Church History Library Set to Open

“Church History Library Set to Open,” Ensign, June 2009, 76–77

Church History Library Set to Open

The property on North Temple Steet between State Street and Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA—just north of the Church Office Building—has been home to many buildings since the pioneers settled the Salt Lake Valley.

Originally owned by Heber C. Kimball (1801–68), First Counselor to President Brigham Young (1801–77), the land has been occupied by homes, a school, a mill, a blacksmith shop, a pharmacy, a cafe, an ice-cream shop, a dance academy, a bowling alley, an advertising agency, and the mission home—a precursor to the Provo Utah Missionary Training Center.

While the lot has hosted many buildings that have become a part of history, it will now host history itself.

The Church History Library

The newly finished Church History Library opens to the public on June 22, 2009. The 230,000-square-foot (21,000-square-meter) library will hold more than four million Church documents from around the world, ranging in date from 1830 to the present.

Christine Cox, director of customer service for the Church History Library, said that preserving Church history and making it available to members is important because it helps “them to increase their faith and to make and keep their sacred covenants. One of our main purposes … is to bless the lives of the members of the Church,” as well as to create “a great archival facility to preserve” Church materials as long as possible.

The five-floor building will hold 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, manuals, and newspapers; 240,000 original, unpublished journals, diaries, papers, manuscripts, and local Church unit histories; 13,000 historic photographs, posters, and maps; 23,000 audiovisual recordings and microfilm rolls; and 3.7 million patriarchal blessings.

The library has everything from last month’s Ensign to a board game called Mormonopoly; Brigham Young’s journal from 1844; a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith hand-addressed to Vienna Jacques, one of the three women referenced in the Doctrine and Covenants; and the Joseph Smith Papers.

A Growing Need

The Church History Library has needed a new home for some time. For nearly 40 years its documents have been housed in the east wing of the Church Office Building. However, the Church Office Building was not designed to be an archive. It does not have the appropriate seismic and fire protection or sufficient temperature and humidity controls.

In addition, the available space for employees, Church-service missionaries, and the collections has been dwindling because the library adds 500 to 700 archival collections—as well as some 6,000 published items—each year.

The Church announced plans to build the Church History Library on April 20, 2005, and broke ground on October 11, 2005.

A State-of-the-Art Building

Church History Department specialists and the company that designed the building consulted with international experts on records preservation and archival design in order to create a building that would best meet the needs of the Church.

The new building has wireless access, general-use and special collections reading rooms that are open to the public, 14 storage rooms, and a records preservation area.

The record storage vaults will have temperature, humidity, and lighting control and seismic and fire protection. Of the 14 main storage areas, 12 will be kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees C) with 35 percent relative humidity. For color motion picture films, photographs, and records of special significance, the other 2 storage rooms will be maintained at -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees C) with 30 percent relative humidity.

None of the individual archival storage areas connect to one another, and reinforced concrete walls surround each compartment in order to limit damage to Church records in the event of a fire. The building has fire sprinklers for the 55-degree vaults and is equipped with smoke and heat detectors that constantly take samples of the air. The -4 degree rooms rely on an oxygen suppression system to immediately put out a fire before it can damage the valuable records.

Kevin Nielson, Church History project manager over the building, said the new library is prepared for the millions of documents it will hold. Its storage rooms contain 40,048 shelves that average 40 inches (106 cm) wide.

The structure is not only well-built, but it is also “green,” or environmentally Friendly, according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.1 The building is designed to recycle waste, help control building temperatures with window shades, and use environmentally sustainable materials.

A Library for Everyone

The facility has an open stacks collection and a preservation collection. Documents from both of these collections are available for public viewing. Those from the open stacks collection are in the public library area. Staff members retrieve the documents from the archival preservation storage rooms for visitors upon request.

Access to the library is free and open to the public; however, since it is an archival facility, photo identification is required to request materials from the storage rooms.

“We’re trying to get the message out that we are open to everyone and we welcome people to come in and use the facility,” Sister Cox said.

A Design with a Message

The goal of the Church History Library’s design was to help explain why the Church keeps records.

The main foyer of the building will have replicas of the Laie Hawaii Temple’s bas-reliefs representing Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and current dispensations. The engravings symbolize how record keeping has been an important part of each dispensation. Brother Nielson said the bas-reliefs were positioned so visitors would be able to see a representation of record keeping in different dispensations and then be able to see the people in the library reading and studying records of this dispensation.

The Salt Lake Temple is in full view of the building’s main entrance and window-enclosed main foyer. Brother Nielson said the building’s position was chosen to communicate to visitors the important relationship between record keeping and making and keeping sacred covenants.


  1. LEED is a certification program that evaluates and rates buildings on their impact on the environment and their use of sustainable resources.

The new Church History Library is set to open at the end of June.

Photograph by Matt Reier

The Church History Library (center) was designed to point visitors to the Salt Lake Temple as a reminder of the relationship between record keeping and making and keeping sacred covenants.

Photograph by Matt Reier