end protruding, to plug in my computer.

    I also knew that the library was more open and that I would need to secure my computer, so I took my security cable the first day. But there is no way to secure it. Instead I did like everyone else and put my computer in the locker everytime I left it. This is a pain if I am working on something and have to shut down the program.

    The first day the room was packed with every microfilm reader being used and people sitting by the tables in the reading room holding their microfilm waiting for a space. The second day it wasn’t so bad. There really does need to be more readers. I thought there were plans for more readers when we moved into the now library, but it seems like there are actually less, which is why they brough over six of the old machines.

    That said, I have had nothing but help from the staff and I appreciate all of their help. Like Ardis, though, I miss the easy access to the historians who were always there to help with suggestions and critiques on our research. We will miss out by not having their ready knowledge on sources for us to use.

    Ardis, I always avoided the toilet where the automatic flush didn’t work, and agree that the manual button needs to be labeled.

    The library is an absolutely beautiful place but I wonder if one reason for the library (doing research) got pushed to the background in favor of having a beautiful facility to show off to the public.

    Comment by Maurine — July 22, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  24. J., Allen and Brittney are among those nearly always available at the reference desk — they take the brunt of complaints from us all over the lack of a functioning catalog, and they have somehow maintained their cheerfulness and helpfulness throughout the month. I don’t know how they do it — hats off to both of them.

    Maurine, your experience with the missionary who angled the microfilm readers is actually the cause of one thing I mentioned in the OP. When he angled the readers and moved his own chair to fit the new arrangement, he blocked access to the next microfilm reader. The woman working there couldn’t put her own chair in front of the screen, so she was leaning sideways and reaching awkwardly for the controls; I can’t imagine what kind of a backache she had when she went home, or whether she would be willing to come a second time. The corner is obviously too tight for the use they’re trying to make of it.

    For clarity’s sake, I point out that the tables in both reading rooms are electrified and there is no trouble plugging in laptops (or even the small electric fan I usually have with me). However, the designers did not allow for patron use of laptops in the microfilm reading area, which is where Maurine was crawling around looking for an outlet. There *are* outlets there, of course, but not within easy reach, and often fully occupied by the plugs of the microfilm machines themselves.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  25. Ardis-

    Have you had trouble getting set up with a guest wireless account? I was at the CHL yesterday and I couldn’t seem to get it to work. The person at the desk tried to walk me through it and she couldn’t get it to work either. It was a bummer.

    Comment by Brandon — July 22, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  26. Thanks for the review of the library. It sounds like there are a number of details still to be worked out. I remember that at some point Amazon expanded its online data searching capabilities in some fashion, and for a while that made too many and varied options come up on searches. But it seems to have been somewhat corrected in the last couple of years.

    Comment by Researcher — July 22, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  27. Brandon, I never have any problem with that, except when they misspell my name (it’s in the computer misspelled so many ways!). I wonder if the one trying to set you up was new to the process. Your calling it a bummer sounds like you weren’t able to get in at all — trying again 20 minutes later when a different missionary was on the desk probably would have worked.

    By the way, a tip for anybody who may want wireless during a full week’s research trip: The system will kick you out 24 hours after a temporary account is created, even if a new temporary account is created the following day. That is, if you set up a wireless account in your name at 10:00 on Monday, and again at 9:00 on Tuesday, you will be kicked out at 10:00 on Tuesday. To get around that problem, I’ve sweet-talked the missionaries into setting up accounts for me as Ardis Monday, Ardis Tuesday, Ardis Wednesday, and so on. Score one patron victory over IT!!

    kevinf, I missed your comment earlier. Maybe I’m laying it on IT a little thick, but somebody has made some bad decisions, and I risk less by offending IT than I risk by offending library staff. :) IT folks work magic. It has to be magic, because I can’t do it! But even the best IT skills don’t make someone an expert at librarianship, or genealogical research, or any other field where technology should be the servant and not the master. Maybe part of the problem is that IT can drag its heels or even refuse to acquiesce to the professional’s request because the professional knows he can’t do the IT work, while the IT man is convinced he can do anybody’s job. (Imagine more smilies here. I can’t bear to use more than one per comment.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  28. Researcher, I’m sure the catalog is pretty high up the priority list. But you scare me with your reference to “… last couple of years.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  29. Ardis, you’ve hit the nail on the head whenever problems with IT come up, which is that the tech types don’t always understand the business or organization process as well as the users, and always default to what works best from the technology angle.

    A big part of my experience has been in what I call the oreo sandwich cookie effect. The users are on one side, with specific business or organization issues to solve, and the tech folks are on the other side, with tools and hardware and software. What I have tried to be is the soft squishy middle, helping translate the business needs into technical problems that IT can work with to solve, and conversely translate the tech talk into language that the business types can understand. Hence, I am given to all sorts of silly analogies, like “Oreo Sandwich Cookie Effect”, or “DNS works like your contact database in your cell phone”, and “PKI is like secret fraternity handshakes”.

    So we need someone who can tell the folks who did the catalog something like “Here’s the Oxford English dictionary. I need a way to look up only the past perfect tense usages of these words (short list) that are derived from French, and exclude any that are also derived from Spanish”. Then maybe they would get a glimpse of what is required.

    Comment by kevinf — July 22, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  30. kevinf, I’m useful to some of my non-Mormon clients because I can translate between English and Mormon — it sounds like that’s what you’re doing between English and TechTalk. If anybody on the library staff happens to see your comment, maybe it will do some good.

    There’s already a model for what the CHL catalog needs: When you use the catalog for most university libraries, and probably other types, too, users almost always have the option to search for hits only in the special collections library, or only in the law school library, or whatever. If there were a filtering option to return hits only from the traditional catalog part of the database, we could still find our books and manuscripts regardless of how much extraneous matter someone wanted to dump into the same database.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

  31. And another illustration of the distractions of working in a tourist zone:

    When 15 tourists are herded through the library by a missionary tour guide, and 13 of those 15 are wearing flip-flops (the other two, naturally, are pushing strollers), the sound is as unpleasant as it is loud. They sound like an auditorium full of MiaMaids all snapping their gum at almost-but-not-quite the same time.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  32. Brandon, two weeks ago I got set up on a guest wireless account. Jay Burrup on the desk had me set up in about two minutes.

    Comment by Maurine — July 22, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  33. I feel the need to sell a kidney in order to finance the trip to visit this Fawlty Towers-esque Library before they correct the faults. It sounds kind of fun just now!

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — July 22, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  34. Good timing, Anne. The group parading through right now appears to be touring from some seniors’ home, with a number of walkers, canes and wheelchairs — and a man in a pink shirt using a blasted cell phone.

    If I were only people watching instead of racing to write some encyclopedia entries, I would probably get a kick out of it too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  35. queuno, at the risk of alienating every church employee everywhere, I point out that your shop can hire IT folks primarily for their skills; your first concern isn’t whether or not they hold temple recommends. Your shop probably also makes technology the servant of whatever business you’re transacting, and isn’t so in awe of technology that the IT folks are the ones setting the agenda (as happened, for instance, when newFamilySearch was designed and the IT guys and gals, not experienced genealogists, got away with forcing genealogists to change their principles and practices to suit the machine, rather than having the machine aid in the genealogists’ work). I’m gonna be banned from the FHL library as well as the CHL now … I just know it …

    I’ve actually interviewed with Church IT … and let’s just say that they have a real problem with recruiting talent (I was embarrassed for the headhunter they were using).

    My company tends to have clients who like technology and actually use technology to change their businesses. It’s not a case of the business or IT being the slave to each other, but a true partnership (where business righteously presides and is willing to change itself when technology is right).

    Any business person who says that business models shouldn’t change to take advantage of the new IT capabilities, doesn’t deserve their IT.

    But at the same time, those changes have to make SENSE.

    (One reason I harp on MLS so much is because it was designed by people who’ve never actually lived in an actual ward with actual people, I claim.)

    But, seriously – a section of my PhD dissertation (neverending) deals with the sort of search problems you describe. You’re not alone. Most search is terrible, and the Library Sciences (in the opinion of an LS relative who is in a position to know) have ruined a lot of good catalogs…

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  36. It seems to me that the Family History Library has a good model – when kids come in, they shuffle them off to a place for kids to do kid things (with their parents in tow) and keep them away from the rest of the building.

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

  37. I’m warning you, I might lob one of your kids through the nearest window if they get too close.

    Ardis rocks! My discipline problems are solved. When my kids get out of line, I’ll bring em to the Church History Library for Ardis to pitch through the window.

    This is a thorough review, but still lacks a discussion of the men’s restroom. No problems of which I could detect with auto flush there, but I was surprised to find only one urinal. I suppose it is an indication of the expectation that the number of visitors will subside once Ardis starts tossing people through the window and those brave enough to stick around will be gentlemanly enough to take turns.

    My only other comment is that I think Ardis was too generous with her grade for the catalog. The only people pleased with it, as far as I could discern, were the tourist throngs who sat down at the terminals after their tour ended and typed in their great aunt Gertrude’s name and were pleasantly surprised with how much material the library collected on their ancestor (never mind that none of it had anything to do with anyone’s ancestor—perception is reality). And, Ardis is not exaggerating about kids playing computer games on the computer terminals. I forgot my laptop one day and politely asked permission to use MS Word on one of the terminals, only to find myself jockeying for position against several pre-teens who seemed to think that researching Church History required getting the high score on electronic pinball.

    The building is beautiful and it speaks loudly of a strong commitment to collecting, preserving, and making available for research the records of the church and its peoples. For me, that message and its implementation in what I perceive as a much more open archive is worth all the transitional oddities. Hallelujah!

    I should add that I’m thrilled that Alan is full time and only hope that the CHL continues to add to its professional staff.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — July 22, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  38. queuno, I’ve long been aware of the absence of children at the FHL, but didn’t know that the library shuffles them off before they have a chance to be bored or take over the computers. Well, then, there’s a very local precedent! Good.

    Paul, I think you’ve cemented my reputation as She Who Eats Babies for Breakfast. That is a lie, as I very seldom eat breakfast. And believe it or not, I do like children … for lunch, with butter.

    Thanks for your review of the men’s room, something I never could have known (maybe Amri, but not me).

    I learned today that the staff have their own restrooms and so could be totally oblivious to the problem I mentioned. I wonder if the automation failure is because the public restroom is the one being used by all those children — maybe they aren’t calibrated to notice anyone the size of a toddler or even a pre-teen. If so, the problem won’t be fixed without signs, because these are all one-time users who won’t be clued into the manual button the way an employee finally clued me in.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  39. Paul, I think you’ve cemented my reputation as She Who Eats Babies for Breakfast. That is a lie, as I very seldom eat breakfast. And believe it or not, I do like children … for lunch, with butter.

    For all of Ardis’s bluster about kids at the library, she is actually a softy. My kids love her. Especially when she plays cards with them or sits down to watch Nacho Libre with them, on Christmas day no less. No babies for breakfast there. She’s just as at ease talking Barbies with my two six year old girls as she is talking Church history with adults. (Sorry to destroy the reputation I just cemented, Ardis, but I do know something of the baby eater’s softer side).

    Comment by Paul Reeve — July 22, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  40. I have nothing to add, however reading this is very interesting and makes me that much more excited for when I finally get to see it. Without my kids. :)

    Comment by Tracy M — July 22, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  41. I can confirm what Paul Reeve says about Ardis and children. I saw her spend most of the day with one child, and she didn’t take a single bite.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 22, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  42. Paul and Mark, now you’re just buttering me up. Tracy, you bring your kids and I’ll slip them cookies and pull faces for them behind your back … outside the library.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  43. queuno, I’ve long been aware of the absence of children at the FHL, but didn’t know that the library shuffles them off before they have a chance to be bored or take over the computers. Well, then, there’s a very local precedent! Good.

    It’s been a couple of years, but I remember that there was an area where they got shuttled to, to work on some activity. (My MIL works at the FHL and took us there a couple of years ago.) Might be worth seeing exactly what it is and recommending that to the staff.

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

  44. Ardis, you’ve hit the nail on the head whenever problems with IT come up, which is that the tech types don’t always understand the business or organization process as well as the users, and always default to what works best from the technology angle.

    Oh yeah, let’s always blame IT. :)

    (I straddle the line between IT and business. And business people can’t set requirements to save their lives. Especially health care business people. “Make it faster!” “Don’t tell me how much it costs, just make it work!” “This cost me HOW much?!”)

    I’d like to force all IT staff to take a business class. And I’d like to force business process owners to take an IT class.

    Comment by queuno — July 22, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

  45. queuno, I love the way your comments always come in pairs, and also the way you’ve brought us back full circle, Seinfeld show-like, to the beginning: “Oh, yeah, blame IT!”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  46. When 15 tourists are herded through the library by a missionary tour guide, and 13 of those 15 are wearing flip-flops (the other two, naturally, are pushing strollers), the sound is as unpleasant as it is loud. They sound like an auditorium full of MiaMaids all snapping their gum at almost-but-not-quite the same time.

    I love that simile.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 22, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

  47. Oh my. Did I miss a discussion about Ardis and children? Besides the fact that my older children would love to have her visit again, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how the small child mentioned in comment 41 took to Ardis, since said one-year-old (now two) doesn’t always care to interact with adults who are not his parents. And I probably shouldn’t embarrass the author of that comment and mention that the same small child seemed to like him a lot as well.

    So this isn’t a total threadjack, I will mention that I would never dream of taking small, mobile, or fussy children with me to do work at a research library. That’s what babysitters are for.

    Comment by Researcher — July 23, 2009 @ 7:21 am

  48. Hey, they don’t call me “Auntie Ardis” for nothing. Just not in the library.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  49. Ardis, I can’t say how disappointed I am to hear about the Catalog. Why they didn’t just license one of the research library products I can’t imagine. They may not be perfect, but any researcher with experience knows exactly how they function, and often knows how to get out of them exactly what they want.

    AND, better still, making those catalogs available on the Internet is easy and a known quantity. When will the CHL catalog make it to the Internet anyway?

    FWIW, Ardis, I’ll be in Utah for the first two weeks of August – so I hope to hit the library one of those days. If you are there, I’ll offer a ride home again. If you aren’t, well, I know where you live… [grin]

    Comment by Kent Larsen — July 23, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  50. Queuno, for every failed IT project, there are unrealistic or poorly defined business requirements plus complementary incorrect IT assumptions and rushed implementations, all magnified by the lack of an adequate budget. I suspect all of these are in play in the current state of the CHL catalog.

    Auntie Ardis, I’ll be in the CHL the week after Sunstone at least one day, so I’ll be sure to say hi, between my loud cell phone calls, solitaire on the computers, and setting up the random child for window ejection. :)

    Comment by kevinf — July 23, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  51. Kent, they’ve intended for quite a while to put the catalog online, since they know it would greatly aid researchers in planning their trips or in knowing what questions to email to librarians. They first wanted to combine what had been separate catalogs for the library (published) and archival (unpublished) materials … which was done recently, and if they hadn’t gone too far, would have made this catalog the one to post online.

    I don’t know when it will make it online, but at this point I suggest that you’re better off waiting for an improved catalog than wanting this one posted.

    kevinf, if you do bring a child, also bring butter. The cafeteria opens at 11:30.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 23, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  52. A friend who wrote to me privately gives permission to post this paragraph:

    “A couple of weeks ago I wandered up there on my lunch hour, mostly to stretch my legs and get out of [the office]. I could not find a computer terminal to use because of all the kids playing games on them. I wandered the aisles of books and thought I’d look something up in the Journal History. Couldn’t find it. When I asked at the desk, a sweet missionary told me it was in the reserved reading room. I commented that was new and she said it had ALWAYS been in the reserved reading room and that I needed to fill out a paper to use it. Told her never mind. After a minute of wandering, I found it on the back wall. When I noticed the new copy machines I asked the young male missionary if the old cards worked in these machines (I still had some money on my old card) he seemed confused. When I showed him my card he, with all certainty, said that card was only used at the FHL. I mentioned that I had used it in March at the Church Library and he told me “you must be confused because we have never used those cards. They are for the Family History Library only.” OOOkkaaaaayy. Then I was looking for something else and must have looked confused (not hard these days) and another sweet missionary materialized out of nowhere and said she had to actually escort me to whatever it was I was looking for. When I told her I was browsing, she said I had to look up whatever I wanted on the computer and then she would “take” me to it. I thought to tell her I was looking for peace and sanity, but thought better of it. Not exactly a good start for me, but then I haven’t had time to do any real work there yet.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 23, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  53. Enjoyed the review, Ardis. I see no one has stepped up to the plate to defend the catalog, which is the most disappointing feature of the new building to me. I have had no problems operating the men’s toilets, however.

    I find the staff (well, about half of the staff) very helpful, and most of the other half are at least friendly.

    I wish they had better microfilm readers for the not-safe-to-photocopy material. Those old, dim readers always put me right to sleep.

    Comment by Gentile in Zion — July 23, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

  54. GiZ (you know I’m going to have to call you “an old GiZzer” from now on, don’t you?) –

    Gossip says that the library/archives pros, who had not toured the new building until all the furniture and equipment was in place, were shocked to see that only six new microfilm readers had been set up. They knew from experience that that wasn’t enough, and knew they had asked for more (a request that the outside “experts” overrode because the Huntington — whose collections are vastly different from ours — only needed six), so they retained some of the old machines to tide us over until more of the new ones could be ordered and shipped.

    Your wish is likely to be granted before many of the others.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2009 @ 6:56 am

  55. And — duh — I hadn’t realized until I read what I just typed that the reason the microfilm corner is so crowded, with no space for laptops or even yellow pads for notetaking, is probably because it was planned for only six machines rather than nine.

    They’re still on the hook for not listening to the experience of the librarians/archivists who knew how many machines have long been in simultaneous use, but maybe it gives the consultants an excuse for not allowing enough space for each individual user.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2009 @ 7:02 am

  56. .Queuno, for every failed IT project, there are unrealistic or poorly defined business requirements plus complementary incorrect IT assumptions and rushed implementations, all magnified by the lack of an adequate budget. I suspect all of these are in play in the current state of the CHL catalog.

    Absolutely. At any rate, I’ll bet that the new CHL catalog *may* have been designed by some BYU grad student. My spies in Provo tell me that many of the science and engineering students are picking up capstone projects from various Church IT projects.

    Comment by queuno — July 24, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  57. queuno, I love the way your comments always come in pairs, and also the way you’ve brought us back full circle, Seinfeld show-like, to the beginning: “Oh, yeah, blame IT!”

    Well, I don’t want to disappoint…

    Comment by queuno — July 24, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  58. It is incredibly hard to type on a laptop while using the old readers.

    One of my favorite little things at the new library was getting a “Church History Library” flash drive for $7.50 in a pinch. Both useful and a souvenir.

    Comment by GiZ — July 24, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

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