Standing in the new LDS Church History Library behind a large wooden pulpit, LDS President Thomas S. Monson relived his past.
"This pulpit, in part, tells the story of my own faith," Monson said to a crowd of hundreds before reciting a prayer to dedicate the new downtown Salt Lake City library Saturday. It's a library that houses 600,000 photos, 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines and newspapers, and 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records, journals, diaries, correspondence and minutes that detail Mormons' experiences.
It's a library, many believe, that's a realization of God's words to church founder Joseph Smith: "There shall be a record kept among you ... for the good of the church ... and the rising generations."
Part of that record Saturday included the pulpit from which Monson spoke. It was the same pulpit that stood in the chapel of the meeting house where he grew up and over which he eventually presided as Bishop.
"I remember vividly the time I was to give my first talk in Sunday school -- a 2½-minute talk," Monson said. He recalled deciding to talk about seagulls because he liked birds. He said he went to the Seagull Monument at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City for inspiration. There, he tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a pioneer watching the first year's harvest of grain devoured by crickets and then watching seagulls come to the rescue by eating the crickets.
"I've never forgotten the seagulls," Monson said. "I've never forgotten the crickets, and I've never forgotten my knees knocking together as I stood behind this very pulpit and delivered my talk."
He also recalled standing at the pulpit later in life as a bishop, needing guidance of his own.
"With my hand on this very pulpit, I would kneel and share with my heavenly father my prayers, my concerns and my problems," Monson said. "Those prayers were always answered one way or another."
As he reminisced about earlier days, Monson also emphasized the importance of keeping records for future generations.
"From the very beginning, the church has taken seriously the guardianship of its history," Monson said. He said the library, at 15 E. North Temple, contains "stories of challenges and triumphs that inspire LDS members throughout the world."
Marlin Jensen, LDS Church Historian and member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy, said Saturday's dedication was the realization of 15 years of planning and nearly four years of building. He said the records that fill the library began as two large boxes with which LDS members left Nauvoo, Ill., in the 1800s. Now, the much larger collection will be preserved in climate-controlled storage units and through computerized conservation techniques.
Kenneth and Audrey Godfrey, who attended the dedication Saturday, said they look forward to using the new library to do research. The pair have spent years researching church records for their books, including one about the history of the church through women's eyes and another, still in the works, about the history of church education.
"When we started to do research here in the 1960s, there were lots of records that were restricted," Kenneth Godfrey said. "Some of the records had not been catalogued. Now, we have this magnificent facility where we know what we have, and it's easy to get access to those records."
Dennis and Kathy Gerber said they look forward to seeing what they can learn at the library about Dennis Gerber's great-great-grandfather, a doctor who treated Brigham Young.
"It's exciting to think it's in here, that we can come and look up things and see what our ancestors thought and their feelings," Kathy Gerber said.