During the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the news media discovered the Church's Family History Library, and left a lasting impact.
Members of the news media found time between Olympic events to visit the library, and shared with their audiences not only its vast resources but also the Church's focus on the family. Many members of the media who came with curiosities about the families of the region returned home with a better understanding of their own families.
As of the one-year anniversary of the Games, the average number of media and VIP groups who tour the facility has doubled. The number of patrons who come to the downtown building has increased modestly, but the library's Internet site, with its added census and vital records, has increased significantly.
"The media that came before and during the Olympics were very impressed with the facilities here," said Craig Foster, research specialist for public affairs at the library. "Their coverage will put the Church in a better light; we will become more known as a Church that is very much family oriented."
Even though the media traffic continues through the library, no month before or since matched February 2002 when 71 media groups with 152 people visited the library. The following month, for example, the number of media groups visiting the library dropped to two groups. Now, it averages about a dozen.
Nationalities of those members of the media included Greece, Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, France, Republic of Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Korea, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and Slovenia.
More dignitaries also visit the library now, and the staff has kept busy preparing family histories for such people as President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, newsman Tom Brokaw, and German President Johannes Rau and his wife, Christina Rau.
The impact of the media on individual patrons and VIP visitors who come through Church hosting is "very subtle" and difficult to track, said Elaine Hasleton, supervisor of library public affairs, explaining that they don't ask visitors why they come.
Tab Thompson, also a research specialist for public affairs, said visitors are assisted in their various quests in whatever ways the staff can help. Many become so captivated in their family search they stay extra days. Characteristically, VIP visitors overstay their allotted time. "We get them in here and they are on a tight schedule and we can't pry them loose; they want to stay."
Those from other lands find materials in their own languages and helpers who can communicate with them, which creates a sense of home as well as of family.
"The language background that people have here in Salt Lake and in the Family History Library seems to break down the preconceptions of the people," said Brother Thompson.
Stephen Barthel, research specialist for public affairs, noted that while the Olympics brought a spotlight to the library, family history doesn't need a boost from sports: it was and is a popular topic.
"News crews and magazine reporters visited the library in larger numbers at least a year before the Olympics," he said. "I asked them if their visit was in relation to the upcoming Olympics and they replied that they were here because of the popularity of family history in their countries."
He said the availability of microfilmed records at the library and the Church's 3,900 local family history centers worldwide, and the Internet have fostered an interest in family research.
"These records are becoming available, and the media are wondering why. So they come here and ask us and do their stories here," he said. "And it is giving a new focus on the Church, where the focus really ought to belong, and that's on the family and how important the family unit is. This is something we all have in common."
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