Tell us about where you work. Do you work mostly on a team? Solo? What are your deadlines like?
I am the Research Librarian for The PBS NewsHour, a national television and digital/online/internet news and analysis program broadcast over many PBS stations and overseas via various satellite networks. I am part of the Research and Archives Unit. My job is to provide research, reference and information services to the reporters, producers, production assistants and other staff members. Because we are a daily news show, deadlines are usually pretty quick. Sometimes, deadlines are longer for special projects — such as working on a research file for a correspondent’s future overseas trip.
What drew you to this job?
I have always been a news junkie, even as a child. I knew that I was the right fit for a news library. I wanted to work for an intelligent and serious news program, so when The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer (as it was then called) advertised for a librarian, I jumped at the chance. As for what drew me to this particular “type” of job — I like to do research. I like to find things. It is like solving a mystery or being a detective.
Is it what you expected? How so, and how not?
In some facets, it is what I expected. I knew I would be answering queries about politics, foreign affairs and current events. What I didn’t expect was not having a “lending library” where people could actually take out books. When I first joined The NewsHour I put together a basic library of books — fully expecting people to “check them out” or browse (this was in 1995). But the fact that I was in a different building than most of the reporters and that the Internet really took off around this time meant that reporters were able to get their information online. Several of the basic reference materials were online as well.
How does the medium (television) impact the work that you do?
One basic way it impacts my work are in the types of queries I may receive. For example, I may be asked to find possible guest names for a segment. Does this guest have prior tv exposure/experience? I may be asked to find when a newsmaker said something on a TV show so we can incorporate it into a set up piece. On occasion I am asked to find graphics that can be used on air. Another major impact that I can think of is the deadline — our show starts taping at 6 p.m. everyday, so all the information a reporter needs should already be in his hands.
What advice would you have for someone who sees your name in The NewsHour credits and says, “I want a job like that!”?
Be curious! Dare I even say…nosey? Read/Watch/Listen to the news and opinions in all formats. Also, be skeptical (not necessarily cynical, just skeptical). Have an open mind about what you read and hear and watch. Especially if you want my job — The NewsHour prides itself on accuracy over flash — it is more important to have the correct facts than just to have data to fill air time. On the extremely rare occasion that I can’t find a statistic, or if there are discrepancies, I will let the questioner know I don’t have a definitive answer.
How is your job going to change in the next 5 years? What would you like to change about it?
Technology will have an even bigger role than it does now. I also think (and hope!) that the intranet page we put together will be utilized more and more — especially to answer simple queries. If the simple requests are taken care of, it will allow me to concentrate on bigger and more complex requests. I also hope to one day have the flexibility to work out of my home on occasion. With all this technology it is no longer necessary to be in the same physical place as your patron. This being said, sometimes I do miss having everyone in one building (the Research Department of The PBS NewsHour is in a different building than most of the correspondents and producers). I think there is something to be gained from personal face-to-face interaction. You can pick up cues from a person’s body language and demeanor. Are you understanding what the patron needs? Does the patron feel confident that you will get the information requested? Sometimes getting requests by phone or email doesn’t give you a chance to have a real conversation with the patron.
What I hope doesn’t change (and it won’t because The NewsHour will always be a serious, thoughtful and intelligent news organization), is being able to contribute to The NewsHour’s core mission: providing people with straight-forward news reporting and analysis.
Your question about how the job is going to change in 5 years got me thinking about the future of the news librarian and news library in general: For the last few years we have been reading about news libraries ceasing operations and news librarians losing their jobs. What, if anything, can be done to stop this? I don’t know how to answer this, but perhaps we can brainstorm about it and come up with a solution. Perhaps there can be a new way to think about news librarianship — a new paradigm?
One idea that has been floating in my head is to have a News Library Consortium. This would be One Big Central Library– located, say, in downtown D.C. The library would house all the physical materials needed for a good, well-stocked news library, including computers and other electronic resources. News librarians could have offices there. When a news organization needs someone to conduct research for them they could call and make a request — then they would either get a librarian exclusively for the day, or contract with that person for a longer period of time. Once the time period is decided, the librarian would then be under exclusive contract with a specific news organization.
Another idea would be to have librarians grouped according to specialty. A news organization could call and request help from a business librarian or from the foreign affairs librarian. There are problems with this idea to be addressed. For example, news organizations, especially commercial ones, may have stories they are working on that are exclusive. But librarians are known for being discreet and respecting the privacy of their patrons; public librarians do this all the time. They don’t tell one patron the requests they receive from other patrons. Perhaps another way to approach this is to make it an online News Library Consortium with access to various news databases, business databases, health databases, etc. News librarians from around the country (or world) could access it and use the information for their clients.