The world-renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a new director, David Rencher, FamilySearch’s Chief Genealogy Officer (See news release: FamilySearch CGO David Rencher New Family History Library Director). Rencher will continue to serve in both roles and sees them as very complementary.
This will be Rencher’s second time at the helm of the world-renowned library (he was the director from 1999–2002). And since that time, he has been around the block a time or two. And, well, the world for that matter as his leadership responsibilities for FamilySearch have demanded. He actually started his career at the library 40 years ago as a British Reference Consultant, and although his role and responsibilities have changed over the decades, the genealogy bug in him is vibrant as ever.
We polled the FamilySearch community to see what questions you’d like us to ask David considering his new appointment as the library’s director. Here are the 9 top questions and his replies.
- This is not your first time as the director of the Family History Library (FHL). Why the return now, and what are some of the biggest changes you see?
I was the library director 1999–2002. During that time, we did an extensive remodel in preparation for the 2002 Olympics. Since that time, the FHL has had another major renovation adding the Discovery Experience (See Family History Library Unveils Salt Lake City’s Newest Attraction) on the main floor as well as the addition of computers on other floors. My return to the library will allow the current director, Diane Loosle, to fill a role in the newly created Business Development area, and together we can tag team on the development and operations of new business units.
The biggest change is the shift to a younger demographic. Transitioning this new generation of interested family seekers into users of the broader set of FamilySearch products and services will be a key focus of the library.
- Will you also continue as the FamilySearch CGO? How will you balance/manage the two roles?
I will continue my role as CGO with the current CGO staff. This is a very seasoned team with years of experience in the genealogical community. They will all continue to engage in their present functions and assist in other areas of the library. We have added Thom Reed to the team for African-American community relations. We are also adding Todd Knowles to the team for his network in the Jewish community. As we move forward, others will be given CGO functions to expand and build the network of relationships throughout the community.
- What have you seen and learned as the FamilySearch CGO that will influence you as the library director and might impact future initiatives at the library?
In the CGO role, I have had a lot of interaction with the development teams at FamilySearch. Particularly the Family Tree and Search teams. New initiatives at FamilySearch will continue to be integrated into the assistance provided in the FHL and throughout the FamilySearch library system (FamilySearch has over 5,000 satellite branches globally called “Family History Centers” and hundreds of affiliate libraries).
Future initiatives in the FHL will focus on the patron experience for those of all levels of research skills. We have a great team with an extensive amount of genealogical expertise that will be supplemented with the domain expertise from throughout the department.
Of necessity, we will continue to look at possible renovations that will move the patron experience forward and continue to expand the number of people assisted each year. Visitor experiences must include all ethnicities. For example, we are currently experiencing a growing number of Chinese visitors, and we anticipate this number to grow. We want to give them personalized discovery experiences.
- How has technology impacted the FHL? Family history centers?
Technology has completely changed the landscape of genealogy in the last ten years. While only a small portion of the world’s historical records have been digitized and posted online, the coming years will see that effort grow exponentially (See UPDATE: FamilySearch Digital Access Replacing Microfilm). With that, our ability to index and publish online material will need to keep pace. New historical record collections will require better integration of the experience in the FHL and family history centers.
- What do you see as the future role of the FHL?
The library will be the flagship of the FamilySearch in-person experience for all ages and skill levels. This experience will extend quickly to the regional FamilySearch Centers and family history centers. it will also be a great experience on mobile devices. This will invite more people to enter their living memory into the system and share across generations of enthusiast.
There will be a renewed emphasis on the professional development of the staff. We will be exploring different models to include other domain experts in the reference experience, including many others in the community, both local and beyond. Events will celebrate the cultures of homelands around the world. A key component will include online training drawing from the knowledge and expertise of the community at-large.
- What are the biggest challenges in planning for the FHL’s future?
The biggest challenge will be keeping up with technology and people’s expectations of what can be done with their ancestry. DNA will take family history to new heights and family connections will become easier to make with distant cousins. Augmenting DNA connections with historical genealogical records will create a well-sourced history of the human family.
- Will you, as the FHL director, also be responsible for FSCs, FHCs?
As Director of the Family History Library, I will also be responsible for the Regional FamilySearch Centers and the guest experience in the family history centers. Operations in the family history centers regarding updates to computers and furnishings will be handled by the operations function.
- Can you recall the moment or experience when you first realized you had a passion for FH?
My passion for family history sparked at a young age. I transferred to Brigham Young University, noticed the family history classes in the catalog and began taking them. Although I was a business major at the time, I changed majors within a couple years.
- How will the FHL compete with the growing access to online?
The FHL will embrace technological advancements where applicable to expand the reach of its resources to more patrons and grow with it. The FHL also has access to a wealth of resources that are not available online and images of historical record collections which may only be viewed in one of our facilities. Hundreds of thousands of microfilms still need to be digitized and published as well as maps and other media types. The professional expertise to use, interpret, and connect families is still available in the FHL.
Live classes are taught in the FHL by both resident staff and visiting genealogical experts from throughout the world. Both young and old are having an incredible opportunity with the immersive Discovery Experience on the main floor. From there, they can go directly to other resources in the library and continue their search.
- FamilySearch CGO David Rencher New Family History Library Director
- The Office of the CGO (Chief Genealogy Officer)
- UPDATE: FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm