Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 3 – The Usual Suspects

Each floor of the Family History Library shares many traits.

Information Desk

On every floor, there is an information desk as you exit the stairs or the elevators. The second floor has a bit of an “outer lobby”, but look around and you can’t miss the information desk. There are always people at these counters waiting to help you, so ask questions. (Don’t wander around trying to figure out something when a quick question can save you time.) At any given time, you may find the desk staffed with volunteers or expert consultants. On the International floor, the desk is staffed with people who can help you read the records in foreign languages. (I have been told that a German translator is always available.)

Access Services

There is an Access Services room on each floor. These are small rooms located by the scanners. If you need a restricted microfiche, you can pick it up at the window (in exchange for a photo ID). This is also where you order microfilm from the vault; films must be ordered on the floor where they will be filed, i.e. International films must be ordered on the International floor and cannot be ordered on the US floor.

Very important: This is also where you get items from high density storage. If you have looked for a book or microfilm and can’t find it, and the catalog says it’s available, it’s usually in high density. The catalog will not indicate if an item is in high density, so you have to ask. These items are retrieved immediately; no need to worry about ordering them days in advance like films from the vault.


Microfilm Drawers

Most floors (not the main floor or the third floor) have microfilm. The microfilm are self-serve.   There are signs at the end of each aisle to tell you which numbered films are there. Each drawer displays the number of the first film in the drawer. Try not to take too many at a time because someone else might need the film; stick with five or six at most. You must refile them when you are finished. There are usually two small, rolling step stools in each aisle to help you reach the films that are too high; sometimes you have to check other aisles to find them.

Each floor with microfilm has aisles of microfilm readers. There are some special readers with more magnification and for left-handed use that are clearly labelled.


Floors with microfilm also have microfiche. There is a cabinet on each floor. Red plastic markers are on top of the cabinet to help you mark the place to refile the fiche. There are usually a few fiche readers near the cabinet. As stated before, some microfiche are restricted and must be picked up at the Access Services windows.


Maps can be found on many floors. Some you will find on special map tables containing large books with collections of maps; others are in cabinets.


The main floor has family histories; books that people have written about their own families. The second floor has no books; US and Canada books are found on the third floor. Both basement floors have books. As stated before, many books (especially on B-1, the International floor) are in high density and must be requested from Access Services.

There are usually two sections of books: reference books are found near the information desk on each floor while other books have their own areas on the floor.


There are rows of computers on every floor. You can access the FHL catalog and many subscription genealogy web sites for free. You can access most of the Internet (they do have some filters set up to block some things). You can also use the FHL wi-fi network with your own computer (but it has even more filters — I’ve never connected to email on my own computer).

Scanners, Printers, and Photocopiers

There are some printers within the computer area as well as one by the scanners. Scanners are on all floors except the main floor. From the scanners, you can save digital images from your microfilm or microfiche to your own flash drive, burn them to a CD, or send them to the nearby printer. There is also one flatbed scanner on each floor for scanning books.

The third floor has several photocopy machines instead of film/fiche scanners, whereas other floors have just one photocopier.


Just in case some of my details are incorrect, keep in mind that sometimes things are changed at the FHL, I don’t spend much time on some floors, and I’m writing this article from memory.

This is the third part in a series. For previous articles see: