|By Tom Rolfe from Bristol, England - Microform Readers, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19443497|
Since I began my genealogical investigations more than 33 years ago, microfilm has been an integral part of my research. I spent days and days in partial darkness hunched over a microfilm reader. One of the biggest obstacles to efficient research was the need to hand copy entries. When I first began visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, much of the space in the Library was covered by a forest of microfilm readers. Since that time, the microfilm readers have been displaced by hundreds of computers.
Sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, microfilming by the Genealogical Society of Utah, the predecessor to FamilySearch, began in 1938. Over the years, FamilySearch accumulated over 3.5 billion images on 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, now stored in a large tunnel carved into the side of Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City, Utah known as the Granite Vault. For some years now, FamilySearch has been involved in digitizing the entire collection of microfilmed genealogical records and making digital copies of the records available on the FamilySearch.org website. Initial predictions for the time it would take to completely digitize this immense collection of valuable genealogical records were initially very far off in the future. At a the recent Brigham Young University Conference on Family History and Genealogy, the keynote speaker, CEO of FamilySearch, Steve Rockwood was quoted as saying that completion of the project was only about three years away. See "Turning the Model Upside Down #BYUgen #BYUFHGC."
I mentioned this goal in a class I taught recently and one of the class members asked if this meant the end to ordering microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had to say that, yes, if all of the microfilm in the Granite Vault is digitized and online, the need to order microfilm will essentially end. Now, the microfilm will not just disappear, but without the need to order the microfilm to view the images, there will also be no need for the microfilm readers now located in thousands of Family History Centers across the world. Virtually overnight, the microfilm reader could be almost extinct.
However, the impact on the genealogical community of this total transition from microfilm to digital images will be even greater than a mere change in viewing methods. Presently, if I find the need to order a roll of microfilm, I must wait at least a week or two for the order to arrive at the BYU Library. This entire process creates a boxcar effect in my research. I find myself research in fits and starts. Of course, the biggest factor is I can only access the microfilm when I have access to a microfilm reader. Even with an electronic, digital reader, I am still tied to doing my research in the Library. This brings up an important question, if all of the microfilm and most of the books in the Salt Lake Family History Library are digitized and available online, what then becomes the function of the Library? Why would I need to get on a train and ride to Salt Lake or drive up the freeway?
What is an even more important question is what impact will having all this information readily available have on genealogical research in general? I have decided to explore this issue in a series of posts about the "Dawn of the New Genealogical Information Age." But if you are presently using a Family History Center to research FamilySearch microfilmed records of if you are a Family History Center Director or volunteer, you might just start to discuss your functions after microfilm orders disappear.