Vol. 25, No.1/Fall 2002
INTRANET PROFILE: THE BANGOR DAILY NEWS
INTRANET ALCHEMY: SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING
The job title "Corporate Alchemist" has a nice mythic ring to it.
As the pot of corporate gold diminishes in these tight economic times, more opportunities to turn "nothing" into gold have been coming my way.
Creation of the Bangor Daily News Library intranet was just such a case of legerdemain.
You could hardly call our collection of web pages a "research" intranet. Born out of necessity in a corporate vacuum, our intranet is a primitive but ubiquitous feature in the newsroom.
In late 2000, after an eighteen-month search, the News purchased a new PC-based editorial front-end (DewarView) and an integrated archive (MerlinOne). That pushed us headlong into an era of network connectivity.
Prior to that time, most of us had modem to modem connection or no connection at all. Stories were written, edited and sent from our proprietary editorial system that allowed little communication among staff. Reporters and editors plugged along quite contentedly in their own secure little world of dumb terminals, and photographers and graphic artists circled the wagons in an Appletalk network of their own making.
Everyone came to the library to use the internet!
But then, our spanking new network arrived with blinking switches and endless cabling that reached out to each desk and provided access to co-workers, e-mail and the internet. Those electronic pathways presented another "golden" opportunity for the library, because the newsroom was preoccupied with learning new ways to feed the imagesetters in the production department. Someone needed to devise other ways to take advantage of this newfound connectivity.
The Corporate Alchemist entered stage left.
The alchemy begins
At first, I dreaded the thought that reporters would be plugging their web search results willy-nilly into their news coverage. I began gently suggesting that everyone in the newsroom should treat what they found on the internet with the same skeptical eye they focused on other sources. I encouraged them to vet web pages with the same thoroughness that they might treat material received over the transom. I knew the web was going to be a seductive siren and I also knew that the librarian would not be able to lash reporters to the mast.
So, I distributed an article that described the pitfalls of electronic research. I am pretty sure I found the article when someone on the Newlib listserv sent it out. Then I started looking at what other librarians had done for their users. I was particularly inspired by what Ginny Everett had shared on the News Division web site and by a New England Newspaper Librarians workshop that included presentations by Alan Thibault and Linda Henderson. So, putting aside my ignorance as I have had to do so many times before, I forged ahead.
I started using Netscape Composer, which is part of the Netscape Communicator package, to learn about simple web page design. When problems cropped up, a help menu was available, and, if that didn't answer the question, a web search usually did the trick. It really was not very difficult to learn the basics. Then one of my programmer friends in our computer services department saw what I was doing, took pity, and gave me my own copy of Microsoft's FrontPage 2000 web-authoring software. It was a lot easier to use!
I discovered it was really easy to convert a text document to HTML. So, I began to wonder what textual information I already had available that might entice users to the library intranet. The homepage I designed initially provided access to the library archive, the newspaper's web site, census information, a searchable regional events calendar, the AP Stylebook and a directory of newsroom personnel that listed names, home addresses, company phone, home phone, pager and cell phone numbers and hyperlinked e-mail addresses. I also put up a copy of the news library's bookmarks listed by subject. These bookmarks provide links to over 1200 cyber sites that librarians have found to be current and reliable. Every day I feel a little better knowing that most reporters will look to the recommended sites first for authoritative answers to their browsing questions.
When our intranet was finally published in May 2001, I called a group of reporters and editors together in the newsroom before our morning editorial meeting and asked them to take a look at what I was tinkering with. It was an instant hit, and I spent a lot of time that day fixing PCs to load the intranet. Most people let me set their browser to use the intranet homepage as their start page on launch. Others got a shortcut on their desktop.
Since that day, I have made a few changes, but the basics remain the same. I created and added a "Maine Facts" page that gives reporters every mundane fact they need to know about Maine. From that page there is a link to a timeline of the "20th Century in Maine" that we published during our millennium coverage.
Reporters clamored for a quick link to Google, so I added its logo and hyperlink to the homepage (it also exists with its fellow engines under the subject "Search Engines").
A few weeks ago I put up a huge spreadsheet that contains all the property valuations, taxes paid, sales prices, etc. for businesses and homes in the city of Bangor.
Others in the building noticed that we had something they did not, and, before long, I received a request to put up a company-wide personnel directory. The person in charge of our corporate web site provided me with a link to his creation, a page where users could query a ColdFusion database of company-wide directory information.
I know that reporters and editors are using the library intranet, because they call me when they have sufficiently compromised their PCs and cannot load the browser's homepage. They also come to the library when their research takes them where angels fear to tread or when breaking news impinges too closely on deadlines.
The fact that I have created and maintained this system (and kept it up-to-date) helps encourage other staff to come to the library when they have questions about their PCs and their searches.
The News does not yet provide desktop access to Nexis, ProQuest, Dialog, Dow Jones, etc. for reporters and editors. Everyone still needs to come to the library, where they may choose to ask for a Nexis search or do one themselves. So, the quality of material supplied through our intranet gateway is even more critical to newsroom researchers.
A golden opportunity
Our News library intranet is pretty small potatoes by most organization's standards. It is neither sophisticated nor innovative.
This web creation isn't as formidable as the solutions of others in the news division, but what was accomplished met a need. It was done on personal initiative, with little technical and practically no financial support. If I can do it, anyone working in a news library can do it!
So, when the next big golden opportunity comes along for your library, just take those pieces of dross, add a potpourri of your mystical library skills, find mortar and pestle, mix everything up with plenty of gusto, and "poof," you too can be a corporate alchemist!
Charlie Campo is Chief Librarian at the Bangor Daily News in Bangor, Maine. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: 11/22/02