Over the past few years, I’ve heard a fairly significant amount of chatter in the genealogical community regarding the future of local family history centers and libraries operated by FamilySearch and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
From the locations I have visited, the primary purpose of the family history center’s were to serve as a place that people could go to order and view microfilm, use subscription-based genealogy sites for free to do research, and serve as a repository for rare genealogical books.
As more genealogical records become digitized and indexed, the demand for microfilm orders from the Salt Lake Family History Library and local microfilm readers has decreased and will continue to gradually decrease as patrons are able to access more online resources from home (I’m not sure northern Davis county was ready to abruptly lose all their readers though). The need to view traditional genealogical books will also decrease as these are more increasingly available online for free.
Some of these developments may have led to concern among patrons and other genealogy enthusiasts about what would become of these family history centers? Would FamilySearch continue to pour money and resources into the centers or find a better way to reach out to people?
I was able to recently tour the new FamilySearch Discovery Center in Layton, UT and think this new “class” or “generation” of family history centers that will provide the most value to patrons (offering them resources and help they can’t readily get at home in the current wave of the digital age).
Here are some of the highlights from the tour and pretty amazing features of the facility:
1. Scanning area. This facility had one of the coolest photo scanners I have ever seen. In fact, you could place stack of family photos on the scanner and they all would be digitized in a matter of minutes (it would have taken me days or weeks if I tried to do it with my home scanner). They also have a large bed scanner for bigger documents (which some of the old centers did not have).
2. Family friendliness. The new Layton Discovery Center is very family friendly. It has a kid’s center and “family room” parents or grandparents can reserve to work on projects. The room is equipped with a TV where kids can watch a movie and plenty of space where kids can play, draw, or color. I think these features added to this center will help attract a new generation or demographic to genealogy — which is important to preserve and perpetuate our own research.
4. Recording studio. I thought this part of the center was by far the coolest room patrons can use at the center. You can record audio or video of you (or a group of people) telling family stories or reminiscing about days gone by. The room reminds me of a living room with space for several people. The room features a commercial grade microphone and camera. If you’re not sure what you want to talk about, a computer screen can prompt you with questions or an image that you upload.
5. Discovery center. This is a pretty cool station where you can bring family and friends not familiar with genealogy or their own family tree. Using very easy interfaces, they can learn a lot more about themselves and families. It’s a great way to give someone an introduction to their own family tree.
6. A Kitchen. You now will only need to leave your genealogy addiction in order to sleep (just kidding). But in all seriousness, a place to store and warm up food is a very nice and welcome addition the FamilySearch centers.
I understand that this type of center is the first of its kind outside of the Temple Square in Salt Lake City. If this is any indication of where FamilySearch is headed with the rest of their centers nationwide, I think this type of center will be very valuable to seasoned genealogists as well as attract new people to the field. Overall, great job FamilySearch!