L.A. Family History Library: A much-anticipated reopening
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The Los Angeles Family History Library celebrated a much-anticipated reopening on Nov. 8. Refurbished for the first time since its official opening in 1965, the once-named Los Angeles Family History Center is California's most comprehensive genealogical library and is one of the largest family-search resource centers in the world.
Recognized as one of the flagship facilities for Church family history, the upgraded facility underwent extensive renovation and electronic upgrades in anticipation of its reopening. The new complex is housed in the same building as the refurbished LDS visitors center located on Temple Hill just off the 405 Freeway, boasted by some, as the busiest freeway in America. It is the second major LDS family history resource to reflect the new emphasis on digital access and training spaces. (The first was in Riverton, Utah, opened in June 2010.)
Beginning at 9 a.m. on Nov. 6, an open house of the new facility saw a portion of the more than 600 anxious patrons who had previously inquired as to its ribbon cutting. Historically, 60 percent of patrons who used the library were not members of the Church and long-standing relationships with Polish, Jewish, British and African American groups reveal a telling commitment to the growing popularity of family history.
A marquee awning welcomed visitors into a pristine-tiled foyer displaying artwork and thematic quotes meant to inspire. A focal wall permanently displayed the words of "Roots" author Alex Haley when he said, "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we have come from." This theme resonated with guests of all cultures and religions as a descending stairway and richly paneled elevator carried researchers through double doors that opened to an expansive floor of warm lighting, fresh carpet, glass-enclosed training rooms and scores of individual computers tabled in orderly rows with personal seating.
Beyond the field of the initial 54 illuminated monitors, visitors were led by full-time service missionaries schooled in the how-to of digging into family files. Small groups of guests were shown an efficient use of space where 30,000 volumes of historical books have been thinned to 7,000.
Once filled with antiquated census reports and bulky written histories, visitors learned that many of the previous hard copy materials have been digitized and now made available online. The resulting space has afforded a greater inventory of individual computers, but particularly allowed for the creation of additional conference rooms and well-appointed training rooms.
In the glass enclosed training rooms, visitors were treated to a video presentation that shared the extraordinary capability of the new facility. Seasoned genealogists as well as first-timers were slow to give up their seats as they explored more and more of the possible functions in these specialized rooms while sitting at yet another group of 24 individual computers.
One of the more popular features in the "fish bowl" rooms were two, side by side, 70-inch monitors capable of airing live training sessions on family history from any location wired with teleconferencing capabilities in the world. It was demonstrated how teachers could hold classes with specialized experts in their field without anyone having to travel out of state or, perhaps, out of the country.
Also on the tour was an impressive bank of floor-to-ceiling metallic files where 80,000 combined rolls of microfilm and microfiche are stored. Although the format is somewhat dated, the library knows the value of retaining these records and therefore holds onto the necessary technology to realize the research. In this area of the library, subdued lighting makes it easy for patrons to view the micro-records on one of 18 large desk top film readers specifically maintained for continued use.
Researchers enjoyed plotting their new research strategies, gratefully enumerating how to best utilize the 90 new patron computers, the high speed Internet access, online databases that will help define trends and the evolving ways of accessing data. Members of the Church understand that the Los Angeles Family History Library is helping to "... turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to their fathers ..." (Malachi 4:5, 6).