Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Family History Library Cuts Reference Staffing Hours

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah[This was new news back in September, but I think the information is still current. Sorry about taking so long to report this important story.]

Back in September a user posted this complaint on the FamilySearch GetSatisfaction forum:

Kent Jaffa 3 months ago

Dissatisfied - No Main Library consultants availabile in evenings and Saturdays

I am very displeased that the main library will no longer have consultants after 7 pm and on Saturdays. It is sad to have such a nice facility and not have expertise available to answer difficult questions for which the missionaries are not trained to handle.

Please change this policy.

I asked for an official statement on the matter from Paul Nauta, FamilySearch spokesperson. The statement says that the library is employing a new patron service model. Some research consultants have been allocated to “providing enhanced patron services to family history centers throughout North America, Latin America, and Internationally.” As part of the new model, the library has examined library usage and changed staffing accordingly. “The staff change [decrease] only effects 14 hours of the 60 hours we are open each week.  Also, during the 46 peak Library hours, more research consultant staff members are out helping patrons than ever before.”

In a subsequent post, Jaffa verified this to be the case. “While the number of consultants was reduced, the number of on-duty consultants during the daytime has been increased,” he said.

The statement also points out the large number of capable volunteers helping in the library. “There is a common misconception that only research consultants can offer assistance.  Many of our missionaries and community volunteers are accredited and expert in their fields of research.”

Jaffa, in yet another post, said, “While in general the missionary/volunteers are great at handling the easy to intermediate difficult questions and have made and continue to make a significant contribution to helping patrons, they are no[t] a replacement for the staff.” He said, “I know of only one or two volunteers/missionaries that are accredited on the British floor and I am pretty sure that neither of these work during the hours where consultants will no longer be available.”

As I say, there may have been changes since I received this statement back in September. The statement says, “The change has only been in effect for a few days, so we ask for your patience and understanding as we implement and refine the new patron service model.”

The statement closes by saying,

The Family History Library is open more hours, provides more computers, printing options, and professional help than any other genealogical library, society, or archive in the world.  We remain committed to providing all of these services free of charge to patrons from all over the world.

From my experience, that is certainly the case. When I visit court houses, libraries, and archives, I fully expect them to be closed evenings, weekends, and one or two weekdays. Always check beforehand before travelling a long distance to visit one. At the National Archives (NARA) in Washington, D.C., one limitation is that the staff that retrieves items from archive shelves works only during the workday. However, you can continue to use the items into evening hours and the weekend. Thus, to best utilize a visit to NARA, it is important to order enough materials during the workday to keep you busy during the subsequent evenings and weekends.

You might approach the Family History Library similarly. if you need advanced research consultations, work them into your afternoons so you have enough to do to keep you busy in the evenings.


  1. NARA is no longer open evenings for research. The sequester put the kibosh on that. And while NARA is still open on Saturdays for research, no record pulls are made. So you can only do research with microfilm publications or with textual records that were pulled earlier in the week.

  2. Really?? Someone is actually complaining about a FREE service??? I am grateful for the Family History website and the millions of records it provides to the public at NO cost. Maybe folks like Mr. Jaffa should be thankful that so many volunteers are willing to staff the library and answer phones in the first place? Just sayin...

  3. I totally agree with Lisa above. One has to remember who is paying for all of this -- the Church of Latter-Day Saints, whether you (the researcher) are a member or not (I am not). Public libraries are funded by our taxpayer dollars, and non-profit societies and archives struggle daily to have enough money to keep the doors open. But look what the LDS church provides to the whole world for at NO COST to us, but at a cost of millions, surely, to the church. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth (or criticize any gift, for that matter). Thank you, LDS church, for your gift to the genealogy world.

  4. Gosh! What a surprise to see my discussion appear in this blog. Please let me clarify a few things.

    First, I have also been to other libraries and depositories and recognize that the service at the library is exceptional compared to other research facilities. Over the years, it has been my experience that the library has always strived to improve upon its service until this “new model” was instituted. Even though this “new model” decreases the level of service at the library, it is still far better than numerous facilities and I am grateful.

    For your readers' benefit, I am not just a library patron whining about the reduction in expert assistance at the library. I have contributed numerous hours as a volunteer missionary at the Library since 2001. During this time, I have helped lots of patrons, contributed to the FamilySearch Wiki and assisted on special projects that have made tens of thousands of names available to researchers through a new database. I have attended conferences at my own expense partly in an effort to increase my ability to help patrons. Having this first-hand experience deepens my disappointment.

    I mention this to provide context for my complaint. I do not consider my expertise as comparable to the consultants I have worked with over the years. Nevertheless, I am one of the most experienced volunteer missionaries that serve on the British floor and it can be frustrating to not be able to assist a patron with a question that a consultant could answer if one was available.
    Evenings and Saturdays are critical for those who work and can only attend during those times. Genealogical functions are also held near the library so that participants can use the library in the evenings or on Saturdays before or after the conferences. There are numerous other non-genealogical conferences and meetings at nearby hotels and the convention center. It is not uncommon for some of them to come to the library after their conference hours to find out more about their family. I believe that these patrons’ needs are just as important as week day patrons.
    While it is nice to have more consultants available during weekdays, there are hours when there are more consultants than patrons have questions. Some missionaries feel like they are not really needed during the weekdays when there are three consultants available to assist patrons on our floor. For example, missionaries used to greet patrons, orient them and arrange for any assistance they may need. With the “new model”, consultants now perform this function during the weekday hours. I believe that it would be better to have the consultants assisting patrons with difficult questions, rather than greeting and orienting them.
    Up until this “new model” was implemented, volunteer missionaries were directed and trained to only handle the easy questions and were told to direct intermediate and difficult questions to the consultants. All of a sudden, it was announced that they would be in charge during the evenings and weekends with no consultant support. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an effort to increase the missionaries’ expertise for those who serve during the no consultant hours?
    Perhaps, I am just a whiner, but I really hate to see the level of service decrease. Over the years, I have felt satisfaction for the level of service that has been provided to library patrons and I, along with many others, have tried to be the best we can. I am sure that others may think that the “new model” is an increase in service, but I am not convinced of this. I had nothing to do with you hearing about my concerns through this blog. While I disagree with the “new model,” I continue to contribute to the library’s success and am grateful for this facility.

  5. Does anyone know why these changes were made?


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