SALT LAKE CITY -- The Granite Mountain Records Vault is holding more than microfilm these days.
A massive, decade-long effort to convert microfilm rolls to digital files is underway at the huge underground storage facility owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The project is part of the church's genealogical work and is an attempt to further preserve and disseminate genealogical records, said Jay Verkler, president and CEO of FamilySearch, the genealogy arm of the LDS Church.
Verkler spoke at the opening of the annual meeting of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), which met in Salt Lake City this week.
Under the old system of scanning microfilm, digitizing the 3.5 billion images stored in the vault would have taken more than 100 years, so FamilySearch worked with technology providers to create a new way of scanning.
Verkler said the new equipment does not skip images, adjusts for the exposure of each image and the density of each roll.
The collaborative nature of the genealogical community feeds into the goals to gather, preserve and provide records, he said.
"Even deep experts have to collaborate with other experts," he said.
By creating digital images of the microfilm, he said they are making it even easier for people around the world to access the records in the vault and creating backup that will not deteriorate with reproduction as a photocopy or microfilm copy would.
"We're reaching the point that there are enough records online that you can do some meaningful research," he said. Increased access to records has fueled excitement among genealogists and made it easier for novices to begin and learn how to research.
The 65,000-square-foot mountain facility is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, has filtered air and is kept at 35 percent humidity. It's under 700 feet of granite in the mountains of the Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Verkler said talking about what they do there and showing a video tour at the NGS conference was supposed to help dispel some of the mystique surrounding the vault. Although access is restricted, he said the vault contents are not a secret.
Using technology in family history research is increasing, and he said FamilySearch is working with other companies to make it easier for anyone hoping to use their records.
With 2.4 million rolls of microfilm covering many languages and nations, some containing the only copy of a record, Verkler said it's important for genealogists to have access, while making sure the records are safeguarded.
A new beta FamilySearch system has been released at beta.familysearch.org, which has 300 million of the newly digitized files released for use. Verkler also encouraged people to use wikis to share their information and research.
"It's sharing instead of hoarding. Abundance model instead of the scarcity model."
Sharing information would prevent people from having to do the same research over and over, he said.
"It's a coming of age of this community in the technology world," Verkler said.
NGS began holding annual conferences 20 years ago to bring the community together and give genealogists a chance to hear from experts in a time where that was more difficult, said Barbara Little, former NGS president.
Attendance has been increasing in the past few years, she said, because the people that begin research online now realize they need additional skills to go deeper in research.
"Other organizations can put the data out there," she said. "We teach people how to use it."