CALGARY, Alberta — Millions of documents and images in the extensive archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are now more accessible to anyone with a computer and Internet access, according to an announcement made Friday during the 47th annual conference of the Mormon History Association convening for three days in Calgary.
"We are pleased as a Church History Department ... to announce that the Church History Catalog is now online, and it is live, and it has remarkable features and capabilities," said Reid L. Neilson, managing director of the department.
A beta test of the online catalog was announced in May 2011 at the association conference in St. George, Utah. Asked for a show of hands, many in the luncheon audience indicated they had already acquainted themselves with the beta version of the product.
"This warms my heart," Neilson said.
"Isn't it marvelous that before you go to Salt Lake City you can do research and figure out what reference you want to see before you actually get to Salt Lake City?"
A user can now search the database, save it electronically and simply access it upon arrival at the Church History Library, he said.
The new online catalog can be accessed at history.lds.org
He showcased some of the features of the new online catalog, which can link to more than 400,000 pages of digitized documents and images.
With images projected on a screen behind him, he demonstrated how a user could find a catalog record from the Brigham Young office files, for example, then view the early church president's letter books item by item.
"This is the beginning of a massive digitization effort that we're undertaking in the Church History Department to make some of the most important records available to members, historians and scholars all over the world."
He said that particular record is part of the content in a DVD set developed by the department about a decade ago known as the "Selective Collections." Initially costing more than $1,000 to own on DVD, the entire collection has now been put on the Internet via the new online catalog.
Records that can be accessed include journals, record books, letters and correspondence and 19th century books "that will be of great benefit to you as historians and those who are passionate about the Mormon past," Neilson said.
"We've also worked with Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library and the Family History Department, and we are pleased to let you know that we have tens of thousands of family histories that have been digitized and now linked to our library catalog," he said.
The department is also endeavoring, Neilson said, to digitize the most important Mormon periodicals of the 19th century. These include "The Evening and the Morning Star," the entire run of the "Improvement Era," and "The Juvenile Instructor" in conjunction with an Internet archive that provides fully searchable digital scans of the pages of those publications.
Photographs are already available through the catalog. In coming years, Neilson said, many of the photos will be digitized and made available for download and greater access through the catalog.
Neilson noted that the department has created a series of short video vignettes explaining how to use the new online catalog and do such things as saving search results to an "e-shelf" for later research. The videos may be accessed at the following pages:
"How many of you have come to the Church History Department and wished that you could pay someone to digitize the records so you could take them home with you?" Neilson asked. "Now, for a small fee, you can come and talk to our archivists and curators and actually request records. We will digitize them for you. You could take them, use them at your own place of work. We will also put them up on the Church History Library catalog.
The catalog web site features a historic sites tours and introduces new smartphone app that highlights many Mormon historical site markers in the Canadian province of Alberta.
Neilson's address to the conference-goers was part of a luncheon presentation that also featured assistant LDS Church historian Richard E. Turley Jr. and Wayne Crosby, director of global support and training. The two discussed how the church's efforts to collect, preserve and share the Mormon past have been decentralized in recent years, with church history advisers appointed locally to provide formal training.
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