Millions of church records will soon have their own specifically designed, state-of-the-art space that will be more user-friendly and records-friendly when the new Church History Library is completed next summer.
Brent Thompson, director of records preservation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the east wing of the Church Office Building, where the library currently resides, wasn't intended to be a library when the building was designed, so the space hasn't been optimal for the library's purposes.
"It really wasn't designed for the kind of functions that a library needs to perform," Thompson said.
Which is why the new five-story building at the corner of Main Street and North Temple in Salt Lake City will better serve patrons when construction is completed in 2009.
The east wing, originally designed to be a missionary training center when plans for the Church Office Building were drawn, was later designated to serve as the home of the library, which had previously been in the Church Administration Building, also on the downtown campus.
Thompson said the new building will serve two main purposes: to "provide a better customer experience than they have today" and "to preserve the records of the church in perpetuity.
"And so we're looking to construct a state-of-the-art archival storage facility that can achieve that purpose," Thompson said.
Christine Cox, director of church history customer services, said the "tricky" thing about the two-fold mission for the new library is that the goals are in some ways contradictory.
"We have these two conflicting philosophies, one to use and one to preserve," she said. The very nature of making the primary source material they're trying to protect available to the public can damage the records in the process.
Having multiple copies of records is one solution, but for those records that have yet to be copied, patrons will be able to request them and view them in an "inner reading room," which will be guarded by security.
The new building will house some 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers and other published items; 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records (journals, diaries, correspondence, minutes); 23,000 audiovisual items; 13,000 collections of photographs; and 3.5 million patriarchal blessings for church members. Most of the records will be available to the public, though some, like in all archives, will be restricted, Thompson said.
It will serve as an archive for records that have been spread throughout church-owned facilities, including some stored at the Granite Mountain Records Vault and the Tabernacle.
"We currently have some color motion picture film and some other materials at the Granite Mountain Records Vault that we will be moving to the Church History Library in order to improve their storage environment," Thompson said.
About half of the building's 230,000 square feet will be devoted to storage, including two rooms that will be kept at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve those records including color motion picture film and papers for 500 or more years.
Referred to as "deep storage," the records in those archival rooms won't be accessed frequently because "when you place something at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit, the principle is you aren't going to retrieve it very often," Thompson said. When they do need to be retrieved, though, employees will don "lots of cold weather gear," which will be on site, he said.
"We certainly have records that go back to the very beginnings of the church," Thompson said. "We have some of Joseph Smith's early revelations; some of Joseph Smith's early journal entries. We have patriarchal blessings which were given by Joseph Smith Sr., who was the first patriarch of the church."
Cox has conducted focus groups with library customers to help determine which records would be most useful to have on the open shelves on the main floor of the library.
The archival facilities will be state-of-the-art, with Thompson and others having researched archives worldwide for years to select the best fit. He said teams have visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; the British National Archives in London; the California State Archives in Sacramento, Calif.; The Ohio State University archives in Columbus, Ohio; and the Netherlands National Archives.
"We tried to learn from their experiences and we tried to come up with something that would meet our requirements," Thompson said.
The process of moving materials from their current location to the new building will take about a month and will be done with great care, Thompson said. Professional movers will take the records from the office building via tunnels under Main Street. Each item will have a bar code assigned to it and will be "wanded" as it leaves the old library and "wanded" when it gets to the other side.
"Moving materials safely and moving materials without losing anything in the process is very, very important," Thompson said.
Plans for the building have been in the works for more than 10 years, with the project originally getting approval from President Gordon B. Hinckley.
"It was a decision that was made by President Hinckley that this was something that the church was going to do," Thompson said. He noted that many people have been instrumental in its construction, including Presiding Bishop H. David Burton and Elder Marlin K. Jensen, church historian and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
"The new Church History Library will be a welcome resource for those who wish to learn more about Latter-day Saint history," Elder Jensen said in a press release. "Scholars, church members and other researchers will enjoy expanded, more comfortable research facilities and enhanced access to our collections."
Because it will be separate from the Church Office Building, the new Church History Library will have extended hours instead of the business hours it currently maintains, and its more prominent location will make it more accessible to interested patrons.
Last year the library served a total of about 39,000 people, most via phone or e-mail, with about 9,400 people coming into the actual library.
No new staff will be hired, but the library will have a lot more room than it does now."Our physical layout will be a lot more inviting," Cox said. "It will look better. ... It will function better."