Idea exchange started

British Public Records Office visits Salt Lake

An idea exchange between the Church's Family History Library and the Public Record Office in London, England, which is the United Kingdom's national archives, is helping both repositories.

Roger Kershaw of United Kingdom's Public Record Office visits Family History Library, hosted by Diane C. Loosle, supervisor of the British Reference Unit.
Roger Kershaw of United Kingdom’s Public Record Office visits Family History Library, hosted by Diane C. Loosle, supervisor of the British Reference Unit. Credit: Photo by John Hart

Roger Kershaw, head of operations of reader information services of the Public Record Office and a group of associates visited the Family History Library the second week in May and were impressed with what they saw.

"The way they manage queues (lines), deal with inquiries, and their self-service systems are very good," he said, noting that the Family History Library has more traffic than the Public Record Office. "We haven't seen any mayhem; we've seen a very good operation that clearly works."

The Public Record Office is among the largest archives in the world with 90 miles of shelves that hold government records back to A.D. 1100, including a broad field of colonial and migration records that are of interest to family historians.

"We wanted to have a look at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City because that is the leader of family history internationally," he said. "We wanted to exchange ideas, observe some similar services here to see if we can take back anything to improve our services."

Included in the aspects of the library he and the others observed is its online services, Its "amount and accuracy are very impressive."

He met with Diane C. Loosle, supervisor of the British Reference Unit, who said that the Family History Library will in turn learn from their British associates about patron services, reference operations, cataloging and gain a more thorough understanding of their records.

"Some of the library staff will go over and spend some time with them and learn about their systems," she said. "They hold many of the records that are important to us. Other than the United States' national archives, we likely have more records here from the Public Record Office than from any other archive."

Both libraries are busy microfilming, said Mr. Kershaw.

"We do microfilming on that to which patrons want easy access. We just finished microfilming information on the World War I soldiers; the burned records [those with charred edges] that just came to light six years ago. Only two-thirds of the records survived the bombing so it is a crucial preservation effort as well as for accessibility."

He said that the Public Record Office has an online catalog with descriptions of all its records, and they are currently enhancing the descriptions. The website address is

He said the relationship with the Family History Library began some 20 years ago but was catalyzed when he and others visited it last year and saw the library for the first time.

Other visitors in the exchange from the Public Record Office are Helen Campbell, contact center manager; Stella Colwell, local and family history specialist; and Lee Oliver, family records center manager.