Vol. 24, No. 2/Winter 2002
At the SLA Conference, while I was drinking in both the magnificent view of the Alamo and a couple of salty margaritas, I met a couple of outgoing women on the roof of The Lone Star Palace. They urged me to go with them to an Ursuline convent, a rodeo and line dancing. One of my new-found friends was Maria Peters who worked for American Media Inc. (AMI). When I asked what newspaper they published she told me her library served the National Enquirer, Star, Globe, National Examiner, Sun, and Weekly World News. I had never thought about tabloids having to do research and I was dying to ask how they find out which alien is having Elvis' baby, but she was such a sweet person that I didn't want to put her on the defensive. I thought as we got to know each other better I would eventually find out more about her company. At the end of the week we parted ways at the airport promising to keep in touch. I had no idea how quickly the entire world would learn about American Media Inc. when it became the center of attention during the anthrax outbreaks in October 2001.
The library at AMI was formed in early 2001 when The National Enquirer, Star, Globe, Sun, Examiner and Weekly World News came under the same ownership and joined together in one building. This brought together three separate full-time staffs. The general library staff is headed by Martha Moffett, chief librarian of American Media Inc., who has been with the Enquirer for 25 years. Her staff consists of senior researchers Candy Cogswell and Derek Czomba and library assistants Pheonicia Esterine and Kathleen Taylor.
On the National Enquirer research staff are senior researchers Barbara Koskie and Mireya Throop and assistants June Baum, Nan Dubiel and Laurie Miller.
The chief of research for the Star and all other publications is Maria Peters. On her staff are research assistants Larry Boytano, Ann Burke and Amber Pradines. The library also employs part-time clippers/copiers Louise Armstrong and Nicole Taylor and bibliographer Andrea Orken. The general library staff maintains the clip files and the book collection and answers straightforward reference questions. The two research staffs do the bulk of the electronic searches and work on projects for their publications.
The research staffs serve the reporters, writers, their own attorneys, other researchers and employees looking for health-related information. AMI subscribes to Dow Jones, Lexis-Nexis, Choice Point and Celebrity Service. According to Maria Peters, most of their research is celebrity-related, like finding out where Michael Jordan hangs out while he is in Washington, DC. She says the strangest request she has received was when a reporter wanted to know Tom Arnold's sperm count. She was unable to answer the question. The majority of her work, she insists, is research such as finding out where Osama bin Laden's relatives live in the United States.
AMI's clip collection goes back to 1976 when the library and research department for the National Enquirer was formed. The only electronic archive the company has for any of its papers is the electronic archive for the Enquirer, which goes back to 1994 but is not available in a workable, searchable form. The AMI library operates on clips and bound volumes using its own index. They clip six newspapers a day, several weekly news magazines, People, and nintey-five monthly magazines. Most of these magazines are not available online. Martha Moffet says she has been told that their clip library and that of the Times of London, which also serves a tabloid paper, are two of the most extensive celebrity clip files in the world.
After the tabloids were bought by AMI the library was given a handsome space, new shelving and new equipment. The library is staffed from 9 to 5 every weekday. Research is available any time newspaper staffs are working. It is located in Boca Raton, Florida, but is closed at the moment due to anthrax.
This is Maria Peters' account of what went on inside the library of AMI on Thursday, October 4, 2001:
"We recently had a public address system installed and the very first announcement that came over was from our house attorney announcing that a co-worker, Bob Stevens, [an AMI photo editor] had been diagnosed with anthrax. By the afternoon we had a disease specialist available by e-mail if we had any questions or concerns about anthrax. On Friday there was a company-wide meeting on the third floor (where anthrax was later discovered at Stevens' computer) to assure everyone that there was nothing to be concerned about. One of the specialists even remarked, 'Do you think I'd walk into this building if I thought there was anthrax in here?' He later, of course, was on the Cipro protocol."
"Friday afternoon, October 5, we received word that Bob Stevens had died of anthrax. On Sunday evening, about 11:30 P.M., I received a call from one of the editors for me to inform my staff immediately that 1.) anthrax was found in the building and the building was sealed off, and 2.) to report to the Florida Department of Health the next day (Monday, October 8) for the nasal swab testing and the Cipro prescription."
Martha Moffet, who was home sick with pneumonia when Bob Stevens was diagnosed, recalls that after he died the employees were "plunged into a nightmare of fear, constantly changing information, testing and treatment. Everyone in the company, and any visitors during certain times, were put on a 60-day regimen of antibiotics. The AMI building was closed, and we had to proceed with no resources, not even our Rolodexes."
Even so, they went to press on time and did not miss an issue. AMI does not print on site, a fact that they printed on the front page in order to quell any fears from readers about buying their products.
Immediately following the closing of the AMI building there was no AMI library. Most people had to stay home since there was nowhere for them to go. A few of the library employees worked out of a separate accounting building, but there was not enough room for everybody. A couple of weeks later the library moved to temporary quarters, a converted garage, complete with a roll-up door. It was there that they started from scratch and tried to operate as well as possible without their collection.
Coping without a collection
Although none of us would like to imagine a situation in which we would lose our collection, the problem for AMI is perhaps more severe than it would be for many news libraries. AMI's archives don't exist anywhere else - no library, not even the Library of Congress, extends itself to collect the tabloids. They are not on microfilm. They are not fed to vendors. And the little part of their archive that is electronic is not yet searchable. The history of tabloid publishing in America - every edition of The National Enquirer, Star, Globe, Sun, Examiner and The Weekly World News - is locked up in the bound-volume room of AMI. Some of these volumes date back to the 1950s.
AMI also owns an extensive celebrity book collection. Their book room houses over 4,000 volumes of celebrity autobiographies and biographies including rare and out-of-print books. The photo library, although a separate operation, is also an irreplaceable collection. CEO David Pecker is fond of saying that the text library, the archives and the photo collection are the heart of its publications.
Without their collections the staff has had to scramble. They have had to purchase runs of the tabloids going back several years from personal collectors. They have pulled in issues from their lawyers, from their warehouse and from other departments such as subscriptions. A contact from People magazine that Maria met at the SLA conference generously supplied them with back issues. They have also put together a small basic collection of reference books (dictionaries, atlases and a World Almanac) and have asked staffers to contribute biographies and other books. Martha Moffet says the experience has brought them together.
Their insurance company provided them with new computers and they have had to rely heavily on the internet. The county libraries, particularly the reference librarians, have been extremely helpful in looking up things for them in the books they no longer have. They have also bought a number of online subscriptions to things they used to own in hard copy, such as Facts on File.
They have the biographical celebrity files they created available to them online. They backed them up about a month before the building was closed. It contains names, addresses, dates of birth, marriages/divorces, children, vital statistics and agents and managers' information for about 4,000 celebrities.
They still miss their collections, which are all very specific to the interests of their editors and writers. They also miss the self-produced indexes to their collections because there is no complete duplicate index to accompany the bits and pieces of collections they have been able to purchase. Martha laments, "If there is one thing I wished for a separate, off-site copy of, it was our indexes. Some of these we've been able to pull together or re-create. If I'd had the foresight, I would have had many things in an off-site location as well as in the office. Our shelf list, my Rolodex, my contacts at other newspapers. I would have a complete set of bound volumes in the library and in some other place as insurance. … I remember something new every day that I wish I had."
It's expected to take one to two years to decontaminate the building and replace carpeting, upholstered material, etc. However, no method has been decided upon. They are closely watching the attempted cleanup of the Hart office building in Washington D.C. An attempt at irradiating mail there resulted in fire. If the building can be cleaned up, most of the people Martha speaks to would like to go back in and reclaim their resources. She says while they are obviously in a state of transition - introducing more electronic archives and more reliance on internet databases that can be used anywhere - they want their clip library back.
In the meantime AMI has taken a two-year lease on a large space in Boca Raton where the staff, who has been scattered or working from home, can work together again. There is space to shelve the clip library from the Star, which has been in storage since it was bought and moved down from White Plains, New York about a year and a half ago. The Star staff clipped roughly the same papers and magazines as the other tabs except for missing the last 18 months. It's a start.
Martha says the employees of AMI were recently advised to take forty additional days of antibiotics and to consider being vaccinated in an experimental anthrax vaccine program.
The conference in June seems a long time ago. It has been said that we are living in a new era. At the AMI library the line between 9/11 and the present is clearly defined. The library staff at AMI deserves respect for their hard work and determination to push forward despite the difficult circumstances they have been dealt in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
Jennifer O'Neill is the Library Director at The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida. You can contact her at email@example.com.