Libraries and Archives
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Evans, Max J.
Latter-day Saints believe that people should document God's dealings with them. Without sacred records, people are destined to "dwindle and perish in unbelief" (1 Ne. 3:13). In one of the first revelations received after the Church was formally organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith was instructed that "there shall be a record kept among you" (D&C 21:1). This directive, followed a few years later by instruction "to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat" (D&C 123:4), led to the appointment of a succession of Church historians, each charged with keeping an account of the activities of Joseph Smith, his successors, and the Church in general (see Record Keeping). Many of these ongoing chronicles, together with the accumulation of day-to-day records of Church enterprises and the papers of Church members, became the foundation of the modern Church Archives in Salt Lake City. The establishment of such archives was accomplished when there were few historical societies and no national or state archives in the United States.
Andrew Jenson, who served as an Assistant Church Historian for fifty years (1891-1941), tirelessly combed LDS communities and foreign missions for records. He wrote histories of hundreds of local wards, branches, missions, and settlements, and established a system for having local leaders produce manuscript histories (quarterly records of Church events and activities). His efforts greatly enriched the Church Archives, and the records have continued to expand with the donations of papers and diaries of many Church members throughout the years. Because of the growth of the Church, minutes of meetings of local congregations are no longer sent to the Archives, and the Manuscript Histories have been replaced by brief annual historical reports.
In the early days of the Church, leaders sought after texts that demonstrated a broad-based learning and cultural understanding. A library was established in Nauvoo in the Seventies Hall that contained many books, including those brought by missionaries who had served abroad. Although the disposition of the Nauvoo library is not known, the Latter-day Saints continued to maintain libraries after they moved west.
Today the main historical library of the Church is maintained and supervised by the Historical Department of the Church in Salt Lake City. It strives to maintain as complete a collection as possible on the Mormon experience throughout the world. It holds a copy of each edition, in each language, of all official Church publications. It attempts to collect all publications in which the Church or the Latter-day Saints are mentioned. It also holds a significant collection of works published by and about schismatic groups that follow teachings of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon.
Perhaps best known of all the LDS Libraries is the Family History Library. With approximately 1.6 million reels of microfilm, containing raw genealogical data and copies of published books, as well as a collection of some 200,000 hard-copy volumes, the Family History Library is used by genealogists throughout the world. Its resources are available through a network of over 1,500 local LDS Family History Centers, each staffed by volunteers. Each library has a catalog of the main library's holdings and may order microfilm copies of most of the collection. In addition, the Church operates libraries/media centers in each of its meetinghouses to support the curriculum of the Church's teaching organizations.
Many college and university libraries, as well as other research institutions, hold significant collections on the Mormons and the Church. Brigham Young University, Utah State University, and the University of Utah all have important Mormon collections. The other colleges and universities in Utah also hold notable materials, as do the Utah State Historical Society, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, and the Utah State Archives. Outside of Utah, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has collected much published material on the Latter-day Saints. The National Archives has many records documenting the federal government's involvement with the Mormons and the Utah Territory. Research collections at Yale University, the New York Public Library, Princeton University, the University of Michigan, the Historical Office of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Huntington Library (San Marino, California), as well as many other libraries throughout the West, can be resources for scholars searching for LDS materials. Indeed, Mormon-related records may be found in any of the hundreds of archives and manuscript libraries throughout the United States.
Evans, Max J. "A History of the Public Library Movement in Utah." Master's thesis, Utah State University, 1971.
Evans, Max J., and Ronald G. Watt. "Sources for Western History at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Western Historical Quarterly 8 (July 1977):303-312.
MAX J. EVANS