One of the questions I am often asked is, “When are all the family history centers going to close since all the information will be (or is) online.” Each time I receive this question I shake my head a little in despair.
A number of years ago FamilySearch began digitizing their collection and speculation began about the future of centers. It is true that the need to go to a family history center will decrease over time for some functions. Within the next five to seven years most of the FamilySearch collection will be online. FamilySearch is also working to bring all of the help services available in centers and in the Family History Library online. So, I am asked again, “What about centers.”
There are more than 4,500 centers in more than 110 countries around the world and they serve more than 6,000,000 patrons annually. Those served by the centers are a mixture of genealogists and novices, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and members of the general public. Centers have played, and continue to play, a vital part in helping individuals with their family history.
Over the past few years, however, a new trend has been developing which I believe will change the nature of family history centers. The challenge of an ever changing set of software tools for family history and a growing interest in finding ancestors has created a demand for training. The most demanded of this training is with a live instructor in an environment where the students can practice and learn to apply the teaching right in the classroom. The new FamilySearch Library in Riverton is a good example. The facility was built with training in mind. It has six training rooms and the capacity to run classes as large as 400 individuals and then break this larger group down into smaller classes. The library has a mixture of traditional classrooms and computer equipped classrooms. It is interesting to note that this new center now trains more visitors than the Family History Library in Salt Lake.
I also see a strong need to help those who are just starting their family history journey from centers. One of the areas that FamilySearch is working towards is a relatively simple getting started process that can help an individual who is just beginning experience rapid success. In most cases we are finding that we can have a beginner walking out of the center with a record in hand about one of their ancestors in less than an hour. This early success seems to be helping to fuel more individuals desire to do the work. We can’t make you into a genealogical researcher in an hour, but we can help you feel the spirit of the work, form a connection to your ancestor, and wet your appetite for more.
From my perspective the future of centers is bright. The focus, I believe, will change. Centers will have fewer genealogists and more novices. They will offer more training and more getting started services. They will offer access to subscription services that could not otherwise be affordable. Centers are an integral part of the services of FamilySearch and I don’t see them disappearing any time soon.