New LDS Church History Library Rises in Downtown Salt Lake City

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By Kim Woodbury, Family and Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Utah Libraries News, January 2008

An impressive new library is under construction in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah—the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The library is not scheduled to open until the summer of 2009, but here’s a sneak peek into this state-of-the-art building.

The LDS Church preserves materials chronicling its history from humble beginnings in upstate New York in 1830 to the present day with 13 million members around the world. The Church History Library will make it easier for the public to access those historical materials. The new building will also provide much-needed storage space, according to Brent Thompson, the director of Records Preservation for the Family and Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The space we currently occupy wasn’t designed as an archival storage space,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t have fire protection; it doesn’t have seismic protection; and it doesn’t have adequate temperature, humidity, and air quality control. We have also outgrown the space, both from a staff perspective and more importantly, from a records perspective. The new building will provide solutions to these problems.”

The new 230,000-square-foot library will have two types of archival storage rooms. The 10 main storage rooms will be kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit with 35 percent relative humidity. There will also be two special rooms that will be kept at minus four degrees Fahrenheit for color motion picture films, photographs, and records of special significance.

The collections that will be housed in the new facility include 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers; 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records (journals, diaries, correspondence, minutes, etc.); 23,000 audiovisual materials; and 13,000 collections of photographs. Some of these items will be available in an open stacks reading room, while others will be located in archival storage rooms and delivered to patrons for use in a secure reading room.

The Church is committed to making its historical materials more accessible, Steven Olsen, associate managing director over Church History, said. “There will be hundreds of thousands of records available to the public upon request,” he continued. “There will be some things that are not accessible to the general public. We respect the sacred, private, or confidential nature of many of the records we hold, but we are committed to making appropriate records accessible.”

When the Church History Library opens in 2009, patrons will notice several improvements, including extended hours of operation and current technology, such as wireless connections. Such features will enhance the experience of all customers, including those in remote locations, according to Christine Cox, the director of Church History Customer Services. Cox hopes that the building’s inviting atmosphere will be welcoming to people of all faiths and levels of historical expertise. The current library serves about 13,000 people a year, but the staff is preparing for increased public interest after the new building opens in 2009.

“We are creating educational and training programs which will orient customers and help them understand what services are available, provide consultation services for researchers, and provide educational events to help customers understand more about Church history,” Cox said. “We want to connect people to Church history.”

In addition to the public areas and storage space, the building will have areas for conservation, collections development, and research. The Church’s conservation efforts involve 300 to 500 books and documents and 3,000 to 4,000 audiovisual recordings every year. Collections development employees and missionaries acquire and catalog 500 to 700 new collections annually, including 6,000 publications. Other staff members housed in the new building will be responsible for publications, historic sites, and Web content.

The ultimate purpose of the new building is to preserve the history of the LDS Church and make that history accessible to the public. “The Church in its foundational documents has a huge commitment to preserving history and to making history useful for members and others interested in learning about its history,” Steven Olsen said, adding that the Church History Library will help The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints better fulfill that commitment.