The Newspaper Library in the Information Age: A Personal View from Within

By Foley, Kathy; Briscoe, Ellen D. | Online, November 1989 | Go to article overview

The Newspaper Library in the Information Age: A Personal View from Within


Foley, Kathy, Briscoe, Ellen D., Online


THE NEWSPAPER LIBRARY IN THE INFORMATION AGE: A PERSONAL VIEW FROM WITHIN

1964 -- a typical day at the library of the Daily Announcer, a mythical metropolitan morning newspaper 10 A.M. The library staff begins its daily work. The mailroom has dumped 50 copies of the Daily Announcer outside the library door sometime during the early morning hours. The library assistants "spike" a copy for instant reference, and start slitting up the spines of several dozen more, laying them out for the classifiers to read and choose subject headings for the stories. In the newsroom, the city desk clerk is already answering the phone. The dayside reporters have begun trickling in, looking for background on their day's assignments: a business page writer wants background on the automobile industry, with addresses and phone numbers. The Women's Page editor needs a photo of the mayor's wife with Ladybird Johnson. The political writer browses the Who's Who listing for the newly appointed Cabinet member who will be visiting next week, and wonders how to get more detailed background on him; he might as well be from another country, for all the paper has ever said about the guy. The librarian gives the writer the phone number for the appointee's hometown newspaper. 1 P.M. Already reporters are banging their stories out on beloved old green Underwood typewriters. The public library calls with requests for dates of all the stories on the space race this year. "Sorry; that file is being used at the moment," the librarian answers. The library staff is still marking up the paper, clipping anywhere from three to twenty copies of each story; date-stamping clips and gluing together the "jumps" of stories that ran on different pages, writing a heading on each one. Each story must be filed in as many places as are needed to cover the topic, and they'll be alphabetized by about 3 P.M.: The librarian groans at the thought of the hundreds of clips the upcoming election will generate, and makes a note to be sure the photo librarian has pulled mug shots for all of the candidates. 4 P.M. The night-side assistants begin filing today's 650 clips. The city hall bureau chief calls for the dates of anything on the new sewer project from the last month. He'll look them up in the bureau's loose-bound copy before the Planning Board meets tonight. He grumbles because the librarian doesn't give him the dates in chronological order, but the last person who used the file really scrambled it. 10 P.M. An editor checking on the budget figures given out at the school board meeting gets pushed aside as a reporter covering a latebreaking story rushes into the library. "Gimme the file on the old Oilcorp refinery, there's been an explosion!" Tearing the clips in his haste, he looks for the answers: When was the last fire there? Was anybody killed? What's their safety record? Does Oilcorp have refineries anywhere else in the state? The reporter doing the sidebar on the safety record hovers, waiting her turn to use the clips. Editors slash with red and blue pencils on hastily typed pages, and copyboys rush them off to the composing room. 1 A.M. The paper is put to bed.

THE NEWSPAPER LIBRARY OF THE PAST

Typically, since the 1930's, the newspaper library has been "the morgue," holding the clipping, photograph and negative files, the corporate memory of the newspaper itself. The files might have been supplemented with clips from other papers: competing papers from the same town, or perhaps the New York Times. For the most part, however, if the information needed hadn't run in the paper, it wasn't available. It was unusual for papers other than major metropolitan papers to have anything but a small collection of standard reference works.

Smaller papers could not afford time or space to file more than a couple of copies of each story. The news staff depended on the librarian to remember where items may have been filed. Subject authority lists were a luxury for the bigger papers. …

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