Prepping for Archival Visits: The LDS Church History Library

By July 15, 2015

Last week at The Junto, Jessica Parr offered her thoughts on essential technological preparations for spending time in the archives. It got me thinking: what are some things that researchers should be aware of when they visit the LDS Church History? In this post, I’ll touch on transportation, lodging, the best food in the area, policies to be familiar with, and finding collections to peruse.[1]

This is only meant to be a brief introduction–please add your comments, suggestions, and experiences below!

Location: Salt Lake City

The LDS Church History Library (CHL) is located at 15 N Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150, near the City Creek Mall, Temple Square, and just a few blocks away from the Delta Center.[2] There are several relatively inexpensive hotels nearby, as well as a host of Air BnB options. Salt Lake has Uber and taxis are available throughout the city. The public light-rail system, TRAX, also runs through the heart of downtown up to the University of Utah (east), BYU (south), and Ogden (north). Salt Lake City is very walkable with sidewalks on nearly every street and good lighting at night. Utah’s capital is hot in the summer and cold in the winter–come prepared for the weather! There is ample paid parking at City Creek Mall and free parking if you’re willing to walk up and down the hill that heads north on Main Street (the library shares a side with Main Street.

As a CHL patron, you can eat at the LDS Church’s Office Building cafeteria, located across the street and to the east (towards the big mountains). The food court at City Creek is pretty good, as far as malls go. There’s also a Kneader’s Cafe and Blue Lemon at City Creek.On Thursdays, there are food trucks at the Gallivan Center during lunch hours (10 minute walk). Red Iguana, Bruges, and Crown Burger are popular local eateries. I would personally recommend Red Iguana to anyone visiting SLC for the first time. Their mole is unparalleled.

The nearest coffee shops are at Main and 100 South (Starbucks) and 248 East 100 South (Nostalgia).

There is a great community of American religious historians, Mormon historians, and other interested parties in SLC. If you’re in town, be sure to drop a line here on the blog, our Facebook page, or visit the Mormon History Cafeteria Page and ask if anyone would like to go to lunch.

CHL

CHL

Hours

The CHL is open from 9 AM-5 PM Monday-Wednesday, and Friday, 10 AM-3PM on Saturday, and is open late on Thursday, from 9 AM-9PM (food truck night at the Gallivan Center). The Thursday hours are especially valuable if you are researching at other locations, like the Utah State Historical Society, and need to hit both archives in the same day.

Prior to Your Trip

The CHL has digitized its catalog online here. As with all libraries, it takes a little time to grasp the particulars of how to find exactly what you’re looking for. I would recommend looking up your materials beforehand, both so that you have an organized list of collections to dive into, but also to find out if the collections are restricted for “sacred, confidential, private, or otherwise restricted for legal or ethical reasons.” Many of the twentieth century and local leader and general authority collections are restricted and require prior approval for viewing. You will know that items are restricted if they have a note about being “closed to research” (that designation is marked in roughly the same area highlighted below).

Closed to Research

Closed to Research

Unfortunately, the reasons why collections are restricted are not available to view online.  Any of the staff archivists can explain why collections are accessed and assist you with questions.

Additionally, many collections have been digitized and are available to view online at either the library’s website or on the Internet Archive. The Brigham Young Office Files Collection is one particularly useful collection to have online! As a researcher, I’m very grateful that the CHL, at great cost, digitizes many of its materials for all to enjoy for free.

Last, but certainly not least, individuals can register with the CHL to make ordering materials much more simple. Rather than filling out a paper slip, one can simply order the materials online under their user name. Those who have an lds.org account already can simply use theirs–if you’re not LDS or don’t want an LDS account you can sign up for a “friends” account. There is more information, as well as links to the registration pages, here. You must be at the CHL to request materials online.

Policies to be Familiar With

Wi-fi is free, simply ask for the password. As with most archives, materials in the reading room are restricted to laptops without cases (free lockers available), loose leaf paper, pencils, etc.

The CHL is run by a combination of professional historians, archivists, and volunteer (senior and younger) missionaries for the LDS Church. This arrangement is important to know because the volunteer missionaries are largely responsible for supervising and administrating in the reading room, while professionals generally run the front desk. The members of professional staff are courteous and helpful and know much more about the collections and library policies than the missionaries usually do. That doesn’t mean that the missionaries will not know how to help you; they may just need to ask for help from someone else, first. Be sure to introduce yourself to the staff and familiarize them with your project. They are the most likely folks to know about hidden gems, potential obstacles, or other tidbits that will aid your research trip.

Many items are available to view, but not to copy or photograph. Special permission is needed to take photos or otherwise digitally capture sources. Check with library staff for more information. If photos or scans are available, they will assist you with the necessary permissions (which involve allowing the ability to scan off of microfilm). Any item that you can view is available to transcribe or otherwise write/type.

[1] You should also consult Tom Simpson’s post at Religion in American History on the CHL.

[2] I know it has a different legal name, but it will always be the Delta Center to me. #StocktontoMaloneForever

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Very helpful. Thank you.

    I was at the library a few weeks ago and noticed a number of tweaks to the research and customer service experience including the digital requests and an improved method for requesting copying permission inside the reading room. I was happy to see all of the changes. It’s helped improve the experience significantly from how it was three to five years ago.

    Comment by Amy T — July 15, 2015 @ 7:14 am

  2. Since J mentioned taxis, there are a couple of oddities out-of-towners might need to know: Taxis were deregulated to a great extent a few weeks ago. This means that you can now hail a cab on the street (they’re rare, though) — it used to be illegal for cabbies to pick up passengers on the street, so people who have tried to use cabs in Salt Lake before may welcome the change. But fares were also deregulated and there have been complaints about price gauging, so much so that the Salt Lake International Airport has set its own limits on fares cabbies can charge for taking people into town from the airport. You should ask about prices before entering a cab so you aren’t taken by surprise.

    And please remember that the staff at CHL really want to help patrons. They do have to follow rules that are set well above their pay grade, and if you get frustrated by restrictions, please be kind and don’t take it out on the staff! They’re great people who do want to help you as much as possible.

    Comment by Ardis — July 15, 2015 @ 10:30 am

  3. Er, making that “price gouging.” Price “gauging” is something you need to do when you call for a cab.

    Comment by Ardis — July 15, 2015 @ 10:31 am

  4. Salt Lake definitely has Uber. I’ve used it a couple of times since arriving earlier this summer.

    Comment by Christopher — July 15, 2015 @ 10:49 am

  5. Thanks for the clarification, Ardis!

    Christopher: I’ll change that to reflect it. My mistake!

    Comment by J Stuart — July 15, 2015 @ 11:36 am

  6. It’s kind of embarrassing that the closest coffee shops are all the way down on 100 South. That’s quite a hike from the library. You’d think SLC was founded by Mormons or something…

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 15, 2015 @ 11:53 am

  7. Great introduction.

    I’d just add that the folks at the CHL are some of the friendliest, most helpful archivists around. Ask questions and they’ll help you. My greatest pet peeve is people who never use the CHL who complain about the CHL as if it’s the 1950s and they’re just trying to hide documents. I can’t imagine the millions the LDS church spends each year to make this resource available. It’s remarkable for a private institution.

    If something is restricted, be flexible and make sure you fill out the online restricted access request form. Asking to see only one entry in a restricted diary, for example, gets you a lot farther than demanding to see the entire Heber J. Grant collection. Often the CHL will transcribe portions of restricted documents for you or confirm for you what is included. It’s not as ideal as seeing the item, but it’s better than nothing. I’ve even had the CHL confirm a transcription I had from the Michael Quinn collection at Yale by checking it against the original. They bust their tails bending over backwards to help as much as possible, but like Ardis said, these folks have to follow rules they did not create. Be nice!

    Many collections are available to scan to a USB drive if you get permission ahead of time.

    If you are out of town, ask to have stuff digitized. Just have a sense of the CHL’s guidelines. They can’t, for example, digitize stuff they do not have the copyright to. So if they have a microfilm of a collection but the original is located elsewhere, that won’t be able to be copied.

    If you’re embarking on a long-term project that you believe will require you to spend a lot of time working at CHL, take the time to get to know people there. Send requests in online so they get used to seeing your name. Become a familiar face.

    Finally, if you’re a sinner like me, hop on Trax (it’s the free zone) and head a stop down to Whiskey Street and enjoy a delicious New York Sour.

    Comment by John Hatch — July 15, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

  8. This is good information to know, especially the food! The CHL has some good, free brochures inside: like a citation guide and some guides to find some manuscripts that have been published in various collective works. Thanks, J.

    Comment by Jeff T — July 15, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

  9. Here’s another tip:

    Some restricted items are invisible in the public catalog. If you’re following a footnote and can’t find a catalog entry for the cited item, you may have to ask an employee to check the internal catalog.

    Comment by Chris Smith — July 15, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

  10. Thank you for these helpful hints. I don’t often get to SLC, but when I am there I want to make the most efficient use of my time. This post will help.

    Comment by Susan W H — July 15, 2015 @ 5:40 pm


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