A place where beginners can walk in, sit down and start to find their family tree on one of many computers with flat screens in an open, airy room is the result of a remodeling at the Family History Library.
The public is invited to see the remodeled Family History Library during a weeklong open house from Saturday, Jan. 22, to Friday, Jan. 28. At the open house, special family history gifts will be given as individuals visit each floor, assistance in personal research will be provided and 30 classes offered.
Completion of the remodeling project comes at the 110th anniversary of the founding of the library by the Genealogical Society of Utah, the agency that collects records for the Church. Started in 1894 with 300 books, the library now has access to 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 314,000 printed titles on its shelves.
Wayne J. Metcalfe, director of acquisitions, said that each day Church cameras, including about 30 of which that are digital, copy records at the rate of 40,000-50,000 rolls a year, the equivalent of about 70 million pages.
Digital technology is moving the work forward, he said.
"With digital we have better control," said Brother Metcalfe. "We can ensure that the rights of the archive and owner of the copyrights remain intact. It also allows people to have access at the location nearest them instead of having to travel to view the original . . . and go directly to the image."
However, storage of digital information remains an issue. Currently, the information has to be transferred, or migrated, from one form of storage to the next every five years, such as from CD-ROM to DVD.
"When you migrate film from one location to another, you have degradation. When you migrate an electronic record, you have an exact replica.
"The need is becoming great (industry wide) to preserve electronic data over a longer period of time," he said.
He added they are also converting microfilm to digital "to make a significant part of it available for individuals. We have to negotiate with the owners to transfer — whatever we do is based on contractual agreement with the owners."
The library was remodeled to adjust to an explosion in the past decade of genealogical information on the Internet, as well as commercial products to help people organize, research and share their family histories. The library has added more than 200 computers with Internet access and more room for ongoing, free public classes.
"Our guests are always pleased to find that many of the popular pay-per-use genealogy sites on the Web are accessible for free through our Library computers," said Ray Wright, director of the Family History Library.
The library is one of the top 10 tourist attractions for Utah. Nearly a million visitors a year come from all over the world to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
Visitors will also be pleased to find that they no longer need to peruse published family histories at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
Now all 80,000 of the library's published family histories and biographies are on the main floor of the library. An important objective of genealogy service is the preservation of family histories and leaving a legacy for future generations. The library provides vast resources and opportunities to make it easier for patrons to build and share a vital family heritage.
A computer lab with 30 stations to train users on various programs has also been added. There is also a state-of-the-art Sorenson VP-100 Video Phone that makes it possible for deaf researchers throughout the world to have virtual contact with deaf researchers in the library.
Elder Robert Powers and his wife, Sister Virginia Powers, are full-time missionaries available to assist deaf patrons who come into the library and have helped many of them learn more of their family trees. She explained through an interpreter that with the deaf working with the deaf, there is no language barrier.
They explained that hundreds of deaf patrons have visited the library and the number of deaf patrons at the library is growing. "It is a wonderful experience to show them what is available," said Sister Powers, a longtime researcher and former high school teacher. The Powers have enjoyed many experiences helping patrons in the library.
Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for Family and Church History, said that "the improvements made are in the right direction to make the library more user-friendly."
"We are better equipped now to handle both young and old, beginner and advanced researcher. We want our guests, regardless of experience, knowledge, or primary language spoken, to have a good and successful experience when they visit.
"We want them to leave excited about their experience and eager to return again."
Topics of the 30 classes offered during the weeklong open house will appeal to those just getting started as well as advanced researchers. Also, there will be specialty classes for ethnic research, working with children and teenagers, and using the Internet. Visitors can check class offerings and schedules online at familysearch.org for more information. The library is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and Monday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those who want more information can call 801-240-2584.