Prepare Before a Visit to the Family History Library

Whenever I see the last of summer, I start thinking about visiting the Family History Library. For the last few years, I have managed to get to Salt Lake City a couple of times each year – once for RootsTech and the other strictly for library research.

I’ve been asked more than once how I get ready for a library visit and how I spend my time once I’m there. A number of my friends have begun their family history research within the last five years and a couple of them have ventured into the library when they have had a chance to visit Utah.

I always recommend having one’s ducks in a row long before walking through the library doors. How do I do it?

1. Keep a running list of the items and call numbers you want to view in the library.

I began preparations for my next library visit as soon as I got home from RootsTech in February. How? By starting a running list of everything I wanted to view on my next library visit. I keep a pad of paper on a shelf behind my desk. Every time I am in the midst of researching a family and come across an item – book, film or library-only computer access – I add it on the “to do” list. I currently have 14 specific items on my list to view.

2. Just before I leave, I review my list. Have any books or films been digitized since I entered the title on my “to dos”? If so, and I can view it at home, I cross it off the list. Be aware that digitized books are no longer on the library shelves! Are any of my films in the Vault? If so, I need to make sure to request them as soon as I first enter the library so there is time delivery and viewing before I leave. Is any item on the only-in-the-library computer access arena? If so, I try complete these items early in my visit so they don’t get overlooked.

3. If you have never been to the Family History Library before, check the FamilySearch website for library tips, floor plans, hours of operation, etc. so you are somewhat familiar with it. I also recommend letting the volunteers at the library reception desk know that you are making your first visit so they can set you up with an orientation session. It is very easy to be very, very overwhelmed by this library so taking time for the orientation is time well spent in the long run.

3. Being retired, my travel time is somewhat flexible. My travel funds are less so and I try to stretch my dollars. Obviously, reasonable airfare is the first thing I check. However, and I don’t think most people think of doing this, I am not adverse to hotel hopping. I actually do it on every visit. I am reasonably fit and figure I can easily walk a radius of about six blocks from the library. When I look for hotel rooms, I check prices day by day for the time period I plan to be in Salt Lake City. Rates varying considerably and I choose the hotel with the lowest rate per night. It isn’t a problem to get up early, check out and drop my luggage off at the next night’s hotel on my way to the library in the morning.

I also often time my visits for a Sunday evening arrival. That way, I am fresh on Monday morning and can build my library time stamina up with “only” an eight hour day the first day since the library closes at 5:00 on Mondays.

4. What to pack – When packing, I always include some granola bars, mozzarella sticks and licorice to have something on hand in case of airport delays and need for a bite while in the library in between meals.

5. Bring a couple of flash drives with a lot of memory (at least 16GB) with you. Information found on the computer can either be directly saved or screen clipped and saved. Also, BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME, create a file folder on each flash drive titled “If Found, Return to Owner” and put a document in there with your contact information in case you lose/leave your flash drive behind in the library. It is also a good idea to attach the flash drives to a lanyard so you are less likely to walk off and leave it in the computer.

6. Even if you use Evernote or some other tech note taking system, pack a pad of paper. I also bring a paper version of my “to do” list as I have been in the library when the computers are off line or the server is down. It is absolutely horrid being in that library with no access to one’s notes!

I travel just with an iPad, no lap top, and have never had difficulty getting on a computer in the library when I needed to. My iPad also has 3G, so when the internet was spotty in the library, I still had access. I NEVER enter new information into my genealogy software when I am on the road. I much prefer reviewing all my notes when I am home. Besides, who wants to waste research time entering computer data???

7. When in Salt Lake, be sure to eat a substantial healthy breakfast before going in the library and be sure to take time to eat a good lunch, too. My two favorite lunch spots are the Nauvoo Cafe in the Joseph Smith Building and the cafeteria downstairs in the LDS Church’s headquarters building on the other side of Temple Square. Just pick up an entry card to go there at the reception desk right inside the Family History Library. Both are very reasonable in cost and, if you head to lunch by 11:30, you will beat the business crowd.

8. What do I work on first when I get there? I always begin with items for which I know I will need help. I’ve been doing a lot of Danish and Swedish research and, while I can make out basic words, I often need help reading the old German script or navigating obscure military records. I head directly for the Scandinavian section and settle in.

Also, by beginning with difficult items, when I am feeling tired and need a change of focus, I have easy items to renew my energy.

9. Technology in the Library – The Family History Library has equipment needed to scan images from microfilm, to produce photocopies, etc. Don’t worry if you are technologically challenged, as there are volunteers staffing the equipment areas and all are most willing to help/teach you how to use the machines.

Access to photocopy machines is by cards, which you can purchase in the library. You can choose the amount to put on the card. I recommend starting with a small amount – $5 or less – as I find so much that can be saved digitally that I am making fewer and fewer paper copies with each visit.

If you have a personal small hand scanner, you can use it in the library. (FYI: There are a few libraries that don’t allow the use of hand scanners.)

10. BSO’s: You have a research plan going into the library. What about all the BSO’s (bright shiny objects) discovered along the way? There is nothing wrong with following some new trails discovered on site. However, make sure that you are not using valuable research time going down rabbit holes that can be entered through your own computer at home!

11. Take a bit of time each day to enjoy Salt Lake City. Tours of Temple Square are available and you might be able to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practicing. If you are lucky enough to be there in December, the Christmas decorations are fabulous. The new City Creek Center shopping mall is very close to Temple Square. It is fun to walk through and you can get some retail therapy if you need it.

12. Time to Leave – All good things must come to an end. Before you know it, it will be time to head home, hopefully with lots of new research treasures. I always time my flights to be the last one out for the day so I have as much library time as possible. I travel with just a carry on and take my suitcase with me to the library on the last day. Although airport transportation is often available via my hotel, I tend to pay the small amount for a shuttle, again so I can spend every last possible minute in the library. It is also possible to take the TRAX light rail system out to the airport. Consider your options and make your decision BEFORE you leave home.

To summarize all this into one tip: Plan ahead before you leave home and you will have a most enjoyable visit to a fabulous library!

Now I need to get busy planning my next trip. . . . .

4 thoughts on “Prepare Before a Visit to the Family History Library”

  1. Great pointers. There’s a lot of good feedback here, which I wish I had read before my first visit to the library during this past year’s RootsTech.

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