Thursday, March 2, 2017

Changes to FHL, Microfilm Addressed at #RootsTech

Diane Loosle, RootsTech 2017At the FamilySearch luncheon at RootsTech 2017 Diane Loosle presented “Who Moved My Microfilm: The Truth Behind the Library You Have Always Loved.” Diane is the FamilySearch Salt Lake Family History Library director and is senior vice president of FamilySearch patron services.

Diane pointed out that old processes like mercury treatment, lobotomy, and bloodletting have died. Old products are displaced. As change happens we have to adapt. She showed a graph of the decrease over time of visitors to the Family History Library and observed that none of us want the library to die.

She has heard a number of rumors about the Family History Library:

  • You have to come to Salt Lake City.
  • You’re closing because everything is going digital.
  • You’re throwing out books.
  • You don’t have expertise in the library anymore.
  • You don’t care about researchers anymore.

“These are so not true,” Diane said. “Let me just share what really is going on.”

The library regularly seeks feedback from users and adjusts accordingly. They have added photo scanners, microfilm scanners, book scanners, and slide scanners. They provide services to visiting family history societies. (See They have added rooms which societies, family reunions, and groups can reserve: five computer labs, a 60 or 120-seat auditorium, and a video conference room.

LDS Church Office Building“We love our books,” Diane said. Back 120 years ago as the Genealogical Society of Utah, FamilySearch started collecting books. The library continues to add books. In the past two years they have added 5,376 books, enough to fill 450 feet of shelf space. Stacked, that would be taller than the Church Office Building (the tall building a block East of the library). The library runs out of space and have to place books in long-term storage.

FamilySearch is digitizing the books you use at the library. They started with family histories. You should consult family histories to see what research has already been done. You can do every-word searches on digitized family histories, even if the original had no index. They are digitizing serials and periodicals Access the digitized books at [although you must be at the library to access copyrighted books]. The online collection, which has grown to over 330,000 books, includes books from significant genealogical book collections from across the United States.

FamilySearch is digitizing the microfilm you use at the library. “Microfilm is a dying technology,” Diane said. “We’re going to have to make some changes there.” Access the digitized microfilm at Search the FamilySearch catalog to find digitized microfilm.

The library has substantial expertise via paid and volunteer staff. (See slides, below.) To give you access to experts without wasting time waiting in line, the library has implemented a pager system. Average wait time is five minutes. Last year expert library staff presented 282 webinars. For more information or to watch a previous webinar, visit

Lots of expertise of paid staff at FHL Lots of expertise of volunteer staff at FHL

“We feel responsible to make sure everyone can discover and find out about their heritage,” Diane said. “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” Consequently, the library has built a discovery floor designed to engage a new group of people in family history. (See my article, “FamilySearch Unveils Latest Discovery Center at RootsTech.”)

The library is planning future adjustments because of patron feedback. Expert patrons would like a quicker path to the library expert, so they are working on a fast path system (think Disneyland fast pass). Some patrons would like noise-free zones, so they will work to provide that.

“I don’t want you to ever have to come to Salt Lake because it’s the only place you can get a resource. I want to get that resource to you where ever you are,” Diane said. “But I want you to want to come to Salt Lake to the Family History Library…to have a really wonderful experience.”


Image credits:
Photograph of Diane Loosle – “Begin at the Beginning,” RootsTech, 2017.
LDS Church Office Building – Wikimedia contributor Ricardo630
Slides – Diane Loosle, photographed by the Ancestry Insider


  1. I came to Salt Lake City for the first time when I attended RootsTech 2017 last month. I also planned being at the Family History Library to research my French-Canadian ancestry. I had a "really wonderful experience" at FHL, in part, due to the staff. On the second day at FHL, I couldn't find a serial, but one staff member (I've forgotten her name) asked me to show her where I had already looked, saying if it’s there, she'd find it. We took the elevator to the third floor where she looked at the shelves, but didn't find the item. When I gave her more info about the kind of serial it was, she immediately said it must be bound with other similar serials and moved to another section of the shelves. A minute or two later, we found the bound serial. If it weren't for her help, I might never have located what I wanted. Thank you, FHL staff, for not only saying how to find that serial, but for having taken the time to leave your floor and accompanying me to another floor. (She could have easily just suggested what to do, but chose to look with me.)

  2. The FHL has been the center of a network of libraries that have admirably served the genealogy public. Yes, times change, but the need to access the materials they house does not. While they have been making some big changes and improvements in SLC, the Regional Family History Center in Mesa, AZ (the one I frequent), is a shadow of its former self. Unforeseen circumstances made it necessary to close the building. Functions have been moved (supposedly) temporarily. But it has been well more than a year with no plans for the future divulged to the public. This is just to note that the FHL is not the only concern within their library system. I hope they will soon announce positive future plans in Mesa.

  3. As a researcher, I love seeing things digitized. Regrettably, for some, one must *still* go to a local FHC, which of course, has very limited hours. At most, you get 2 hours a visit - just time to be warmed up. And they're usually in the day when my peak genealogy time is late at night - say 10 to midnight.

    I'm very grateful for what IS available online though, but forcing people to visit centers to look at computerized stuff is just daft. I know permissions and stuff, but it's not like we're making $$$ off of some 1600s records while sitting home in our jammies.


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