Renovated Church History Library Opens with New Interactive Experiences

Contributed By Casey Adams, Church News contributor

  • 21 February 2017

A library visitor reviews a historical item in the Church History Library’s reading room. The library reopens its doors February 21 after undergoing a four-month renovation.  Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

Article Highlights

  • The renovated Church History Library reopened February 21 with new interactive experiences.
  • Patrons can not only see historic documents but also learn the stories about them.

“Records help us understand who we are and how we got here. They guide our decision-making and help us see the hand of God in our lives.” —Keith Erekson, Church History Library director

Silent stories await the curious browser as the Church History Library reopens February 21 with renovated public spaces welcoming eager imaginations to experience the new interactive features.

The 5,000-square-foot revamping project improved the existing reference and reading rooms but also added a video tour greeting room, an entirely new modern classroom, and donor meeting rooms. An updated multimedia tour and three group presentations integrate priceless artifacts and historical documents into a visual learning experience designed and led by library staff.

“Now we’ve got a space where [visitors] can sit down and see a presentation and learn about the great treasures that we have in the library,” said Keith Erekson, who has served as Church History Library director for the past two and a half years.

The actual physical space remains unchanged, Brother Erekson said, but instead the renovation served as a remodeling of space—a repurposing of spaces—to introduce new social experiences and innovative learning opportunities to the public.

“Our previous space was shelves of books and staff offices, and now we’ve added some spaces to do a little more hosting,” he said.

Groups of 10–75 individuals are invited to go online to schedule a guided tour or a presentation session, each of which is 30–60 minutes in duration.

The library offers the “Restoration of the Priesthood,” “I Am a Woman in the Gospel,” and “Witness the Book of Mormon” presentations, where visitors see items such as a centuries-old Egyptian papyrus fragment from the scrolls Joseph Smith used in translating the book of Abraham.

Visitors can also see an authentic 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the letter from Liberty Jail that Joseph Smith dictated, and Joseph Smith Sr.’s original priesthood ordination certificate, among other historical items.

“People could see those documents, but now we have spaces to really tell the stories about those documents,” Brother Erekson said, “and answer questions and put things into context and really help people understand and appreciate what they can see.”

As part of the “Witness the Book of Mormon” classroom presentation, a library staff member shares the story of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon and then presents an authentic page of the actual manuscript that scribes wrote as Joseph Smith dictated.

“There is something special about encountering an original document—Joseph Smith’s signature on the actual letter from Liberty Jail or a fragment of papyrus more than two thousand years old,” Brother Erekson said. “We provide programming to help youth and children understand the significance of treasures such as these.”

Some of the first groups to experience the new library amenities will be the approximately 4,000 youth from the Youth Conference at Temple Square program the library hosts throughout the year beginning February 23.

The Church History Library preserves and catalogues thousands of historical items, many of which are housed in the vault area seen here. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

In one activity, youth search the scriptures and race to find verse seven in chapter three of 1 Nephi, except youth use first-edition Book of Mormon replicas, which did not have numbered verses.

Libraries are finding new approaches to present historical materials in ways that are socially accessible. The stories records tell can give viewers an appreciation of one’s ancestors and can offer inspiration for future generations, Brother Erekson said.

“We keep records from the past so that they may help people today and in the future,” he said. “Records help us understand who we are and how we got here. They guide our decision-making and help us see the hand of God in our lives.”

Patrons entering the new library classroom will notice a wall-sized wooden bookshelf to the left, custom-built for the renovation project. The bookshelf virtually stands as an exhibit on its own. A life-size replica of the first edition of the King James Bible rests on a shelf near a collection of foreign language first-edition translations of the scriptures, of which may be handled with care by visitors.

The Church History Library hosted 22,201 total visitors in 2016, and with the renovated capacity for hosting groups, the library may be seeing even more visitors. The library is open weekdays, evenings for youth group Mutual activities, and on Saturdays. Admission to the library is free.

Libraries have long served as neutral social spaces for knowledge and reflection, said Roger Layton, who serves as communications manager for the Harold B. Lee Library on the Brigham Young University campus.

He said there is a renewed interest in having a place where people have access to information and can meet socially.

“People want a location where they can come in and access history—where they can learn about their heritage or the history of the community,” Brother Layton said, “and libraries provide that.”

The Church History Library reopens its doors February 21 after undergoing a four-month renovation. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

The “Foundations of Faith” exhibit is currently on display at the LDS Church History Library. The exhibit features a centuries-old Egyptian papyrus fragment from the scrolls Joseph Smith used in translating the book of Abraham. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

In addition to the many hard-copy documents stored at the Church History Library, patrons can visit the library website to access more than 8,000 digitized historical images. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

Visitors attending a presentation in the new classroom at the Church History Library can view a replica of a printed Gutenberg Bible. Seen here is the first page of the book of James. Photo by Casey Adams, Deseret News.

The Church History Library recently renovated its public areas and now has a modern classroom to host groups of 10–75 individuals with four new interactive presentations. Photo by Casey Adams, Deseret News.

The Church History Library recently renovated its public areas and now has a modern classroom to host groups of 10–75 individuals with four new interactive presentations. Photo by Casey Adams, Deseret News.

The Church History Library preserves and catalogues thousands of historical items, many of which are housed in a vault aisle in the library. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

In addition to the many hard-copy documents stored at the Church History Library, patrons can visit the library website to access more than 8,000 digitized historical images. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

A technician examines a historical document during a preservation process for the Church History Library located in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.

In addition to the many hard-copy documents stored at the Church History Library, patrons can visit the library website to access more than 8,000 digitized historical images. Photo courtesy Church History Library Collection.


GENERAL TOUR
Visitors view a short video, “The Story Lives Here,” and learn about the purpose of the Church History Library and the types of records stored in the vaults. The tour concludes by viewing the “Foundations of Faith” exhibit, which contains early documents of the restored Church. Duration: 30–45 minutes. Group size: 10–75 individuals.

“WITNESS THE BOOK OF MORMON”
Visitors participate in an interactive presentation (30–45 minutes) and learn about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and key individuals who were involved. At the conclusion of the presentation, visitors will view significant historical documents found in the “Foundations of Faith” exhibit. Duration: 60 minutes. Group size: 10–75 individuals.

“I AM A WOMAN IN THE GOSPEL”
An interactive presentation (30–45 minutes) is offered to visitors that includes stories, narrative accounts, and video presentations of Latter-day Saint women. Visitors explore the significant roles women have played in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from its beginning to the present day. At the conclusion of this presentation, visitors will view significant documents found in the “Foundations of Faith” exhibit. Duration: 60 minutes. Group size: 10–75 individuals.

“RESTORATION OF THE PRIESTHOOD”
Discover the stories of the restoration of the priesthood, and learn about the sacred responsibility of passing the sacrament. Young men are invited to learn about their priesthood lineage, and priesthood leaders will learn how to exercise their keys in relation to the sacrament. Visitors can then view significant documents discussed in the presentation in the “Foundations of Faith” exhibit. Duration: 60 minutes. Group size: 10–75 individuals.

To schedule a group tour or presentation, and for more information on library services, visit history.lds.org/library.