Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University – Case Study


The Harold B. Lee Library (or the Lee Library as it is known on campus) is a fairly recent addition to Brigham Young University (BYU) which was established in 1875 as the Brigham Young Academy. It was completed in 1961 as the J. Reuben Clark Library, but when BYU wanted to name its new Law school and law Library after the Latter Day Saint’s (LDS) President Clark, the University library’s name was changed to honor the 11 th President of the Church, Harold B. Lee. Although an addition to the original building was completed in 1976, within 20 years nearly half of the university’s more than 3 million volumes were in storage off campus. Another addition was long overdue, and in 1999 a 240,000 square foot underground facility was opened.

The library includes archives and manuscript collections of Western American history, historical film and music collections, and a learning resource center offering all types of media. The library’s LDS family history facility is the second largest in the world.

The library, centrally located on the campus, upholds its university founder’s belief in adapting the newest technology to the advantage of the LDS society. Brigham Young contracted in 1861 to build a portion of the transcontinental telegraph line, which was then being constructed from Nebraska to California, and was also involved with contracts for the transcontinental railroad – the cutting edge technologies of the day. The library has recently introduced the latest in microfilm readers to aid its patrons.

Libraries hold a lot of records on microfilm, particularly roll microfilm. The Lee Library has over 200,000 genealogy films, duplicates of films from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, plus all US census films. They also have approximately 30,000 films of newspapers, local histories, archival documents and miscellaneous subjects. To view archived microfilm records, the library used Northwest, Dukane and Gideon viewers. These viewers are large, cumbersome units that require specially low-lighted areas for optimal viewing. Many are located in special microfilm viewing rooms or cubicles.

The Lee Library had to remodel and reduce their patron area to make way for shelving for books and were able to surplus some fifty old viewers. But they needed a solution to the increasing space constraints for viewing microfilm. Howard C. Bybee, the Library’s Microfom/Genealogy Reference Librarian found that the makers of the Gideon Library Reader had a new product which not only answered the space constraints but also moved microfilm research into the 21 st century by allowing the user to view the film, annotate the images and burn them to CD.

According to Mr. Bybee one of the most attractive features of the new ST-200 digital microfilm image viewing and retrieval solution is the ability to view the images on a monitor “This allows us to have normal lighting in the area. Most microfilm viewers require low level lighting. We installed the equipment on a four place study table, under normal lighting and use two monitors – we added an additional 21 inch monitor to the regular computer monitor for ease in viewing. The equipment allows us to obtain high resolution images direct from the film.”

The ST-200, unlike other viewers which scan from a projected image, has separated the two processes of scanning and projecting the image. Separating the processes prevents image degradation and distortion, and the integrated digital zoom lens obtains an exceptionally clear view of each frame. The viewed image is then captured using an optical scan resolution of up to 2700 dpi directly from the surface of the film, NOT from the projected image, providing sharp clear images with an even light and contrast – corner to corner. The digital microfilm scanner has a separate linear light system that tracks along the film adjacent to the scan head, which eliminates the central ‘headlight’ and dark edges that users can get from image projection-based scanning systems. The user friendly ScanWrite™ software simplifies the scanning and retrieval process, and the simple icons allow for editing; printing; storing on a CD; faxing; or e-mailing selected images or parts of them. Currently library patrons can use a two step mechanism to save to a USB device, first saving to the hard drive and then saving to the USB device. The latest version 3.0 of ScanWrite allows the ability to directly copy to USB devices such as a small memory stick, thumb drive, or USB necklace, thus eliminating a step and offering a simpler storage option than burning to CD.

The clarity of the images and the ease with which they can be manipulated, makes research projects easier and less daunting. One library patron had tried to do a major project some years back on the old equipment, but found the undertaking too frustrating. When he discovered the new ST-200, he was effusive in his appreciation. He has spent hundreds of hours scanning newspaper articles to document the historical context of his relatives and ancestors for a major family history.

For a large project for the Topaz Museum (Japanese American WW11Internment Camp) project, Mr. Bybee used the ST-200 for about 250 images which were printed out as a hard copy and also burned to CD.

Mr Bybee found the ST-200 easy to install “By following the installation instructions, I installed it without my Computer Support employee’s help”, but he did have a caveat on using the equipment. He has found that many of their elderly patrons do not use the microfilm scanner as it does require some computer proficiency, but approximately half an hour of training makes them self-sufficient. One retired professor favored an antiquated viewer on which to do his research. When this machine was disposed of and he had some especially difficult film to read, Mr. Bybee trained him on the ST-200. (The latest software offers a short, professionally produced audio and video movie that takes first time users through an orientation program, making it faster and easier for them to become comfortable with the new equipment.) He is now proficient at reading the film and spends about half a day three to four times a week on the machine. Unfortunately, he is not yet prepared to take the next step of burning his data to CD or saving to a USB memory stick, and his manual transcriptions of data make other library patrons see him as ‘hogging’ the machine.

Another new feature which will greatly assist patrons at the Harold B. Lee Library is the add-on Microfiche and Opaque Card Attachment (MOCA) which allows the viewing and capturing of images on Microfiche and Opaque Micro Cards. As the library currently has some 630,000+ microfiche and 27,000+ microcards, this will be of great benefit as they now have three reading stations that can handle both fiche and film, which also can copy the microfiche, as well as film, to CD. Additionally there are six photocopying stations that make hard copies of fiche or film. However, all of these use reflected images with the inherent problems and distorted images of this method, and not the clear, undistorted direct-from-film or fiche images that the ST-200 provides. For Micro-cards there is a single viewer which does not permit the making of copies, so the researcher must make notes. These new features plus the optional 48X zoom lens which doubles the viewing range from 24x to 48x making the extremely small text of classified ads, obituaries, and other vital records easily readable, are making it easier and faster for researchers to locate, identify and copy the materials they need.

As Mr. Bybee says, “The library and our patrons are looking forward to acquiring more ST-200’s.”