Overview: The Church History Library
Introduction: Understanding CHL Collections
The Church History Library is a large, modern institution that contains millions of records. Despite its size, however, the CHL is easy to navigate once you understand how its collections are organized. Thus, to help you make the most of your research experience, we have prepared this guide, which discusses the CHL’s history, its cataloging system, and its holdings’ classifications and organization. It also includes suggestions on what to do if your research process becomes challenging.
Overview: The Church History Library
The Church History Library is home to the archival, manuscript, and print collections owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Keeping meticulous records has been a priority of the Church since the 1830s. On the day the Church was organized, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord instructed, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). Today, the Church History Library holds the world’s largest collection of materials by and about the Church and its members. The holdings span the Church’s history from the 1820s to yesterday; geographical expansion from New York to the world; ethnic and linguistic variety, including items in more than 150 languages; and organizational structure, from Salt Lake City headquarters to the smallest local Church congregation.
Here are the types of records you can find at the Church History Library:
Church and Local Records
Church and local records are produced daily as Church leaders, employees, and members carry out their normal activities. For example, local records from stakes, districts, wards, and branches include sacrament meeting and auxiliary meeting minutes, chapel construction and dedication records, programs, calling lists, and photographs of leaders and events. The Church also publishes scriptures, hymnals, handbooks, and manuals. Membership in the Church produces membership records, ordinance records, patriarchal blessings, records of financial donations, missionary service records, and annual historical reports. Once historical records are no longer needed by their creators, they are transferred to the Church History Library, which serves as the Church’s institutional archive.
Church records’ call numbers feature the prefix “CR”; local records’ call numbers begin with “LR.” For more information on finding these records, see “Decoding Church History Library Call Numbers.”
In an effort to preserve materials published by or about the Church, we continually work to develop and maintain a thorough collection of published materials, including books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, and audiovisual materials. In collecting and preserving these types of materials, the Church History Library operates much like the Library of Congress or other national libraries.
Church members and others donate manuscript materials such as journals, personal histories, correspondence, and photographs. Most of these manuscripts are rare and unique. The collection also includes materials from an extensive oral history program that began in 1972 and documents the experiences of Latter-day Saints throughout the world. These manuscript materials make the library somewhat like a university’s special collections or a specialized research library, similar to the Huntington Library in California.
Like other archives, the library may restrict access to items that contain information that is sacred, confidential, or private in compliance with external statutes and regulations, the desires of record creators or donors, and the best practices of the profession. Items from the collections are made available for public access through the online catalog, at the library and the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, and at Church historic sites and other locations around the world. For more information on Church History Library access policy, please visit our Policies and Guidelines page.