While doors to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City were closed to the public for nearly 16 months due to COVID-19, construction crews were hard at work executing a remodeling.
Lynn Turner, assistant director of the Family History Library, was one of many FamilySearch employees, missionaries and volunteers anxious to show off the renovations when doors reopened to the public on Tuesday, July 6.
“I’m really excited to show people the changes that have happened, not only physically but also in the guest interaction changes that we’ve made,” said Turner as he finished giving a tour of the newly renovated building on June 30. “And then just seeing people again. These tables will be full, and people will be smiling from ear to ear and just having a good time.”
Turner’s prediction proved true as more than 600 guests filled the tables and computer workstations throughout the day on July 6. More than 50 people were lined up outside the library before doors opened at 9 a.m.
The Family History Library, which attracts about 400,000 visitors a year, had not gone through a major renovation since 2002, Turner explained. The new changes were primarily designed to make the library’s services more accessible.
“We wanted consistency on the floors. We wanted lights on, a more welcoming environment, newer technology,” he said.
David Rencher, director of the Family History Library and FamilySearch’s chief genealogical officer, said in a FamilySearch news release, “Guests will return to an environment that will significantly improve discovery and research experiences.”
Here are six things Turner pointed out that guests can look for as the library begins its phased reopening.
1. Some floor arrangements are different.
The main floor is still home to interactive discovery experiences and guest services. And floors 2 and 3 — the top two floors of the library — are still devoted to United States and Canada research materials. Microfilms are on the second floor and books on the third.
Floors B1 and B2 — the lower two floors — have been renovated to mirror the top floors. International microfilms can be found on B1 and international books on B2. Quiet spaces enclosed in glass walls will be constructed on B1 and B2 behind the reference desk.
Reference desks on all floors are now located close to the elevators. “The reference desk should be the first thing you see when you come off the floor,” Turner said.
The library’s map collections are consolidated into a new global map area on B1 in all new cabinetry. A new media conversion area on floor 3 allows guests to convert slides, photos, VHS and 8mm film to digital formats themselves, rather than having FamilySearch personnel do it for them.
2. Workstations are updated.
Computer workstations now have two or three monitors as well as adjustable desks, so guests can sit or stand at a convenient height while using them. Workstations also better accommodate guests with ADA needs.
A guest who brings his or her own laptop can now plug in to any workstation. Flat table space has been expanded with more charging stations.
Many workstations also have an up-to-date microfilm reader and scanner so guests can examine books and microfilm and make digital copies without having to go to a designated scan or copy area. Photocopies used to cost 5 cents per page — now they are free, Turner said.
The Family History Library has big scanners available for guests to use as well. “I think we had four [big] scanners total in the building before, and now we’ll have 12,” he said.
Turner also highlighted a new guest experience on each of the library’s computers that makes it easy to get help anywhere in the library with a simple click of a button. A staff member or volunteer will come directly to their workstation to answer their questions.
3. Lighting is better.
Guests will likely notice library spaces are better lit as more lights have been turned on throughout the building. Dark corridors once needed for microfilm reading are gone. A room on each microfilm floor still holds a variety of traditional microfilm readers with low lighting for those who prefer that experience.
4. The break room is being expanded.
The guest break room on the main floor by the interactive discovery experiences is being expanded and improved to better accommodate groups and families. “They’re going to have seating for about 75 people at a time,” Turner said.
The room will include a small kitchenette and ice machine. Though open to all guests, it will also be available to be reserved when needed. It is expected to be done in mid-August.
5. New books and bookshelves have been added.
New bookshelves have been added to make the more than 515,000 books available at the library more accessible. More than 100,000 additional books are available online on FamilySearch.org.
The Family History Library regularly receives book donations. About 50,000 books were donated to the library during COVID-19, mostly by facilities that were closing. “These will be made available as they are processed and cataloged,” Turner said.
6. Restrooms are being renovated.
The restrooms on the main floor, including a family restroom and mother’s lounge, were renovated and now meet ADA requirements. All other restrooms in the building are slated for renovation in 2022, Turner said.
What if I can’t make it to the Family History Library?
Initially, the Family History Library will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with plans to extend additional days and hours in coming months. Sanitizing stations are located throughout the library, and cleaning procedures are also in place. No appointment is necessary to visit the library.
For those who can’t visit the library in person, many of the library’s resources are available remotely.
In June 2020, the Family History Library began offering 20-minute virtual consultations with genealogy experts in English, Spanish and Chinese. More than 10,000 consultations have happened since then, Turner said.
A library lookup service is also available for accessing library materials remotely. More than 2,500 record lookups have been performed since launching the service on May 24.
Get assistance from volunteers worldwide in FamilySearch Communities online and check out the library’s free online classes and webinars. New selections are offered and recorded weekly and made available on-demand.
Go to the Family History Library’s webpage for more remote services and the most up-to-date information about hours of operation.