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A New Kind of Family History Center

Article Date: 
23 July, 2010 - 06:00

FamilySearch, a nonprofit sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has family history centers dotting the globe.  There are more than 4,500 family history centers in more than eighty countries around the world.  These family history centers serve more than six million patrons a year who are searching for their families.  These services are provided free of charge.  Millions of ancestors per year are found through the selfless service of those who volunteer their time in these centers.
Recently, FamilySearch announced a new type of family history center.  About three months ago the LDS Church announced to several units in the South Salt Lake Valley that the family history centers in their chapels would be closing and that a new center would be opening in Riverton to replace them.  This new center, called the Riverton FamilySearch Library, would be a different approach to providing personal help for those searching for ancestors.
From the ground up Riverton is a different kind of experience.  It has substantial facilities.  The site is more than 10,000 square feet.  It has large, well equipped training rooms.  It has more than 130 computers.  It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Saturday.  These hours are much broader than nearly any family history center except the Family History Library.  The Riverton center has state of the art training facilities.  It is networked with the Family History Library so that classes taught in Riverton can be attended via video conference at the Family History Library, and vice versa.  It has the latest technology in digital imaging systems so that records found can easily be taken home in a variety of formats.  It also has a highly trained staff that can answer many questions.  The library has a targeted collection of film and books and can tap into the expertise of the Family History Library.
Why is this relevant to Morgan?  I think this is a pattern that will be repeated throughout the world.  I expect that the Morgan center will continue to operate into the future, but there will begin to be services offered in the center that will expand its capabilities by allowing better access to experts to answer questions.  The Morgan staff does an excellent job, but genealogical research has many specialties and no single center can have all the expertise on staff all the time to help patrons with all of their genealogical questions.  Providing a way for these centers to work together and share knowledge is critical to being able to help the most patrons find ancestors the most quickly.
FamilySearch has begun to measure the patron experience in family history centers.  The measures include determining the level of satisfaction with the visit to the center and the level of success patrons had while visiting the center.  The number of ancestors identified is also being measured.  This type of information helps to make better decisions about how to provide a better service.
I have heard many individuals say that with the arrival of digital, family history centers will no longer be necessary.  I don’t see this happening.  Family history centers are critical for the many patrons who utilize the records at the center, but more importantly use the expertise of those who work in the center.  It is one of the few places in the world you can go and receive personal, face to face help with your family history.  This service and experience is one of the most valuable provided from the LDS Church and FamilySearch.  
What can be expected for the future?  FamilySearch is working to have centers with a more predictable service experience.  The experience can be variable today.  The centers will offer better help by providing access to genealogical experts all over the world.  The center will offer the best in genealogical training, sometimes online, sometimes in person, and sometimes a virtual in person experience.  The centers will each have better access to the full range of research resources.  This will include more immediate access to the information on the microfilms and books.
Family history centers are an integral part of the service experience offered for free from the LDS Church, FamilySearch, and the many dedicated volunteers that staff these centers.  If you are in Riverton and have a few moments, stop by the center and have a look at what the future holds for in person face to face help with family history research.