Thursday, August 31, 2006

Still alive in the morgues (2)

Fallout from the Fletcher article continues with a READER COMMENT in Cilip's Gazette. Sadly, not online but below is the text of the article, which appeared in the August 25 2006 edition.


News of our death is greatly exaggerated

Journalist Kim Fletcher writing in Media Guardian on 31 July welcomed the demise of the newspaper library and newspaper librarians. He was reacting to the news that the Daily Mail is to ditch both its cuttings library and the librarians working in it. ‘I suspect many journalists,’ he wrote, ‘who denounce the move will struggle to remember the last time they used the cuttings library’. His comment piece reads like the last time he saw the inside of newspaper library was when he went to see Michael Frayn’s play Alphabetical Order in 1975. Things have changed a lot since then.

The image of the librarian is constantly besmirched in the media. This week alone a pop singer was described as a ‘frumpish librarian’, a boring football commentator sounded ‘like a librarian’ and an actor was lampooned for having ‘all the lusty charisma of a librarian’. We have all grown used to these rigid stereotypes and they are nothing to get our brown cardigans in a twist over. What is harder to accept are myths about the work we do.

The view that media libraries exist just to provide a cuttings service is at least five years out-of-date. At the Guardian and Observer Library (now the Research and Information Department) the last hard copy newspaper clipping was safely filed away in 2001. Since then the role of the library and its librarians has vastly changed. As well as fielding enquiries from scores of journalists, librarians are responsible for writing factboxes, cvs and chronologies for publication, compiling primary research and assembling profile packages for features writers. The department is responsible for uploading the newspaper onto electronic databases – a cuttings service without the scissors. It also edits its own intranet, a much-used resource and trains journalists on how to use online sources.

Media librarians were glad to see the back of long days cutting up newspapers (and chasing journalists who’d walked off with files). The fact that journalists now have access to newspapers on their desktops hasn’t made us redundant. Our core skills are still in demand. We’re still archiving and retrieving information, shelving books and doing the odd bit of looseleaf filing. But we’re also doing things that were unheard of for a librarian a decade ago. Some media librarians have morphed into quasi-journalists, producing bylined copy and co-ordinating projects with journalists such as Freedom of Information requests.

Librarians have never feared the future. It was journalists who were desperately clinging on to the cumbersome cuttings file while the ‘disparate’ librarians (as Kim Fletcher describes them) were leading the electronic revolution.

Alan Power, Assistant Librarian/Researcher, Guardian and Observer Newspapers

Still alive in the morgues

Read Katharine Schopflin's great article in Cilip's UPDATE magazine on the past, present and future of media libraries here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Love Libraries?

Working in one every day it would be stretching it to say I love libraries but this campaign is trying to raise awareness of and improve public libraries.
"Love libraries is a campaign to get everyone excited about what public libraries can do for readers and how we can make them better!"
(That's their exclamation mark, not mine.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


OK, this isn't about media libraries although I did come across the story as I flicked my way through the London Evening Standard on the way to the Media page. Takeover speculation is looming over outdoor shops group Blacks Leisure today after it issued a second profit warning in a month. Apparently the lack of a Glastonbury festival this year has hit sales badly at its Millets chain.

Now I don't doubt that some festival goers buy their camping stuff at Millets but it sounds a bit lame to be blaming the non-appearance of a three-day event in a field for falling profits. It may be a fallow year at Worthy Farm, but there have been more festivals this year than ever before. It's like blaming a drop in the number of dinner jackets being hired on, say, the non-appearance of the Information Christmas party.

What do librarians know about books, eh?

Nominations for the Quills, the book awards whose shortlist is drawn up by librarians and booksellers in the US, have been announced. Stephen King, for novel Cells, and Al Gore, for his eco-warrior tome The Inconvenient Truth, head the list.
Critics of the awards say they're too populist, sticking to the lowest common denominator bestseller lists rather than honouring works of literary genius (last year's inaugural overall winner was JK Rowling). But good writing is good writing and surely it's better to honour an author who can captivate many readers rather than one whose books may be well-written but are also unfathomable and unreadable? There's also a sinister overtone that librarians aren't capable of selecting deserving works, which is nonsense - or how did EL Doctorow's The March and David Mitchell's Black Swan Green (favourite to win this year's Booker prize) make the cut? Click here to vote.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dead or alive?

If you've ever wondered if that famous actor or singer is still kicking around, check out the Who's Alive and Who's Dead site. Of course it's easy enough to find out by doing the usual sort of searches, but may prove to be useful for more obscure characters. By the way, I found it on the excellent Phil Bradley blog. I also came across Populair, a page listing 100 different sites that keep up with what is new today, what people are taking about etc.

To google: no longer a verb

Google is trying to encourage people not to use the word Google as a verb in order to protect their brand, according to reports. Companies try to protect their brands by discouraging them from being used generically. So Google don't want you to say "I'll google that" when you mean "I'll search for that on the internet". But you are allowed to use it if you mean "I'll search for that using Google". It's a difficult job because dozens of brands have now lapsed because their use has become generic (eg: cashpoint and cellophane). An extensive list of generic and genericized trademarks courtesy of Wikipedia here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beyond the byline

There's a good explanation of what exactly news librarians do in this month's American Journalism Review. Well worth a look.

Casualty Count

As a news researcher it's often my job to do body counts. For example how many Israelis and Hezbollah have been killed in the recent conflict. And the next day it gets printed in the paper. One blogger has come up with the ultimate. Who has killed more? God or Satan? And the result is surprisingly surprising . . .

Monday, August 07, 2006

Newspaper librarians fight back

The backlash from Kim Fletcher's article in the Media Guardian has started. Katherine Schopflin won "letter of week" in Press Gazette and this reply appeared a week later on the MG letters page:

Guardian Media Pages
Fletcher must move out of Memory Lane
7 August 2006
The Guardian

Kim Fletcher claims he is "eager to avoid meandering down Memory Lane" - a quest made difficult by the fact that he probably lives there permanently. (Letting go of libraries is a sad necessity, July 31).The Guardian library (now the Research and Information Department) cut its last newspaper clipping in 2001 and switched to electronic databases for its archived-newspaper needs - a practice typical at most newspapers.

Since the change, media librarians have not been sitting around with idle scissors in hand, they have adapted and diversified to work within the new technological environment. A typical week in the Guardian Research and Information Department sees "librarians" handling research inquiries from scores of journals, factchecking for subs and desk editors, interrogating specialist databases, writing 300 word factboxes and phoning various organisations compiling primary research.

And how does he think newspapers make it on to an electronic database? That'll be the librarians who put it there. Finally it's worth remembering that when newspapers took the decision to ditch hardcopy cuttings and rely solely on electronic archives it was invariably the journalists who resisted moving forward with the times. Had the journalists got their way I would still be wrapped up in "the important business of filing".

Alan Power, Guardian Research & Information Department

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Good riddance to the newspaper library?

Sad to see a column by Kim Fletcher in the Guardian welcoming the demise of the newspaper library. The writer's view of what a media library does and what media librarians do is at least five years out of date though. However, when he describes the librarians he's come across as "disparate", he may just have a point. Expect a backlash though. Librarians are a sensitive bunch.