Vol. 23, No. 3/Spring 2001
A member of the team: The
role of the news librarian
"Iím looking for information about the Blue Wave," said the man on the phone. I was sitting at my desk in the record library/archives at CBC Radio in St. Johnís, Newfoundland. Several months earlier, Iíd been seconded from my job as a general reporter to work as a media librarian on a special archives project. Happy to take a break from dubbing analog tape to DAT and updating the computerized programme logs, I asked the man to tell me more.
The Blue Wave was the name of a longliner. It had sunk in a violent winter storm off Newfoundlandís south coast back in 1959. Sixteen men had drowned. One of them was the father of the man on the phone. Heíd only been 10 years old when his dad died. More than 40 years later, he said he wanted to write a book about the tragedy. His call to CBC Radio was part of his research.
Within a minute, I had tapped into our archives database, found a news report about the sinking, and told the caller how to get an audio dub. Then I asked if he was interested in talking about the sinking and his subsequent desire to write a book about it. He said yes. When we ended our conversation, I contacted the host of one of our current affairs shows. I told him about the phone call, gave him the manís number and said Iíd pull tape of the news report if he wanted to do the story. A few weeks later, the interview and an excerpt from the archives tape went to air on the afternoon show.
Role of the news librarian
I think the role of the news librarian is multi-faceted. Itís reactive and proactive. It means being flexible enough to respond to changing needs and wants, and fast enough to deliver the information when itís required. I think the news librarian can play an integral part in a newsroom/current affairs operation Ė to be a member of the team, so to speak. Thatís how I perceive the job. I only have my own brief experience to draw upon, but Iíve made the following observations:
While I was performing the duties of a media librarian, I also contributed story ideas to both news and current affairs. I donít know whether this falls within the realm of the role of a news librarian, but itís one of the expectations of me when I return to my new job as Associate Producer for history programming with responsibility for the record library and archives. In fact, I will be expected to generate programming. That could mean anything from preparing obits to developing series.
I think the role of the news librarian is the same as that of any librarian Ė to help people find the information they need. The only difference is that the news librarian works in a special library whose users have special information needs. That library must be tailored to meet those needs. Thatís the job of the news librarian.
Oh, and the man writing the book about the Blue Wave? The last I heard, heís still working on it.
Christine Davies is a graduate student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After completing her graduate studies, Christine will return to her position as Associate Producer of History Programming with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio.
Editor's note: The Vormelker-Thomas Student Award, cosponsored by the SLA News Division and Bell & Howell Information and Learning, offers a $1,500 stipend enabling a graduate student interested in news librarianship to attend the 2001 SLA annual conference in San Antonio, TX. The award name honors the memory and division work of Rose Vormelker and Lou Thomas.