Last week I drove through Southern California on my way to the American Library Association Conference in San Diego. Along the way, I had the opportunity to visit two genealogy libraries. The first was the recently reopened and thoroughly renovated West LA Regional Family History Center. This is a facility that I had used many times over the last two decades until it was closed for renovation a couple of years ago. The facility I entered on Thursday was definitely changed from what I had experienced there previously. That changed experience started when I viewed the new website. There was so much information on it I couldn’t easily find what I was looking for and the flashing elements were distracting. Since I had the bad sense to use Firefox as my browser, the “New Hours of Operation” were not immediately visible without scrolling down the page.
The facility was much brighter and aesthetically pleasing. It’s amazing how much light those books used to absorb. There were plenty of workstations and comfortable, light weight task chairs. There were two high tech classrooms for teleconferencing and live instruction as well. But gone were most of the microforms and many of the books. They had been returned to Salt Lake City to be digitized or otherwise reused. In the long term focus that FamilySearch tries to use in making up its business I suppose this all makes sense. However, I left feeling that I wouldn’t be eager to return any time soon.
In many ways this new approach levels the playing field between the relatively resource rich big city and the remote and more rural community where I live. The digitization process is beginning to provide anywhere, anytime access to records if one is plugged into the bandwidth necessary to access them. For that I am very grateful. However, the reason to return to that particular facility has greatly diminished. For the most part I can conduct the same research from home or from the tiny Family History Center in San Luis Obispo without enduring the LA freeway traffic. That’s not all bad. However, more about this in my next post which will be about my other library experience that day.