Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Church History Library

Excerpts of LDS artifacts showcased in state-of-the-art care by Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune

The LDS Church unveiled its state-of-the-art Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, showing off its climate-controlled storage units, computerized conservation techniques and priceless artifacts.

Marlin Jensen, LDS Church Historian and member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy,  showcased a handful of historic items. They included an 1835 LDS hymnal, a scrapbook of the late church president, Ezra Taft Benson's post-World War II humanitarian efforts in Europe, a new Spanish translation of the King James version of the Bible, and a one-of-a kind 1852 Book of Mormon, translated into French on one side of the page and German on the other.

For Mormons, preserving history is a sacred mandate and this new building suggests the church's willingness to be open about its past "is in a period of expansion," Jensen said.

Mormons in every era and nation have recorded their experiences in journals, letters, business agreements, minutes of church meetings and photos. The massive collection includes 600,000 photos alone, as well as 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines and newspapers, 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records, journals, diaries, correspondence and minutes. There are 23,000 audio-visual items, 4,000 oral histories and millions of digitized pages. Until now, the collection was housed in the east wing of the 26-story Church Office Building on North Temple.

It took just 19 days to physically move the collection to the new building at 15 East North Temple, but it took hundreds of volunteers a year and a half to tag and categorize each piece slated for the move.

The new building features 12 preservation vaults, protected by high security. Of those, 10 are maintained at 55 degree Fahrenheit, with 35 percent humidity and two are kept at minus 4 degrees Farenheit for extra sensitivity.

"For every 18 degrees down you go, the document has a longer life," said Steven L. Olsen, managing director of Church History Department.

There is also a conservation lab, with a darkroom where conservators turn acetate negatives into useable photographs, and a document cleaning room where they clean historical records and apply age-slowing chemical treatments.

Every year, about 6,000 new items are donated to the church, including an annual history of every LDS congregation in the world.

Leonard Arrington [was] the church's first professional historian who gave researchers unfettered access to the church's primary source materials, some of which had never been seen before. Arrington influenced a whole generation of Mormon historians and his team produced scores of credible, thoughtful scholarship.

The library limits access to documents it deems "sacred," (referring to temple rituals), "private," (legal or medical information) and "confidential," (referring to personal confessions, callings or ways the church ran its business), but most of the journals of LDS apostles and other leaders are completely open, Jensen said. "If people want access, it is almost always available."

Also, the library puts no restrictions on which researchers can use its documents.

"People might use the materials to criticize the church, but that's the risk we have to take," Jensen said. "We have a history and a people and things that all of us regret, but we don't have anything to hide."

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