The opening of the Church History Library (I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop calling them the Archives) is now old news in internet time. And though I had a quick visit earlier this summer, I recently spent a few days – my first concerted research – in the new building.
Entering and standing in the vaulted lobby, I whispered to myself, “this is a temple.” The bronze replicas of the Hawaiian friezes on the wall only reinforce the feeling. At the end of the long hallway, above the door in cool serif text: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.” Beyond the doorway veil lay the fruits of this commandment, the embarrassment of historical wealth.
I don’t think we realize how blessed we are that our people not only had the prescience to document their lives, but that we also have the means and volition to preserve them. I have lately been digging in the records of eighteenth century American minority churches, and have found the overwhelming volume of our records – sufficient to drown the casual researcher – a welcome alternative to the sparse desert of these other early groups.
I view my time in the archives as a gift. While I am grateful to have worked in the old and more cozy location in the Church Office Building, I also greatly appreciate the new dedicated space. I was delighted to find the digital catalog much improved over the version available during my earlier trip (one of the biggest kinks in the huge opening effort, I think). The archive staff were very helpful and my limited time was extraordinarily productive.
If you actively follow Mormon history, it is also a fun place, as you will invariably see people whose work you’ve read and friends. The proximity of the Joseph Smith Papers staff and other Church researchers is also fun. Stand in the lobby long enough and you will find someone you’ve wanted to meet.
I don’t know what the future of history and the Church will be. I do know that I will tell my children that I was here at this time with these people.