Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ranking the Brigham Young University Library

By an interesting set of circumstances, my wife and I now find ourselves very much involved in the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library Family History Library in Provo, Utah. I began to wonder about the Library, particularly because I was also frequently visiting the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. For those of you who are not well acquainted with Utah, Salt Lake City is located in the northern part of the state along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains. The Wasatch Mountains run north and south and western edge of the mountains forms a dramatic ridge line called the Wasatch Front. Along this western edge, for about 150 miles, there are a number of valleys which were settled when the Mormon Pioneers entered the area beginning in 1847.

The population of the Salt Lake Valley dominates the area. But the Salt Lake City, UT Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of the smaller communities in the Salt Lake Valley, is ranked as the 48th largest in the nation. Provo, Utah, where I live, is located in Utah Valley, the next larger valley to south of Salt Lake City. For comparison, we moved from the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ Metropolitan Area which is ranked number 12 in the nation. The Provo-Orem, UT Metropolitan Statistical Area is ranked number 93 in the nation. But the Provo area has a larger population than other more prominent towns such as Spokane, Washington and is about the same size as Augusta, Georgia.

From our perspective we moved from the big city to the country. However in Mesa, Arizona where we used to live, we were only about a five to ten minutes' drive from the edge of the city and the open desert. In Provo we live across the street from the National Forest Boundary.

Both the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Brigham Young University Family History Library in Provo, Utah are operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many years now, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has been acknowledged as the largest such facility in the world. The collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources.

As I began to compare the two libraries, I wrote about my opinion that the BYU Family History Library was the second largest family history library in the world. Recently, I read several references that seemed to reinforce that opinion. At number 29, the BYU Harold B. Lee Library is ranked among the top 50 university libraries in the United States by putting it above many other very prominent universities. I found that in 2012, the Harold B. Lee Library had been ranked number three in the nation after Harvard and Columbia in the Princeton Review. The Princeton Review currently ranks the library as number 19 in the nation. I also found that the Harold B. Lee Library had been ranked number 1 in 2004 and number 4 in 2007.

It has become clear to me that I have ended up working in a world class library. But what I found interesting is that in the larger genealogical community and even here in Provo, the BYU Family History Library and the Harold B. Lee Library itself are relatively unknown and vastly underused. It is probably important to point out that the BYU Family History Library is part of the university. It is not a FamilySearch Center or FamilySearch Library. It is maintained, operated and staffed by BYU employees. There are approximately 130 Church Service Missionaries that voluntarily staff the Family History Library in addition to the employees. My wife and I are two of those 130 missionaries. The main objective of the library is to support the student population and we certainly do that. But we also have a definite outreach to the community, state and the world.

One example of the Library's efforts to extend its reach is the current series of online, live webinars. These presentations have been ongoing for some time now and the recorded sessions are being posted regularly to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. One recent video gave a pretty good view of the part of the Library where we work. This overview begins to explain why I maintain that by being part of this world-class library, it enables the Family History Library to be the second largest such facility in the world.


  1. Since I live in KY can you give me some guide on how to find what is available at the BYU library.

    Maybe how to use their card catalog to find Noland or some other surname history books. Or maybe how to find a history of Carter Co KY.

    The names and places are just examples. The question is how do I in KY find out what is there so I could have my daughter go and find it.


    1. The main webpage of the Library has the catalog search. Here is the link. You just put whatever search terms in the blank field.

      I searched and found a number of state histories but not one specifically for Carter County. However, I did find this history online with many others.

      Another option is to search in the Family History Library Catalog on The books in the BYU Library are also listed. The Family History Library lists 207 items under Kentucky history and two books on Carter County history. shows that the Carter County history, 1838-1976 book is available in 30 libraries. The BYU Library and the Family History Library do not necessarily have the same items but in many cases they do. On I found 728 books on Carter County History.