From the earliest days of the Church the Lord commanded that there should be “a record kept among you,” and the Prophet Joseph took this commandment seriously. He was careful to have all of the revelations transcribed and copied so that none would be lost. The Church has come a long way since those early 1830’s. In a new season of preservation and archiving, the Church has built a state-of-the-art library where its precious records will be kept and made available for historians and researchers.
Members of the media were invited to tour the new Church History Library, prior to the open house for the public on June 12th and 13th. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian, Richard E. Turley Jr., and others were on hand to show rare Church artifacts, lead the tour, and answer questions.
Ground was broken for the building four years ago. It will be dedicated on Saturday, June 20th, and open to the public June 22nd. The building is designed to last at least 30 years, and with advances in technology it may last many more. It is the first time the Church has had a building dedicated to the preservation of its records. Moving all the records from the Church office building was likened to “moving the 5th army”. A two year process of software to bar code and track every item culminated in a 19 day physical move, with every item scanned as it left its old location and scanned as it arrived at the Library, with no items lost.
Several items were presented to the media, including an original 1830 copy of the Book of Mormon, an original 1835 hymnal that belonged to Sally Phelps, wife of W.W. Phelps, with her name embossed on the cover, a copy of the Book of Mormon published in both French and German on facing pages that dates to the 1860’s, scrapbooks from Ezra Taft Benson and David O. McKay, and modern items such as an annual stake history from Brazil, the newly translated Spanish Bible.
After viewing a video about the new library, the media toured the library facilities. The facilities include audio visual preservation, with recordings in every kind of media since the earliest wax recordings, and the equipment to play back and make copies of them.
The record center receives paper records from around the world, decides what is significant to keep, and moves those records (about 5% of the total) into the main collections.
Multiple backup systems ensure that everything will be kept at the optimum temperature and humidity. The building is in the process of receiving LEEDs certification, meaning that it meets high standards for energy usage, water usage, use of recycled materials and other green building standards.
The building also houses a state of the art conservation laboratory, which can reconstruct and rebuild items that have degraded, such as acetate negatives, and then can be used to produce copies of photos again. It’s on the top floor with large windows facing north, for the best light without glare for color matching purposes. Digital media also needs to be replaced over time. So all materials are continually being renewed, migrating the media from one format to another, every 3-5 years.
At the end of the tour, a large reading room has been filled with glass cases containing old, rare and otherwise interesting artifacts for viewing. A few are shown below:
At the end of the tour, several Church representatives held a question and answer session, and were available for individual interviews. Elder Jensen talked about the difference between source and secondary documents, such as books written by historians, who researched through the original source documents to pull together the stories in their books. Many of the materials at the Library are source documents, which don’t necessarily appeal to the average patron but do appeal to historians. For example, David McCullough is a prominent historian and author who recently visited. He said, “Oh I would love to do work here, I love documents.”
The new Church History Library follows in the footsteps of the prophets and record keepers to whom we are indebted for our scriptures. I close with a picture of one of these, from the lobby of the Library: