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Vol. 24, No. 2/Winter 2002

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Marcia MacVaneSmall Libraries: Not Just 'Librarians'
By Marcia MacVane

When I read in a past issue of News Library News that Charlie Campo of the Bangor Daily News had been named as the leader of a group to plan the transition of their newspaper to a smaller web size, I started thinking about all the various jobs and activities librarians are asked to do that are not in the provenance of what we commonly recognize as "librarianship." I asked Charlie to explain to me the process that went into his being selected as a team leader on this project. His response:

"When our vice president for administration and the executive editor quietly sent an innocuous memo asking if we were available to meet with them this past July, the director of computer services and I wrinkled up our noses, scratched our heads and wondered aloud, 'Oh, no. What now?'

We showed up at the appointed time, settled into our chairs, bantered about the great weather, then were told that we had "volunteered" to form a committee that would plan and execute the conversion of our press web, or paper width, from its current 54-inch width to 50 inches. (We have since decided to go to 49 inches!)

We were given carte blanche to choose the committee, determine its procedures, schedule meetings and develop a timetable for executing the project.

So began a mostly self-taught crash course for me on picas and points, image sizes and column widths, standard advertising units, press lockups, gutters, templates, folders, punch tables, film width and ad stacks.

We soon learned that we had been chosen for our leadership skills. Both of us have missions that are corporate-wide, and have a history of team building and reasoned calm. We have been tested. After one meeting, one of the committee members said, 'Boy, Charlie, your neck got really red in there!' If an undiagnosed aneurysm does not burst first, I think we will pull this thing off."

I sent out an e-mail on the Newslib mailing list asking for input from others who might have also been placed in such unfamiliar territory and received some interesting responses.

John Marikos, news librarian at the Statesman Journal (Salem, Ore.) wrote:

"I'm a one-man band. I archive the paper, provide internet research to reporters and online links to the online editor.

I'm the reprint permission coordinator handling all requests for reprint permission. I also handle all journalism contest entries, including our corporate quarterly contests.

I started some intranet library pages last year to help everyone in the building with their research needs, but haven't had time to keep it up since then. I do all this on top of the ordinary every day functions of a news library.

When I came here two years ago, reporters and editors had never had anyone helping them with research. I would walk up to them with a stack of research and it would blow their minds. It still does. I'm unable to consistently do this kind of unsolicited research, because the archiving system/server periodically goes down for long periods of time, backing up my workload. Last summer and fall it was down for almost four months. I'm still catching up.

Next month I start our archive cleanup project, courtesy of Tasini and friends, in preparation for the Gannett-wide archive. By March, I could be sitting in a corner with glazed eyes and drooling all over myself."

I get tired by just reading what he does!

At the Salt Lake Tribune Data Center, Becky Hodges replied that she and her colleague each take one or two night shifts each week to put out the online edition. There are four others (and an alternate) who also work that shift, but they're online employees only. This is on top of one or both of them being in the library seven days a week for the usual archiving of text and photos, doing research and answering requests from the public for photo prints and copies of articles.

For the online edition, they pull the stories and art from the front-end system, add the art and generally get the web edition up and running.

Becky also expects to be getting her web review column (which has been on hold for a few months) back up for the Sundance Film Festival and hopefully for the Winter Olympics. "Sometimes I don't know how we do it," she said.

Sherry Adams of the Houston Chronicle library reminded me about the job of granting or denying permission for use of articles. She said, "Our managing editor turned the job over to me in 1994 (he'd done it before that), and it has become a major time-eater. I've noticed several other librarians on NewsLib say they're doing it, too."

Laura Soto-Barra, Assistant Managing Editor/Library at The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York) explained in detail how the work was changed and redistributed following a reorganization at her newspaper in which librarians devoted themselves to research and library assistants took the duties of developing the archive.

Laura reports that Library Systems Administrator Charlene Wheeler will be the Library representative on an Implementation Committee that is overseeing the paper's upgrade of their Harris pagination system. Charlene also keeps a monthly log of published corrections and produces a report on this for the Senior Managing Editor. The report helps identify terms, names and dates for the paper's internal local history document and style book.

Newsroom researcher Bonnie Ross has added "information architect" as one of her duties, creating and developing intranet tools for the newsroom. Laura notes that "Most of her projects come from her own intuition and initiative. She's compiling information not only from our database but from public libraries, local history books, etc. Editors and reporters are amazed at the useful tools that she develops."

And researcher Jan Dempsey now writes a column in the paper's weekly Technology section about how to search the internet. The column, called 'IN SEARCH OF...,' has been running since June 2000 and provides jargon-free tips on the basic steps of using the internet. Jan also has participates in the Syracuse University School of Information Studies' special libraries class, telling students about the field of news libraries.

Laura notes that "We, at the Post-Standard Library, believe that the cooperation and consideration of every department is needed in order to be a success."

And as Charlie Campo sums up, "Be forewarned. If the library is a can-do place, where people find resolution rather than resignation or hand wringing, the librarian may be called upon to 'rush in where angels fear to tread' to solve problems beyond the library walls. If you are up to the challenge, the experience will strengthen your library and your company."

And if you think you've been asked to do something far beyond your job description, just ask Andi Markley, librarian at the Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)...the last item on the list was "pose for a newspaper ad with my horse ... ah, all in a day's work."

Marcia MacVane is Library Director at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram. You can contact her at