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Monday, July 23, 2012

Using The Church History Library and Catalog

by Bradly Baird (bio)

Chronicling the Kingdom In March of this year, I started developing a manuscript that describes the spiritual opportunities available to full-time missionaries in the Missionary Training Center. To provide inspiration for the writing process, I decided to explore the MTC's history and also to find and read the dedicatory prayers offered by various General Authorities as a new phase of the MTC complex was completed. I did not know where exactly I might find these materials, but hoped that the Church History Library and the Church History Catalog might provide the answers.

I visited the Library for the first time on a cold March day and - accessing the Church History Catalog at a research station in the main reading room - found source materials on every conceivable gospel and church-related topic. Most of these materials are available for use by the public - as long as you register with the Library - and include journals, publications, minutes of meetings, photographs, plans, and architectural drawings. I even found a large quantity of photographs and written material related to my full-time mission in Finland, authored by fellow missionaries and former mission presidents.

I then searched for information about the Missionary Training Center(s) and discovered an endless array of documents, photographs, books, and other useful materials. Within all of this, I found something most important and critical to my own research: Dr. Richard O. Cowan's official history, which is available at the Library in a two-volume set and which he wrote while he was the MTC's official historian.

To my great surprise, the history contained everything I was looking for: many of the dedicatory prayers and talks, a detailed history of the entire missionary training program, brief discussions of mission presidents, and an overview of church policy regarding regional training centers. I was not expecting to find such a rich and inspiring resource. In fact, I later shelled out fifty bucks to purchase a copy of the history from an LDS book dealer when I determined that I could not live without it.

In addition to the book research, I also utilized the Church History Catalog to find images and resources for a digital presentation focused on Joseph Smith's life and the early history of the Church. Once again, I was not disappointed by the results. After simple subject searches, the Catalog provided a wealth of photographs, drawings, paintings, and sketches, many of which are available for immediate download. Surprisingly, the Catalog provided such a large number of images that I found difficulty in choosing just fifty or sixty for my presentation.

Housing Church History The Church History Library is housed in an impressive new building that opened this past year and - like everything the church has built - is an appropriate edifice for chronicling the Kingdom of God (I recommend a visit if you can make it). The main reading room is very functional - filled with desks, tables, computer terminals with Catalog access, a number of shelved books, a reference desk staffed with service missionaries where you can request items from the archives - and provides a spiritual environment for research. In the center of the room, the Library also exhibits archive materials from church history. During my visit, the exhibit featured items from the church's involvement in the 2002 Olympics and the New York World's Fair in 1964.

Turning to the Past My brief experiences with the Library and the Catalog revealed incredible materials and resources and I could have spent all day aimlessly exploring. I recommend utilizing these resources no matter the level of your interest in the Church or family history. You never know what portion -- personal, spiritual, or practical -- of our collective history may influence your life. At the very least, your exploration will turn your heart to the past and strengthen your faith in the work at hand.

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