The Insider’s Guide to the Family History Library and SLC

Salt Lake City is about to be descended upon my a few thousand genealogists and technologists. As I see people posing questions and writing comments on various blogs, I have answered a few. Thus, I’ve decided to write this blog post.

If it’s your first time to the Family History Library, or you just haven’t been back in a while, you may feel overwhelmed when you first enter the library. There is an orientation you can try, but you still won’t be sure of yourself until you get started. There are lots of volunteers to help you. If they try to give you research advice, be wary. Many missionaries try to help, but you might know far more about doing research. If they help you with finding films/books or using readers/scanners, that part they should be good at.

Five Floors

Upon entering the FHL, you are on the Main floor. This floor has computers, histories, and a junk food room. I spend little time on this floor myself, except when I need a break and a chocolate bar. They have several machines ranging from drinks (soda, milk, juices, water), chocolate and chips and snack foods, microwaveable meals, and one ice cream machine.

All floors have restrooms and water fountains in the same place, rows of computers, at least a few extra tables, microfilm readers and scanners (except for the third floor), printers/scanners, an information desk, and a library access services office. (Note that the information desk on the main floor rarely has any of the kind of information I try to ask them for. Other floors are more useful for specific research questions.)

Upstairs is US and Canada research. The second floor has microfilm and microfiche. The third floor has books. If you need to see any books, make sure you check them because they can’t be ordered to your local Family History Centers (that I’m aware of).

Downstairs is International (B-1) and British Isles/Australia/New Zealand (B-2).

Do your research at the microfilm readers then go to the scanners only to make scans/copies of records you have found. This will keep you from annoying other people by taking time at the scanners while they are waiting. I often go straight to the scanners when copying records that are indexed. Just be sure you are familiar with how to find the page you need if you do that.

The scanners can scan directly to flash drive or you can also print for $.05 per copy (or $.10 for big pages, I believe; I don’t usually print). There are machines from which to buy copy cards. The scanners have a learning curve, so ask for help. There are also instructional pages in the scanner area. The person working next to you might help also.

Can You Avoid Crowds?

Before, during, and after RootsTech, it will probably be crowded. SLIG attendees will also be there the week before. If you find the US/Canada floor too crowded, try the International floor, or the British floor, where there are often fewer people.

How To Prepare -or- Where Are My Films?

Prepare in advance what you want to look at. Don’t just figure out which families you want to research, check the FHL catalog and have film numbers and book call numbers ready to go.

The FHL is a help-yourself facility. You need to find your own films, fiches, and books, and then replace them when you are done. So don’t overdo it when you take films. They recommend up to five at a time, but only take that many if you’ll be quick with them; remember others might want to use the same films too. Microfilm drawers are labeled with the first film number in the drawer. Some people will sometimes mark the drawers with magnetic things or post-its for refiling. Try not to be dyslexic while refiling and double check that you’ve boxed the correct film in the correct box. (I had a scavenger hunt across four boxes once to find a mis-filed film reel.)

If you can’t find your film in the correct drawer (and there’s no gap like someone is using it), you need to check Overflow. At the end of the films (you’ll see the order), some drawers are marked with pink film numbers. Those are the overflow drawers. If you can’t find your film in order or in overflow, and it’s not in the vault, it’s usually in high density. So keep reading.

Fiche are also borrowed and returned to their drawers; there are red marker cards above the drawers to mark your place. Books should be returned to the red shelves, but if I just look at it while standing by the shelf, I often just put it back. Many books are in high density on the International floor. (I don’t know about British books.) Keep in mind that when you grab a book from the shelf, you are in the location/topic, so you might look at what else is there even if you didn’t see the listings in the catalog.

If a film says that it’s in the Vault, order it ahead of time. (Ooh, that’s a form I hadn’t seen before.) It takes only a day or two to get a film from the vault, but they can only do so many per day, so don’t overwork them during the conference for films you know you need before you arrive. If your research leads you to a vault film when you’re still around for another day or two, then go ahead and order it.

Sometimes the catalog will specify High Density or to visit Access Services (or sometimes it won’t and you have to check there anyway). Do not fret! (I’ve seen people panic.) High density is in the building on the B-1 floor. It takes them maybe five minutes to get your film. Access services is a small office with glass windows on every floor near the scanners. If the catalog says access services, it may mean the records are restricted and they will hold your government-issued ID while you have the film/fiche, or it may be in high density. Anything you get from high density or access services should be returned to them; don’t try to put the films into drawers.

Outside There’s A City

You may feel cooped up inside and want to know what’s outside the buildings. Between the conference center and the FHL, JB’s Restaurant is noticeably attached to the lobby of the Plaza hotel. There is a restaurant in the lobby of the Radisson hotel. The Hilton has a couple restaurants, and there are plenty on other streets nearby. The Gateway is an outdoor mall just down the street from all of this and they have lots of restaurants.

You can use Trax to get around a bit. It is our light rail system. There is a convenient station called Temple Square for the Plaza, FHL, Salt Palace convention center, and the Radisson (and Temple Square too). The Arena Station can work for the Radisson also. In downtown, we are in the free fare zone, so Trax and buses won’t cost anything within those boundaries. The Gallivan station is on the street directly behind the Hilton (if your hotel is out that way); you just have to find a path through the buildings and parking lots. (I know for a fact there was a shortcut through to the Hilton in 2007.) The Planetarium station brings you to the front of Gateway, but the next one or two stops might also be good.

Just remember that, if you live by Murphy’s law (like I do), waiting for Trax and walking will often take the same time. Last year, I opted to walk to the Planetarium with a friend instead of waiting. Trax arrived at the same time we did.

What’s In Temple Square?

Temple Square is home to the Mormon Salt Lake Temple and the Tabernacle. (You’ve probably heard of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.) It’s open from 9am-9pm every day. Besides those two buildings, there are several other buildings and gardens. In the south visitor center, they have a model of the Temple; it’s the only way a non-Mormon will ever see the inside. I can’t tell you a whole lot of details, but there’s this web site to read more about it, including info about the four restaurants and choir performances and rehearsals (8pm Thursdays).

How’s The Weather?

SLC is in a drought. We’ve had very, very little snow this year. I see two possibilities. 1. It will stay this way. 2. Murphy will visit and dump a huge snowstorm on us just in time for your visit. One forecast is saying a possibility for rain/snow on the 19th or 20th of January. They don’t predict far enough in advance for February. Either way, bring a jacket, gloves, hat, whatever you like for winter. Even if there’s no snow, it’s cold. I don’t have a heavy coat; I layer instead. And wear comfortable shoes. A block in downtown SLC is probably multiple blocks in your city, and there’s also a good deal of walking just in the convention center.

Anything I missed that I should mention? Let me know and maybe I’ll add a section to this blog post.

Additional FHL Details

Is There Wi-fi?

There is free wi-fi available from the FHL. A quick accepting of the terms in a web browser will get you connected. They block a few things; consider that it’s run by a religious organization and they probably try to block the same things as public libraries and schools. Unfortunately, they block the standard email ports so I can’t get to my regular mail, but I can get to gmail with no problem. (I have my own hosting, so probably very few people will have the email issue I do.) Besides my email, it’s extremely rare for me to find something blocked.

Can I Bring My Own Computer?

Absolutely. I have seen all kinds of computers, tablets, and cameras. Some people leave their computers by the readers and walk away; I suggest doing that only if it’s locked down. There are outlets behind the microfilm readers, but some are harder to reach than others. Some tables have plugs built in, but I don’t think they are all connected.

I already mentioned they have lots of computers that everyone can use to access the catalog, subscription databases, or any web sites. Just don’t forget your flash drive in a computer. As in the real world, I think most people are honest and would turn it in to lost and found, but I forgot one once and never got it back. Also, you might want put your name on the flash drive or the lanyard; the employees will not check the drive to see if there’s a name on it.

Will My Cell Phone Work?

There is average cell phone service in the building, the quality of which depends on your carrier and phone. I never get a signal in the basement. If you’re on Verizon, you’re in luck because there is a repeater in the basement. Try to remember to put your phone on silent and step away to the elevator area if you take any calls so as not to annoy others.

What Else Can I Bring?

I have seen rolling suitcases, binders, charts, even extra tables set up next to film readers. I don’t think anything is restricted, except maybe proselytizing. And no, they won’t try to sell you on their religion while you’re in the FHL. If you want to know more about the LDS church, there’s plenty of other nearby places to go instead.

And since RootsTech is in winter, I’ll mention that there are coat racks on every floor. Or you can just drape your coat over your chair.

10 thoughts on “The Insider’s Guide to the Family History Library and SLC”

  1. Banai, What a fantastic resource for visitors to SLC. I can’t think of any questions for now but will periodically drop back to see what others have asked and what you have added.

  2. Good overview. I’m going straight to the books, I can get the film sent to the Midwest Genealogy Center easily. So you will find me on the 3rd floor!

  3. What a great rundown. I have to admit, the weather has been my biggest concern. I’m from Northern California, and hate snow — I just don’t own the gear for it. But I’m used to walking longer distances through the city, so that’s a plus.
    Question about the library: what’s the laptop policy and is there free wifi available? If not, is cell reception okay inside the building? I’d be willing to bring a MiFi device if it was useful (I’ll be back in April anyways). Thanks again!

    1. Good questions, Kim. I don’t know if there is an actual policy for electronics; you can bring whatever you want. I’ve seen laptops, netbooks, tablets, cameras, cell phones, binders, some people will bring a rolling suitcase and a small table to set up next to the readers.

      This somehow also reminds me that there are coat racks on every floor. RootsTech will be during winter, after all.

      There is free wifi in the building. There is a quick login by web browser and then you have slightly limited access. They do block some ports and sites. I have never been able to access my regular email by program or by webmail, but I can get to gmail. Others have said they have no problem with email, but I have my own hosting and not many other people do that. My newest genealogy web site was strangely blocked, but I requested for them to unblock the domain and they did. I can’t recall anything else specifically that is blocked, but I almost never encounter anything. I’m sure they try to block anything a public school or library would. I have no problem accessing social networking sites.

      Cell phone service works above ground. I never get a signal downstairs. However, there is a repeater in the basement for Verizon if you’re on that network.

      1. Thank you so much! That really helps to know. I keep my research to-do on a google doc spreadsheet so if gmail works, I should be able to access it. I never worry about blocked access since I use a VPN for anything really sensitive, but it probably won’t be necessary there. Thanks again!

  4. Hi Banai, Thank You so much for all this info, it really will help in spending time on the research and not running around like a lost soul. With regards to transit – what is the best way to get out to the ski hills from the downtown core (Hilton) for my husband and daughter while I am warm in the conference centre?

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