On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! Setting Up an Olympic Games Library

Article excerpt

Assembling the library for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta is an Olympian task that offers some gratifying laurels.

Running hurdles, the 50-yard dash, Rand weight-lifting. No, these are not simply sports in which athletes will compete in the 1996 Summer Olympics, to be held in Atlanta. They are also quite a bit like a job description for the official librarian of the Olympic Games!

To serve the information needs of the microcosm that will converge for the games next summer, there are materials to track down and there are questions to field. There are plenty of financial hurdles and a lot of dashing around. There's even the physical lifting. and moving involved in whipping a library into service. But in this era of corporate "right-sizing" and "outsourcing," reduced government funding, and being asked to cover more with less, it's exciting to talk about the development of a new library.

Now it consists of some 1,200 people, but in 1991 the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) was small enough for members to know each other by name. At that time, the information-savvy press chief at ACOG, Bob Brennan, invited recently retired Dekalb County (Ga.) Public Library Director Barbara Loar to volunteer with ACOG for a few hours a week. Working with the seeds of a collection in a closet at ACOG Headquarters, Loar lobbied for professional library services for the Olympics. Her efforts eventually led to a nationwide staff search and my subsequent coming aboard as a full-time librarian for ACOG last April.

Staging an Olympic Games involves bringing together thousands of people of divergent backgrounds and experiences to plan and organize the largest gathering ever of world-class athletes, artists, heads of state, and sports enthusiasts from around the globe.

Imagine a celebration starting years before the final event, with festivities, meetings, test events, and international guests coming to measure your progress. How does an Olympic librarian facilitate this process? Rennie Truitt, program manager of special events, states his information requirements: "As with most things at any Olympic committee, our research needs at ACOG are incredibly diverse, quite often arcane, and usually needed yesterday. We touch on everything from international protocol to sports statistics to historical imagery of ancient Greece. Additionally, we often find that research we require is useful to several different departments and that we take advantage of the research that has already been done in these areas. So the research library is an integral part of almost everything we do."

Bulkheads and national anthems

A typical day in the Olympic Games Library can involve: researching biographies for members of the International Olympic Committee Athlete's Commission; investigating bulkheads for competition swimming pools; identifying inspirational quotes for upcoming videos; determining when soccer was first played as an official Olympic sport; finding out why they water down the field of play in hockey; and comparing the length of national anthems played at medal ceremonies in previous Olympic Games. Chances are good that more than one person at ACOG knows the answers to these questions. But can one ever tap into all the collective knowledge that is stored in the synapses of the ever-growing human resources of an organization? Probably not! But hey, what are libraries for?

The library is housed in the ACOG headquarters in downtown Atlanta. Packed into the library's less than 400 square feet are a myriad. of resources to help ACOG staff stage the best Olympic Games ever.

Just prior to my arrival, the library moved from the above-mentioned closet to a room equipped with library steel shelving and slanted magazine racks. Cartons and stacks of materials welcomed me when I was handed the key to the library. An early request for a budget was met with, "Can't you just beg, borrow, and steal? …

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