I somehow found myself in the new Church History Library today, wandering around on my own, doing a test-drive of the furniture, poking my nose into all public areas. Some random thoughts on the physical facilities, which will FINALLY open for business on June 22, after several weeks of public tours, open houses, and a dedication:

The lobby and reading room are gorgeous – soaring ceilings three stories high, woodwork everywhere, tall windows letting in lots of natural light (and a beautiful view of the east side of the Conference Center, where the landscaping is finally maturing and filling in, in a lovely way), art works on the walls (I hope they’ll post cards identifying the artists and dates). The Church doesn’t often invest in such nice woodwork, furniture, and architecture in buildings that are intended mainly for utilitarian Church business, so I take this as an indication that the powers that be recognize our crown jewels for what they are.

Over the door leading from the lobby into the library proper in gold lettering is the favorite scripture of LDS historians: “There shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1). Underfoot is a carpet in reds, browns, and creams, with a pattern that is reminiscent of the marbling seen on the endpapers of elegant old leather-bound books.

There is so much woodwork in the library, and the colors of wood and carpet are so rich, that the atmosphere of the library could easily be dark and even overbearing, except for all that glorious natural light coming in from the wall of windows. And it really does feel like “a wall of windows” befitting a building with true architectural design. It is not a glass wall left over from the outdated and sterile glass-and-steel boxes that have dominated too much urban architecture for decades.

The open stacks appear to cover more area in the new building than in the old, although I don’t have any idea of the number of feet of shelves in either place. The ranks of shelves are all in one large block, not in two sections as in the last configuration or running in two directions as they did in an earlier configuration – this is a more natural and comfortable arrangement for users.

The tables have electrical sockets on each side, and the tables appear to be plugged in – no more scrounging for too few places to plug in a laptop!

The chairs are designed for work: wooden, with seats parallel to the floor and fixed backs at just the right angle for production typing – none of those loungey swivel chairs that are meant for leaning back to read in casual poses, which never hold their heights. Some users are going to find them uncomfortable, but I find them seemingly perfect (I didn’t have my laptop with me to actually try working). I’ll probably bring a cushion to sit on, both for comfort in sitting and to raise me up the inch or two more that will be necessary for the proper position for typing hours on end without fear of carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are some upholstered chairs – six or eight, I think – for more casual reading. And joy of joys, since this library is across the street from the Church Office Building, employees won’t be dropping in to spend their lunch hours sprawled in those chairs and yakking on their blasted cell phones as if the library were an employee lounge.

The old hulking microfilm readers are being phased out in favor of itty bitty contraptions that hold the microfilm reels and scan an image for display on computer screens. Users will be practically sitting on each other’s laps, though, the way the machines are arranged, with barely – barely – enough room to place a laptop on the tables. That arrangement could definitely use some further work.

There are lockers for patrons to use, larger than the old ones, and made of wood rather than clangy metal.

There was one (two?) “consultation” room for people who just have to talk, which should make things more pleasant for other library patrons. A large glass window allows staff to keep an eye on things there, so the room shouldn’t turn into the private office of the first self-important patron to arrive in the morning.

There are far more catalog computers in the new library than in the old.

The staff counter (reference desk) is just inside the door and at some distance from the work tables, which should both encourage new patrons to ask for help as they arrive and also remove their conversations from the immediate attention of people who are trying to work. The reference countertops are probably some manmade material but look like granite, another rich touch to the atmosphere.

Since no one else was in the library I couldn’t tell how well sound carries. In the old library, anybody speaking in the furthest corner could be plainly heard everywhere in the room. This almost certainly has to be an improvement, if for no other reason than that the employee and missionary work areas are in another part of the building — maybe a suitable reference library atmosphere can be maintained in the new library.

The lobby where the security guard sits is full of echoes. I mean, REALLY echo-y. And they’re going to continue to use the same icky procedure of having a new paper badge printed up every day you go in. I’ve begged and begged to have them make the slight adjustment to have those badges valid for a week or more so that I didn’t have to stand in line every single day – especially in the upcoming months where hordes of people who assume that this is the new Family History Library are going to be wandering in and making the lines long (I’ve had to wait as long as 12 minutes to sign into the library – not often, but occasionally that long – which really eats into my productivity when you think of how that adds up day after day after week after month) – but the guard told me today that no, it’s the same, same, same ol’ system.

But that’s the worst complaint I can come up with. It’s a beautiful library, beautifully arranged, with every sign that the patrons’ needs are as important as the staff’s workflow and the security of the materials. I’m looking forward so very eagerly to settling into a work routine there.

Only one month more to wait!

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