The Cutting- in -Edge Library at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writing ad copy, selling T-shirts and coffee mugs for a Web photo store, and trying to predict the next natural disaster are all in a day's work for the 20-person News Research Services (NRS) staff. In fact, these are small components of a much larger commitment to enhancing library services that has put NRS on the cutting edge.
Besides providing exemplary work in traditional news library activitiesmeeting the information needs of 600 editorial employees in the fast-paced, deadline-driven, work-around-the-clock world of newspaper publishing-NRS has stepped out in front in three major areas:
Intranet Content Development: NRS developed and maintains the newsroom's intranet where it has placed valuable collections of both commercial and internal resources for the newsroom and other departments. As part of content management, the library also negotiates for online services and subscriptions for end-users' desktops.
NRS has also been deeply involved in the corporate Web site, ajc.com. Here, the general public and small businesses have access to photo and article archives which have become successful profit centers for the library.
Proactive Client Services:
The library has trained the newsroom staff to become self-sufficient image archive searchers, provides Internet training, and plans to train staff to search the new software that powers the newspaper's text archives
All of this support allows reporters to locate their own answers to basic questions up front, leaving NRS staff more time to develop and repurpose content, work with vendors, and still help the newsroom with the deeper research. ONLINE interviewed NRS Director Ginny Everett and several of her staff to see where the library is today and what it has planned for the future.
A LIBRARY TURNAROUND
The Atlanta Constitution, first published in 1868 during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, became a proud voice of the industrialized "New South." The Atlanta Journal was founded in the 1880s and soon began publishing the work of some of the nation's most famous writers, including Erskine Caldwell, humorist Will Rogers, and New Yorker founder Harold Ross.
James M. Cox, three-time governor of Ohio and the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1920, acquired The Atlanta Journal and WSB ("Welcome South, Brother") Radio in 1939. He soon founded WSB-TV and purchased The Atlanta Constitution. The newspapers merged in 1950. Today, The Atlanta Constitution is published in the morning; The Atlanta Journal is the evening edition.
Cox Enterprises, now one of the largest communications companies in America, operates sixteen daily newspapers in fourteen markets with a combined Sunday circulation of 1.6 million. The company also has extensive interests in weekly newspapers and cable TV systems. In 1996, Cox Enterprises reported record revenues of $4.6 billion.
Despite the parent company's success, research services at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution were not always on the cutting edge. NRS Director Ginny Everett said, "The story of our library is the story of a turnaround. Our editor Ron Martin is somebody who really understands the power of information. He understands what it can do for our news staff and our end product, our newspaper. In 1993, he decided to do some revamping in the library, and he brought in Beverly Shepard, a reporter with excellent leadership skills and a law degree, to make really tough decisions."
Everett said those decisions resulted in many personnel changes. Shepard hired people with strong information backgrounds. Major restructuring resulted in a dynamic new environment and a staff, including six staff members who were in the department when Shepard arrived, who were unleashed and empowered.
Shepard hired Everett as NRS deputy director in October 1994 and Everett took the helm less than a year later when Shepard moved into a management position in the newspaper's advertising department.
Five full-time and one part-time text archivists (known as "enhancers" in news library terminology) maintain the paper's full-text electronic archive, which dates back to the early '80s.
"By the end of the year," said Everett, "we plan to deliver the daily update of our archives to our vendors and our Cox Web site on the day of publication, even though we have recently gone from an enhancing staff of six to five and a half. We've devoted a lot of thought and spent a lot of time in developing ways to streamline our enhancing operation, which allows us to do more and do it all more efficiently."
"At the same time, we've added responsibilities in the reference realm, including massive newsroom training and finding Internet links to be published with stories in the daily newspaper, so we've increased our reference staff. We made a parttime reference position full-time, bringing the reference staff to six librarians-five full-time and one part-time."
The NRS staff also includes a deputy director, an administrative assistant, a digital technologies specialist, two photo librarians and two researchers who work for Stacks Information Service, the fee-based operation that handles research requests from businesses and individuals.
Ten staff members hold MLS degrees. Everett said that when she hires new members, she looks for people with traditional library skills as well as "people who are technically savvy-people who understand not only information resources, but also the guts of things, the back end of things, people who can talk 'techie' talk with our computer services folks."
"We're very demanding on our IT department," added Deputy Director Kathleen Flynn. "We may be only 20 people, but we have a lot of technology up here [in NRS]. The entire newsroom is working off the same system, but we've got a whole different set of technologies. As a result, we're very demanding on IT, but we also have to do an awful lot of stuff on our own. So it's very important for our staff to be able to troubleshoot, to understand the technology, and to communicate with the IT people."
Flynn also said that Web skills are important to today's information professional. When she considers hiring new people, she asks herself, "Do they know anything about the Internet? Do they actually know how to do HTML? Because we think that's a critical skill as well."
"Training skills are important, too," said Everett. "A large part of what we do involves training people to use resources, so the ability to work a crowd and to impart knowledge is very important. And just basic problem-solving skills are important-vision-the ability to see a need and come up with a solution. The skills are changing. There's just no question about that."
Reference Supervisor Richard Hallman said that when he interviews someone for NRS, he always asks the job candidate if he or she has a home computer. "I don't know if I'd hire somebody who didn't," Hallman said. "I feel like a candidate needs to have figured out a way to own and operate a computer at home in addition to having used one in work and school environments."
In 1996, NRS fulfilled more than 12,500 information requests. Last year, the number shot up 20% to about 15,000, including in-depth research and fast fact-finding on deadline. This year, the staff is well on its way to breaking the '97 record; they've been receiving more than 1,300 questions per month.
To answer them, the staff uses the in-house newspaper archive, commercial databases, such as Dow Jones (to which the reporters do not have access), and the Internet. "There's definitely been a migration to using the Internet more," said Flynn. "It answers a lot of questions we would have had to answer through a commercial database, a book, or by calling somebody. Now we don't have to call anyone. We can go on the Internet and get the answer. That works very much in our favor because we're open hours that a lot of other companies aren't."
Everett said the library also has seen a migration "from CD-ROM resources to Web-based products. For example, we used to use Magazine Article Summaries on CD-ROM every day. Collectanea has replaced that. On our intranet, we're about to put the Web-based version of PhoneDisc. We use the CDs a lot now. We've just been waiting for an NT server to be able to put up the Web version, which we then can share with the newsroom. But we still use our print collection, too. Not everything is online."
The library's offline holdings include 2,500-3,000 books. "It's a lot like you'd find in the reference collection of a public library," Hallman said, "except that we collect much more heavily in the area of phone numbers. And we're a writers' library, so we also have about thirty quotation books as well as a lot of Georgia and Atlanta history."
The 1,300 information requests the staff fulfills every month include some from departments other than the newsroom (e.g., business, advertising, and circulation), but the number doesn't include photo requests. "We calculate those separately," Everett said. "We're averaging under 200 a month now, which has been a real success story in that the newsroom has become self-sufficient in searching for images-once we trained them. Once we had an image archive they could search on their desktops and taught them how to use it, they loved it."
Last year, NRS trained layout editors, selected reporters, artists, and others who need images often. Everett noted that this has paid off for the photo librarians because they now can spend more time adding images to the archive and finding new Internet and CD resources. The staff has integrated frequently used CDs, such as Congressional Portraits, into the database, which has grown to 74,000 images.
"That's great for reporters," Everett said. "For example, a reporter going to meet a businessman can find out what he looks like before the interview, so the image archive is not just a resource for somebody looking for art to put in the paper."
Another initiative launched last year involved stationing a reference librarian in a news department. Librarian Dorothy Shea works closely with AJC's Special Projects team. She acquires information for use in internal databases, writes documentation, and trains the reference staff in the use of specialized resources. "She also acts as a coordinator," Everett said, "so she's not doing all of the research herself. We often distribute assignments generated from the Special Projects team among our other researchers in NRS."
The library staff spends a great deal of time developing and maintaining AJC's intranet, which has become an important newsroom resource. "It started in 1995 as a collection of Web links arranged by topic," Everett said. "Then we developed a series of pages to provide information during the Olympics."
"That in turn took us to the point where we could take our page of links and expand it greatly," Flynn said. "We added things to it: internal resources, policies, procedures, training, contacts, anything we could think of that would be useful."
Today, newsroom resources available through the library's intranet include commercial databases, such as WilsonWeb and the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as resources created in-house, including the Georgia Campaign Finance Database and a collection of disaster information.
Flynn said the disaster database was created in response to the unique demands of a news library: "As a newspaper, we often have to start covering something big at the drop of a hat. A disaster is one of those things. A lot of people end up working on a story, and it's not necessarily their beat, so having information at their fingertips is really important."
Flynn said the library started developing disaster information after the 1996 ValuJet crash. "We put up a page listing aviation experts, and then we expanded that with other information on aviation issues. From there, we tried to guess the next disaster, but we failed. I remember we were discussing it by the photocopier, and someone said, `What should we do? Weather?' One of the reference librarians said, `Well, I think it's going to be one of those chemical spills from a trucking accident.'
"The next morning a tornado hit Hall County, Georgia, and the decision was made. A tornado page went up. Then we tried to guess again. We did hurricanes and floods because we thought those were most likely to happen next. Then the fires started in Florida. At some point, we're hoping to get ahead of the curve."
Flynn said staffing for the intranet is flexible. "There's no one person dedicated to it," she said. "Staffing fluctuates based on demand. When we have a crisis, more people work on it."
Everett noted that other departments in the company are only now considering putting up their own intranets, and the library staff plans to help facilitate the process. "We already are laying the groundwork for that," she said. "We've written a proposal for a plan to develop a corporate intranet. The company is going to be bringing in Lotus Notes. We look at that as a framework on which we can help develop content and work with other departments, such as circulation, advertising, human resources, and marketing to help them think through the kinds of things they want to make available. It will help us to have more information that can go across departmental lines."
DEVELOPING CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY
An older resource available through the library's intranet is Documaster, which provides access to the newspaper's text archive. NRS has spent a great deal of time in the last year and a half developing a new system that will replace Documaster.
The new system will include a natural language search engine and a Graphical User Interface. The project is complicated because the new text archive is tied into the newspaper's pagination system-the system used to digitally layout the newspaper pages. "Pagination is basically desktop publishing on steroids," Everett said.
Flynn added, "Currently, our text archivists use software developed by our pagination vendor [Digital Technology International] to prepare text and to make sure the bylines end up in the byline field, the headlines end up in the headline field, the captions are attached, and the charts are converted from images into text.
"Then the data has to be searchable, and that's the part the vendor hasn't finished. They've created a way to pull a directory so the enhancers can find stories based on date, section, and page, but the system doesn't have full-text searching yet. That's where RetrievalWare comes in. The pagination vendor is working with RetrievalWare-using it as the search engine. It allows you to do not only Boolean, but also natural language searching. We're working with Excalibur, the company that owns RetrievalWare, to produce a Web interface that will be put on top of the database the pagination vendor has created. That will replace Documaster so that reporters will go from 1970s technology to cutting-edge technology."
"They'll be going from doing simple ANDs and ORs to doing natural language," Everett said. "We will be going throughout the newsroom training everyone to use this new system."
INFORMATION TRAINING NEVER ENDS
Teaching reporters the new system will be a daunting task, but, as Everett mentioned earlier, she considers training to be an important part of the information professional's job, and it is an area in which NRS has a great deal of experience. Besides training reporters to use the old system and the photo archive, NRS staffers have provided basic and advanced Internet training as well as special subjectoriented seminars, such as "Where's Waldo," a session that shows reporters how to find information on people.
"We try to teach the reporters some basic skills," Everett said, "and then we let them know we're here to do the more complex things. I think training them and then holding our fire for the complex searching that really requires our skills and a more sophisticated level of knowledge gives us more time to develop content. It gives us time to put things up on our intranet and develop those resources, and it gives us time to go out and find the right resources out of all the zillions of things out there."
"As we train people, as we show them more resources, their appetite for information grows. It's a wonderful thing. That's why it's so important for news librarians to think like journalists, to be journalists, and to be part of the newsroom culture. That's why we emphasize getting involved in the news-gathering process from the very beginningnot as just a checkpoint at the end of the process."
But Everett and her staff are always willing to serve as that checkpoint when necessary. "We work in a deadline-driven environment," she said. "If somebody is on deadline at four o'clock and they want a basic search, we're not going to say, `Oh, you really need to do that yourself.' Of course we're going to do it for them because the important thing is to get that story written-to get the facts right."
NRS plays a significant role on ajc.com, the newspaper's Web site, which is part of Access Atlanta, the city information site developed by Cox Interactive Media. Everett said NRS is involved because the Web offers the library's resources to a new audience of information seekers. "We're trying to showcase our content and add depth to the information we have in print. We've been involved since the initial talksbefore the site even had a name. I'm sure we'll continue to be involved in its evolution."
NRS provides content on the site in the form of Internet links that complement stories published in the paper. The staff also maintains the Look It Up channel, which offers access to Stacks Information Service and the Stacks archive, a searchable article collection dating from 1985.
The archive is maintained by the Infonautics company. "They manage it for us," Everett said, "so when you search it you're actually going to their facilities in Wayne, Pennsylvania. They handle the customer service and billing. We send our archive stories to them every night along with our other online vendors. Infonautics also uses that transmission to put information on the Electric Library."
AJC's other online vendors include LEXIS-NEXIS, Dialog, Newsbank, UMI's Pro(.Quest Direct, and Dow Jones. Everett said the turbulent business environment within the information industry is causing her to consider the newspaper's relationships with its online vendors more carefully than ever before. "Right now we have three contracts at various stages of negotiation, and that's a tumultuous area. With products going up on the Web and our online vendors wanting to do all sorts of things with our data, we have to scrutinize these contracts extremely carefully so that we don't find ourselves competing either directly with ourselves or competing among vendors in ways not beneficial to us."
For the Stacks archive, the library's own Web-based service, Everett said she still is working out the most beneficial pricing policies. "Through ajc.com, our pricing for now is only targeted at end-users, but by the time this article comes out we'll have corporate pricing in place so that people can buy an annual subscription. We're finding that's a huge market. It includes the agencies and small businesses that don't have corporate librarians. Those types of businesses really haven't been served. It's a market just waiting to be tapped."
The Look It Up channel on ajc.com also offers access to photos@ajc, an online photo store. "We're selling images from our digital archive," Everett said. "We're about to put up a page of historical Atlanta images that we've pulled from older negatives and from our print collection. And we're also going to be putting up a gallery of front pages from the newspaper.
"We're not putting the entire archive online because it includes wire photos and other things for which we don't hold the copyright. We're selling only selected images, and we're still feeling our way. It's a new business, and we're trying to figure out what sells. Right now we're selling a commemorative front page of the Peachtree Road Race, a race of 55,000 runners. The front page includes a giant picture of all those people. We had a velox made from the page negative and delivered it to Wolf Camera, which does the photo fulfillment. Wolf scanned the velox, and we're selling the front pages like crazy. People who ran in the race are buying them. That's who we were targeting."
"Prior to the race, we put up some ads with photos of previous racesand that's another thing we do: we're writing ads and putting them in the paper to try to sell more photos. Anyway, we had one guy call who saw one of the photos in our ad, and he said, 'I saw myself in one of those pictures. Look down in the bottom right hand corner, then go up about inch. See the gray-haired guy?' I said, Yeah, I see a little speck.' He said, `Well, that's me."'
"So that's the type of person we're targeting. We sell an 8x10 for $19.95. We sell larger sizes all the way up to posters, and we also sell images on mugs, T-shirts, and other gift items."
Finding new ways to repackage and repurpose newspaper content are important goals for NRS, but, as noted earlier, none of the nontraditional activities come at the expense of basic research or the provision of effective resources the reporters can use themselves.
"Answering reference questions is something that's very important," Everett said. "It's never going to go away. We don't want it to, but we do want to be smart. We want to be smart on behalf of the newsroom, and make sure that we've scoped out the resources they need and trained them how to use them."
Flynn added that NRS continuously strives to provide resources that let reporters "dig deeper into something rather than having to be tied down by just trying to get basic facts into their stories. We want them to be able to gather those basic facts very easily. Then they can ask deeper questions, and we'll be there to answer their deeper questions."
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