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The view that media libraries exist just to provide a cuttings service is at least five years out-of-date.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