A historical event in its own right, the new 230,000-square-foot Church History Library was dedicated June 20 after four years of construction at its prime downtown location across North Temple Street from the Church Office Building. President Thomas S. Monson presided and offered the dedicatory prayer.
In addition to President Monson, speakers on the program were Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton and Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder.
Attendees filled the entire main level reading rooms and lobby of the new facility, with overflow seating provided in the Conference Center Theater and a transmission over BYU Television.
Music was provided by a chorus of Church History Department staff members directed by Brad Omer and accompanied by Michael F. Moody.
Speaking from the very pulpit he spoke from decades ago as the young bishop of a ward in downtown Salt Lake City, President Monson dedicated the new Church History Library.
In the prayer, he said, "We are gathered here today to dedicate this building housing records which chronicle the history of the Church ... from the time it was organized with six members to the present organization of more than 13 million members."
He said, "In this beautiful structure, we have the legacy of the past, the opportunities of the present and the brightness of the future.
"We are grateful for all those who over these many years have taken seriously the Lord's admonition when he declared, 'Behold there shall be a record kept among you.' Because of such faithful individuals, we now have countless records which occupy this great library, carefully preserved for future generations."
In remarks before the prayer, President Monson noted that a different First Presidency of the Church broke ground for the facility in October 2005 and said President Gordon B. Hinckley and President James E. Faust were very much a part of the decision to build it. He suggested, "Perhaps a loving Heavenly Father has permitted them to be with us on this special day of dedication."
Citing the mandate given by the Lord on the very day of the Church's organization, that a record be kept, President Monson said, "This mandate has been fulfilled and will continue to be honored. From the very beginning, the Church has taken most seriously the guardianship of its history. Many of the historical documents resulting from the labors of countless individuals over the past 179 years are now housed in this very facility."
President Monson said the building houses "the largest collection of its kind in the entire world."
"The Church today is as committed as it ever was to preserving its history and making it available to scholars and to the public," he said.
In 1900, President Monson said, the office of the Church historian had only 10 employees, and today there are 234 in the Church History Department.
Other speakers include:
Elder Russell M. Nelson
Having the new Church History Library available for the storage of priceless records "is an answer to many fervent prayers," said Elder Nelson.
"And to have this collection of sacred scriptures, journals, documents available to members of the Church is a unique resource," he added. "It will bless the lives of generations yet unborn. Here, history, discovery and testimony will converge for the benefit of all."
Elder Nelson said he learned, thanks to records now stored at the new facility, about his great-grandfather Johan Andreas Jensen, a sea captain in Norway. He felt a compelling need as a Christian to call the people of Norway to repentance, including the country's king, an act that landed him in prison. There he met two LDS missionaries six weeks later, when they were put in the same jail for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Moved by their singing of Church hymns, Johan boldly declared that the messages they brought to Norway were true. After his release he was baptized on Feb. 25, 1854.
"His background of travel and learning became his history. His history led to discovery. His discovery led to his testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of His restored gospel," Elder Nelson said.
Records available in the new library reveal that Johan and his wife and children sailed to the United States in 1863, Elder Nelson said. The family included six children, two of whom were twin girls 2 months old. One of the daughters died en route from New York City to Florence, Neb., he said. "The twin that survived grew up to become my dear grandmother Nelson."
"In this great library, many of you will find hidden treasures of knowledge about your own ancestors," Elder Nelson said. "Fascinating and miraculous circumstances may be discovered at the root of your own history to the end that your own testimony and faith will be fortified."
He suggested, "Here in this library we may learn what our ancestors did. Here in this library we may also learn why they did it. Undergirding their actions were powerful roots of testimony."
He added, "Simply stated, these ancestors were determined to follow the Lord Jesus Christ."
Bishop H. David Burton
A great work has been accomplished, Presiding Bishop Burton said in relation to the library. He shared some "human interest stories" attendant to its construction.
Lead design architect Steven Johnson, not a Latter-day Saint and not familiar with Salt Lake City, walked around Church headquarters to feel the spirit of the place the night before his meeting with project personnel. "The next day, he shared his impression that this Church History Library should be oriented toward the Salt Lake Temple, since the temple was the focus of our religion," Bishop Burton recounted. "From that day forward the design architects worked to create vistas to the temple from the entrance, the lobby, the reading rooms, the conference rooms and the executive offices."
A tunnel between the new library and the Church Office Building "had to pass under two sources of water: City Creek, which is housed in a 5-foot-diameter brick conduit built in 1896 and a high-pressure water pipeline that was put in place in 1909," Bishop Burton noted. "There are a number of small springs in the area, and the ground water was mostly under the tunnel excavation, but during the excavation, a wet, circular area appeared about 1 1/2 feet across."
Additional shoring was ordered immediately, he said. "It turned out an adjacent fire hydrant had sprung an underground leak and was saturating the ground, causing the road to begin to drop right on top of the tunnel excavation. Had this not been seen in time, a heavy bus or car would have caused a cave-in. Workers below could have been buried in the cave-in, and possibly, surface people passing by may have been injured. Divine intervention? I think so."
Elder Marlin K. Jensen
"The available facilities for housing the Church's historical collections and work have not always been as grand as those provided by this new library," said Elder Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder, a position stemming back to the very early days of the Church.
"During the Church's early years," he said, "record keeping was done in a variety of places, including the Prophet Joseph Smith's home, his smokehouse where meat was cured, the Kirtland printing office, the Kirtland Temple, an upper room in the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo and a room in the Nauvoo Temple.
"When the Saints were driven from Nauvoo in 1846, the Church Historian and Recorder of that day, Willard Richards, supervised the packing of the existing Church records into two large boxes for the trip west. You can see what two large boxes have become."
Apparently, after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Brother Richards pursued his historian's labors in several temporary locations, Elder Jensen said, including "the Church office," his own home, the Council House and the tithing storehouse.
"Eventually, in 1855, President Brigham Young decided that a new Historian's Office, combined with a private residence for Brother Richards' successor, apostle George A. Smith, would be built on the south side of South Temple opposite the Lion House," Elder Jensen said.
Following its dedication in 1856, the Historian's Office was the location for the work of Church history for the next 61 years.
"By 1917, a new Church Office Building, now named the Church Administration Building, had been built in Salt Lake City at the well-known address of 47 East South Temple," he said. "The work and collections of the Historian's Office had expanded by that time to justify turning the entire third floor … over to historian Anthon H. Lund and his staff. That location remained the center of Church history operations until again, in 1972, a move was made to the East Wing of the newly constructed Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple. The Church History Department did its business in that venue for 37 years ending with its recent move to this new facility a few weeks ago."
Drawing on Old Testament allusion, Elder Jensen said, "Much like the Ark of the Covenant, which was temporarily housed in the tabernacle during Israel's wandering and finally found a more permanent home in Solomon's temple, so now have the treasures of Church history found a welcome resting place here."
Elder Jensen cited a quotation from the Prophet Joseph Smith that "where the true Church is, there will always be a majority of the Saints and the records and history of the Church also."
"However," Elder Jensen said, "far more important than considerations of buildings and facilities is the purpose for which the Lord, at the Church's founding, commanded that there be a record kept. In a word, God wants us to remember. It is a vital part of our worship of Him and His divine Son. This new Church History Library will play a vital role in helping us remember. To this destination, what we might call the mecca of Latter-day Saint history, will flow the people, places and events that make up that history. Here, historical information will be cataloged, preserved and shared with a local as well as a worldwide audience. Technology will enable historical information to flow in and out, reaching from and to the remotest corners of the world."