Keeping Tradition in a Traditional Library

By Spencer, Forrest Glenn | Information Outlook, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Keeping Tradition in a Traditional Library


Spencer, Forrest Glenn, Information Outlook


Lexington, Kentucky, is the home of the U.S. horse-breeding industry--especially thoroughbreds. Kentucky Horse Park and the Keeneland Race Course are there, surrounded by the more than 500 thoroughbred horse farms in the Bluegrass Region.

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It is at Keeneland that a very special library exists, one devoted to the subject of thoroughbreds: every book, periodical, photograph, and reference source.

"Keeneland's purpose is to collect and to preserve the history of the thoroughbred horse," says SLA member Cathy Schenck, manager of the Keeneland Library. "We are the only library that I am aware of collecting in this subject area--and that is open to the public."

Schenck has been employed by the Keeneland Association for the last 28 years. It was her first job after earning an MLS from the University of Kentucky. She has been serving as its manager since 1994; and she is only the library's third manager since its founding in 1939.

"Like other library managers," Schenck says, "I set policy and organize information in the library. I order and process books, index magazines, clip newspapers, work with the vendors and publishers, and so forth. But probably 75 percent of my time is spent answering reference questions for research projects."

The Keeneland Library started with roughly 2,300 volumes of material on thoroughbred horses. Today, there are around 6,000 volumes. "Our subject areas include art--which would include painters, sculptures, bronzes," Schenck said. "There's a section on the history of the thoroughbred, mostly in the early breeders. There are sections on specific races. An example is the Kentucky Derby ... We have biographies on the horses and on their owners, trainers, and jockeys. There are books on training and general veterinarian books. We have studbooks that tell you when the horse was born, the color of the horse, sex, and his sire and dam--so people can trace the lineage. And that's not just horses that are in Kentucky but the entire U.S., as well as France and England."

Kentucky has always been Schenck's home. She was raised on a dairy farm near Paducah, in the western part of the state. Her family kept a few horses because her father enjoyed horseback riding. Like other Kentuckians, she watched the Derby each April on television but Schenck never dreamt of working in the thoroughbred industry.

"I didn't know anything about the thoroughbred horses when I was hired here," Schenck said. "I was working on a fashion merchandising degree before I switched to my MLS. Keeneland told me that they were looking for a candidate who had an MLS and they would teach me about the thoroughbred industry, and the particular sources to work in this library. Early on, I learned that people generally love their horses and they're so appreciative of what information they can find here. [They] get very excited when they come in and see the records of their horses, or that they can find any other information about their horses."

Information has value; and for Keeneland, information is essential not only for their commission from the world-famous Keeneland auctions but for the preservation of a pedigree that has become part of the American heritage. The library services are free, but staff cannot do extensive research.

"I enjoy helping people, performing research," Schenck added. "We have people who are writing books and wanting research done. We cannot undertake researching books for people, but we can certainly invite them to come, show them around. We give very personalized service. Customer service is very important to us. We're a very hands-on type of facility. If you're here doing the research, we'll pull out all the stops and help you find in what you need. There's always a different question; there's always a different horse, it seems."

In 2005, an estimated 4,200 visited the library, about 350 a month, most of them from outside Kentucky. …

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