Church History Library Launches New Online Catalog
Melissa Zenteno, Church News and Events
The Church announced the completion and official launch of the online Church History Catalog at the Mormon History Association conference held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Friday, June 29, 2012.
The project, which consisted of converting millions of pieces of reference information from several catalogs into one searchable database, will give Church history researchers and members alike the ability to search for historical items of interest available in the Church History Library before they go into the library to access them. Some items are even available for immediate viewing online.
A New User-Friendly Search Tool
In the past, individuals seeking information relating to the history of the Church had to physically go to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, and search through separate catalogs, explained Patrick Dunshee, the Church History Department’s manager of marketing and communications.
But with the launch of the new catalog, which can be accessed at http://churchhistorycatalog.lds.org, researchers can look through the Church History Library’s collection of material on any computer with Internet access.
David Monk, senior product manager of the new catalog, compares the tool to a search engine—one that he said “allows users to discover the records of people, places, and events from multiple sources in a way that is relevant and easy to use.”
The catalog allows easy access to material available in the Church History Library, including 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers and 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records such as journals, diaries, correspondence, and meeting minutes.
“A ‘collection’ usually consists of more than just one item,” explained Brother Dunshee. “A collection can have hundreds of items in it, so the fact that we have 240,000 collections means the library has a lot of material.”
Other material includes 13,000 collections of photographs and 23,000 audiovisual items—including audio recordings, films, historical DVDs, videotapes, and television broadcasts.
The catalog’s search feature allows for simple keyword searches, but it also enables users to narrow their searches by title, author, subject, or material (such as book, map, or manuscript). Other search options include choosing to search the contents of other related libraries such as the Family History Library and the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library.
Search results include the same information found in any county or city library catalog—title of the work, author, publisher, subject key words, format, and language. However, the catalog offers an additional feature that allows users to save references and searches to an e-shelf as long as they are logged into the system using their LDS account username and password.
“[The online catalog] makes it really convenient for [individuals] when they come here to do their research. Rather than show up and figure out what we have, they can actually do it from home, put everything on an e-shelf, and have it all waiting for them, so that when they arrive they can save time and effort,” said Brother Dunshee.
A Growing Digital Archive
For users who cannot schedule a trip to the Church History Library, there are other options available for viewing material housed in the library. “There is an ever-increasing amount of digital content available through the Church History Catalog, including over 400,000 images of selected Church history collections, over 50,000 family history books, and thousands of early Church publications and photographs,” said Brother Monk.
“That’s just a small part of our collection, and we’re constantly digitizing more and more,” Brother Dunshee said. He added that users can submit a request to have some items digitized if they are not immediately available for digital viewing.
Debra Marsh, a student working on a dissertation that focuses on the Carthage mob that killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith, is delighted with the new catalog and the items available for digital viewing.
“I spent some time last summer traveling to procure some of the resources (particularly newspapers) that are now available to me online,” she said. “What a blessing [the online catalog is] in terms of time and expense.” With the resources available through the Church History Catalog, she said, she will be able to be more thorough and accurate in her research.
Researchers are not the only ones affected by the launch of this new feature on the website; both members of the Church and those of other faiths will be able to search information and original documents on items in the Church History Library that may be of interest to them.
In a short instructional video, Gideon Tolman, an intern at the Church History Library, explains how to use the Church History Catalog and what its value is to various users.
“I’m not a historian or a researcher, but as a member of the Church I’m interested in the history of the Church,” Brother Tolman says.
Using the name of his ancestor, Charles Alfred Harper, Brother Tolman demonstrates the features available through the catalog and emphasizes its value. “The Church History Catalog is helping me connect to the people, places, and events of Church history, and it’s helping me connect to my personal history as well,” he says.
More Than Just a Search Engine
The catalog gives insight into what is inside the Church History Library, and users can find many other resources that can help them in their research—some even immediately available in digital format for anyone who has access to the Web.
For instance, users interested in locating pioneer ancestors can access information about the companies that traveled across the plains in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels database; those interested in William Weeks’s architectural drawings of the original Nauvoo temple can view them; and a Journal History Index is available for those interested in minutes, diary entries, and newspaper stories that give a historical account of the Church from 1830 to the present day.
The library also offers useful research guides that allow users to browse by subject; they list the most popular guides compiled by Church history librarians. The guides include website recommendations based on research topic.
Patrons who wish to ask questions or request help can use the Ask a Librarian feature found on the Church History Library main page under Quick Links. “This is a very helpful tool that’s also available as part of the Church History Catalog. Our researchers will actually help [patrons] and guide them to their research,” said Brother Dunshee.
“The windows of heaven are opening to us,” said Sister Marsh. “What a blessing to be able to do research in a fraction of the time it took even five years ago. Surely the Lord is giving us these advances to move the kingdom forward.”
“Many people these days are interested in Church history,” said Brother Dunshee. “Providing appropriate access to original historical material is a big part of what the Church History Library does.”