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  • News from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City: Moving into the Twenty-First Century

    Maryan Egan-Baker

    The first sign that changes were afoot in the Family History Library occurred in December 2000 when copycard machines appeared and change machines vanished. No more carrying large amounts of change in order to make copies of documents. In late spring of 2001, the front doors of the library suddenly opened by themselves - no juggling genealogy materials in order to open the door to the building. At about this time, rumors circulated amongst the regular patrons that major renovations were going to commence. However, no one seemed to be sure exactly what renovations were to be undertaken or when they would begin. The next event to occur was that the reference tables lost several inches in height overnight. In addition, the individual carrels on the north wall of the main floor were removed and the bookshelves extended.

    I decided the best way to find out which of the rumors, if any, were true was to meet with the director of the Family History Library, David E. Rencher. He graciously met with me and confirmed that major renovations were about to begin. He showed me the proposed plans for each floor and discussed with me the major changes to be made. One of his goals was to make the FHL friendlier to physically challenged patrons, hence the automatic front doors and lower reference tables. The renovations officially began on July 6, 2001, and will be complete by the time you read this article.

    On July 9, the main floor looked barren. The tables and chairs had been removed and the entire area curtained off with plastic sheeting. A podium stood in for the reference desk and a few armchairs had been placed so that patrons could study books. The photocopiers had all been moved to floor B1. Work began on floor B2 at the same time. All tables and chairs were removed, along with the microfilm readers and workspaces. New carpeting and cabling for the computer workstations was installed. By early August, computer workstations on the main floor had been installed and some tables and chairs replaced.

    Family history research became even more challenging as the microfilm readers on the second floor disappeared. The readers on B1 and B2, the only ones left available, were at a premium. Microfilm cabinets were reconfigured. One day I went to get a film and three burly young men were just loading the cabinet on a dolly. I followed them and when the cabinet was unloaded retrieved the film. When I returned to replace the film, the cabinet had been moved again. One researcher commented to me that she had used the elevator twenty-one times in one day to retrieve films from the second floor and take them to her reader on B1.

    Changes throughout the FHL include forty new computer workstations on each floor, as well as outlets for laptop use. The configuration of microfilm cabinets, readers, and books is now consistent on all floors. Overflow U.S. and Canada microfilms are no longer housed on B1- they are all on the second floor. The Automated Resource Center has disappeared but the same materials are available on the computer workstations. Special Collections has relocated to B2.

    The second floor census area has been expanded to make room for the 1930 census (scheduled for release in April 2002). Printed census indexes and census reference materials are in the center of that area along with a copier. Copy rooms on all floors are now open; some rooms include a machine that enables the copying of microfilm to a CD-ROM for use at home. Copy machines on the main floor are now in an alcove.

    Research during the renovation turmoil was truly an experience. However, the end result has been more than worth it. The library feels more open and the new configuration encourages research. The Family History Library has moved into the twenty-first century.

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