This past week, I spent the entire week at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. During my time in the Library, I was able to view a few of the more obvious changes and get an idea of what I think might happen in the future with this Library and many others. I first need to say, that a visit to the Family History Library is a fabulous experience for any genealogists. I love to go to the library and spend time doing research.
The most obvious change that I observe is the increased number of computer stations. Many of the areas in the library that formerly were used for microfilm readers for example, have been converted to individual computer carrels. It also seems to me that there are many more volunteers and even some younger full-time missionaries than there used to be. The volunteers are easily identified by the badges they wear and the full-time younger missionaries all wear dark suits with badges. I also noticed that the signage in the Library had been updated with large "FamilySearch" signs with the new logo.
The first floor of the library, used to have a large area of books. The books on the 1st floor (main floor) is now mostly computer carrels. There are two large recording booths for doing oral histories and a play area for children. I did not observe either being used during the week I was there, but I spent most of my time on the 3rd floor where the U.S. books are located. My wife spent her time doing research on the B1 International area.
I have heard several comments about the fact that many of the long-time employed consultants were let go. This is obvious on the floors that have been converted to the new "open seating" layout. The professional consultants used to be available at a walk-up desk. Now, there is a reception desk and some couches. You "make an appointment" with the remaining consultants and are given a restaurant-style beeper or flasher, that tells you when your consultant is available. The consultants are free to go anywhere in the Library with the patrons which is an advantage. But they do not spend much of their downtime out on the floor.
Our experience with the staff of volunteers and missionaries was mixed. I had a problem connecting to the WiFi and sought help from the staff. Two young missionaries came to help, but did not seem to know why the problem was occurring or how to fix it. I finally worked out the problem myself after their suggestions did not work. It turned out that in the morning the link with the WiFi was extremely slow in connecting. All you had to do was wait about five minutes and it would finally connect.
I had spotty reports of help from the staff including both volunteers and missionaries. As I have related in a previous post, the patrons I was helping were given wrong information in two instances and told that resources were not available when they were available. My wife, working on another floor, got very good help in Swedish Research. I had a question about a Norwegian translation and could not find anyone who could help. I finally found the answer myself in the reference books. I might mention that it is normal for me that if I have a question, I usually end up answering my own questions, so that did not surprise me. I had another experience with a patron's question about a reference book and none of the available staff seemed to know where the books were located or how to find the particular books requested. I ended up finding the books for the patron myself.
One thing that quickly becomes obvious when dealing with researchers is that they should do their "homework" before coming to the Library. It is a good idea to be aware exactly what is online and what is not. The main reason for this is that books and microfilms that are digitized and online are not usually available any longer on the shelves. Many of the researchers I talked to, could have found the information they were seeking on their own computers at home. But there were valuable resources in the Library that they did not find because they were unaware of how to find them.
If you look on the Family History Expos website, you will see that Holly Hansen, Arlene Eakle and others are going to conduct a whole series of onsite research retreats at the Family History Library. These retreats give the participants the opportunity to experience the Library first hand. While I was helping with the attendees this past week, I found that Holly Hansen, Arlene Eakle, Sharon Monson and I could answer nearly all the questions that were unanswered by the staff of the Library. There is a distinct advantage to coming to the Library in a formal, organized research visit.
I will have more comments on the future of libraries and especially family history collections in the future.