Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley Jr.; Reid L. Neilson, Church History Department managing director; and Wayne Crosby, director of global support and training, spoke at a plenary session of the conference.
"We are pleased as the Church History Department, to announce that the Church History Catalog is now online, and it is live and it has remarkable features and capabilities," Brother Neilson told conference-goers, many of whom had already been exposed to the new online catalog via a beta version announced at last year's conference in St. George, Utah.
"Isn't it marvelous that before you go to Salt Lake City you can do research and figure out what reference you want to see before you actually get to Salt Lake City?" he asked. "Now ... you can search for what you'd like, save it electronically and simply access it once you arrive," Brother Neilson explained, noting that such an advance search will save valuable time for researchers while they are at the library.
The new online catalog can be accessed at history.lds.org.
In addition to bibliographic listings in the catalog, Brother Neilson said users can access more than 400,000 pages of digitized documents and images. He demonstrated how a user could find a catalog record from the Brigham Young office files, for example, then view the early Church president's letter book item by item.
"This is the beginning of a massive digitization effort that we're undertaking in the Church History Department to make some of the most important records available to members, historians and scholars all over the world."
Records that can be accessed include journals, record books, letters and correspondence and 19th century books "that will be of great benefit to you as historians and those who are passionate about the Mormon past," he said.
In addition, the department has collaborated with the Family History Department and BYU's Harold B. Lee Library to digitize tens of thousands of family histories and make them accessible through the new online catalog.
Also offered are the most important LDS periodicals of the past, including the Improvement Era and the Juvenile Instructor in conjunction with an Internet archive that provides fully searchable digital scans of the pages of those publications.
"How many of you have come to the Church History Department and wished that you could pay someone to digitize the records so you could take them home with you?" Brother Neilson asked. "Now, for a small fee, you can come and talk to our archivists and curators and actually request records. We will digitize them for you. You could take them, use them at your own place of work." The digitized copies would then be put up on the online catalog for the benefit of other users.
A short video vignette explains how to use the new online catalog.
* Gideon Tolman:Church History catalog
Earlier, Brother Turley and Brother Crosby discussed how the Church's efforts to collect, preserve and share the Mormon past have been decentralized in recent years, with Church history advisers appointed locally to serve as local historians.
The department has developed this model: The Church Historian oversees the work worldwide; the area presidencies give overall leadership at the local level; area Church history advisers serve as area historians; and the Church history department provides global support and training. At the same time, the Church Historian travels around the Church to "see the way things really are" in accordance with Doctrine and Covenants 69:1.