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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Unique Genealogical Highlights of the Brigham Young University Family History Library -- Part Two

Large libraries, such as the Harold B. Lee Library (the Lee Library) at the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, share the same challenges for researchers. The Library's collections are spread over the huge physical area of the Library. The BYU Family History Library is not part of, although both organizations are sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the BYU Family History Library is not an integral part of, the two organization cooperate closely. The volunteers who serve the patrons in the BYU Family History Library are Church Service Missionaries for the Church and are designated as Family History Missionaries. There are also a small number of people who are volunteers and are not also missionaries. Because the BYU Family History Library is part of the Harold B. Lee Library, the Director of the BYU Family History Library and the staff are paid employees of the University. The Director is a University Professor.

It is important to understand these relationships when doing research in the Library because of scheduling issues and the type of support available to researchers at any given time. For example, the volunteer missionary support staff serve each week divided into 16 separate, usually, five-hour shifts. While you are doing research in the Library, the support staff will be changing every few hours. In addition, the Lee Library has very extended hours, normally from around 7:00 a.m. until midnight six days a week. The main Lee Library is closed on Sundays but the BYU Family History Library is open on the second and fourth Sundays of each month except for holidays and school schedules. Let's just say that the schedule of the Library is very complicated and even the staff and missionaries can get confused sometimes. For this reason, it is very important to check the Library schedule online before planning a visit. Finding the schedule on the Lee Library's website is usually a challenge. Here is the link and if you are going to the Library, the best way to find the schedule is to do a Google search for it.

Here is a sample of a current Library schedule.

You might notice a few anomalies such as the Lee Library opens on Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. rather than 7:00 a.m. The BYU Family History Library is open during the general operating hours of the Lee Library, but the volunteer/missionaries are only there from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays and as I mentioned, the BYU Family History Library is open on the 2nd and 4th Sundays for classes except when it isn't.

REMEMBER: The Library schedule will change for holidays, the school academic calendar and other scheduled activities. For example, during the summer, BYU hosts a number of huge seminar activities such as Education Week and the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. These events and many others may alter the schedule of the Library including the BYU Family History Library.

If you are looking for specific help with your genealogical research, it is also a good idea to contact the BYU Family History Library in advance and see if there is someone who will be available to help with your particular needs. There are a large number of country and area specialists who can help you with your research but because of the schedule of the Library, they may not be on any one particular shift. In some cases, you can make an appointment to meet with a specialist.

By the way, the Library is not at all unique in having such a complex schedule. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah also has a complex schedule and expert help also depends on that schedule and the availability of any one individual. In my experience, having worked in and with many libraries, a researcher will face exactly the same issues in every library.

The next challenge for researchers is to determine the availability, content, and location of the Library's collections. The main entry to the collections is the Library Catalog. The Lee Library Catalog is online and contains almost all of the Library's collections and resources. I say "almost all" because, in any library, there are always resources that are not fully cataloged. There is no substitute for "poking around" in the Library's collections and looking for additional resources depending on access and availability. It is also a good idea to ask a lot of questions and find the people who have the experience. In my experience with libraries around the U.S., I have been told that certain items I requested were not in a library only to find out that they actually were there all the time.

Now, because the BYU Family History Libary is part of the larger Lee Library, not all of the family history or genealogy related materials are located in the family history part of the Library. In fact, pertinent research materials are scattered across most the collections of the Library and could be on any floor and in any section of the Library. In essence, when you go to the BYU Family History Library, you are really working with the entire BYU library system. It is also a good idea to realize that the Library is physically really big and has multiple floor levels. You might end up doing a significant amount of walking to find all of the pertinent materials.

Even before you go to any large library, you should become very well acquainted with the library's catalog. Spend some time looking up possible research topics but always keep in mind that there may be more resources in the library than you can easily find in the catalog. If you find one item of interest in the catalog, it is a good idea to search the physical area around where that item is located for additional items. The Lee Library catalog has a feature incorporated in the online catalog that allows the researcher to do a "virtual" search of the shelves around any item found. Here is a screenshot showing the virtual shelf feature. The feature is called "Browse nearby items."

I searched for "Grayson County Texas History" and then clicked on the "Browse nearby items" feature. Here is a screenshot of my initial search with an arrow pointing to the browse link.

The browse feature lets you search up and down to see adjacent items. In this case, I see several other interesting items. When you go to the physical shelves, you can then see the actual items.

In my next installment, I will begin to explore some of the unique genealogical resources found the in the Library.

The previous post in this series.

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