The Church History Library is much more than a place where priceless records are kept; it also houses a high-tech, state-of-the art conservation lab that protects and preserves historical records such as journals, books, and photographs.
Both preservation — stopping decay before it happens — and conservation (repairing decay) are carefully regulated by a handful of trained conservationists. These individuals use simple procedures as well as high-tech machines to help restore even the most obscure photographs.
“The philosophy here is that we want things to be accessible to the public, while at the same time we are properly caring for them,” said senior conservator Chris McAfee.
One project that took about 80 hours to complete was a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon that had the Prophet Joseph Smith’s original handwriting in the inside cover. After washing, repairs, binding and sewing, the book from 1830 will be displayed at the public open house of the library.
“We’ve experienced people getting tears when they see this is Joseph Smith’s handwriting,” said McAfee. “This book can now be used in our exhibit to inspire and edify people.”
“When you think of your own history and then you think of the history of an organization like the Church, you want to preserve the integrity of that history,” said conservation technician Russell Fuhriman. “It gives you a lot of satisfaction to realize that you can put something back together again.”
In the early stages of the Church, preservation methods were less developed. “They didn’t really have any good preservation techniques — it was just a matter of keeping things safe,” McAfee said. “Security was probably their best preservation effort.”
Now, the Church History Library has several sophisticated vaults where valuables are kept and monitored regularly. The temperature is strictly controlled to prolong the life of each artifact.
The library is also reaching out to help the general public conserve and preserve historical items. Plans are also underway for the library to expand its Web site to include an “ask a conservator” feature where anyone can direct a question to a trained professional to get simple advice on how to care for specific items.
“The history of the Church is the history of its members,” McAfee said. “While we can’t collect every member’s history here, we do believe we have the responsibility to help the members preserve their records.”
Visitors to the Church History Library open house will see a treasure trove of Church historical artifacts including Joseph Smith’s journal, a rare 1833 copy of the Book of Commandments, an original page from the Book of Mormon manuscript and a handwritten list of the first members of the Church in Ghana.