Vol. 20, No.2/Winter 1998
Monterey Conference Center
By Penny Love
This conference was billed as the "first internet conference designed specifically for librarians and information managers," and it was true. The simultaneous multi-track sessions for each day gave the attendee many choices at several levels of expertise. Choices of subjects included tips for searching the web, digitalizing resources, net strategies, intranets and other trends.
The organizer, Jane Dysart, and her organizing committee did a fantastic job recruiting speakers from all levels of expertise. One of my complaints was that I'd like to have attended most every presentation. The other complaint has already been answered by the pages of presentation links on Information Today's web site on the internet. See the documents at http://www.infotoday.com/internet/preslink.htm
The two-part session on search engines and tools was a topic that could have occupied an entire day with standing-room-only crowds. There were representatives from Alta Vista, HotBot, Infoseek, Yahoo, and Northern Lights to share the information and tips that would help make us better internet researchers since each provider seemed to have a specialty or a chosen group of users to attract.
The evening session, titled "Internet Librarians in Action," was well attended. The four case studies were presented expertly with many laughs and some very interesting examples. Each case study was unique and clearly demonstrated the need for our profession to organize and tame the internet for users of all levels. Many thanks to the West Group for the reception, as well as the green mugs, beverages and cookies for the evening session. It was a long and intense first day; the food was a real treat and the mug was a great souvenir.
The second day presented me with many difficult choices and a good reason to purchase the tapes and the conference proceedings. (Contact Information Today at 800/200-9868.) I was captivated by Track A, Virtualizing Services session. I heard, observed and began to dream of what I would like to offer our users in the News Research Center. Many of the case studies from Harvard Business School. Companies such as SmithKline Beecham gave the audience many new ideas and ways to deliver information to the desktops of our users. Many administrative functions can be automated and simplified by harnessing the power and diversity of the computer. The folks at Northern Light Technology provided the reception in the exhibit hall that evening and they deserve a big thanks for putting a nice end to another very busy day.
One theme repeated by nearly every presenter was that most of these innovations can be a reality, but it is vital to make friends with the people who maintain, program and purchase your company's computers and networks. Form an alliance with the entire department and begin or continue to develop a level of expertise to do as many things with your own equipment as possible.
The third day was was just as full of fascinating speakers and topics as the previous two days. I was able to attend the session titled "Hot, New & on the Net." Ulla de Striker, the presenter at this 45-minute session, was able to squeeze at least one hour of excellent information into this time slot. I never knew someone could talk that rapidly and make sense. (I did give up on taking any notes.)
The program for this conference is an important resource that includes information on reaching the speakers and vendors who made this conference such a success. For those who did not attend the conference, I would recommend looking up the presentation links and marking your 1998 calendar for the second Internet Librarian conference.
Penny Love is a News Researcher at the Orange County Register. Contact her at Penny_Love@link.freedom.com.
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THE ASIDE BAR
By Catherine Kitchell
Stephen C. Miller is Assistant Technology Editor at The New York Times. This fall he was a Fellow at The Freedom Forum in Arlington, VA researching how computers have changed journalism. He spoke to reporters and editors at BNA as part of BNA's internal training program on electronic journalism. In this talk he spells out the minimum computer skills a modern reporter should possess. Those skills are listed below. I thought most of them should apply equally to a modern news librarian. Impressive how much one really knows!
Know The Basics of Windows, Preferably Windows 95
Know the Basics of a Word Processor
Know the Basics of A Spreadsheet
Know The Basics of A Database
Know The Basics of Communications
Using the Internet
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NOTES FROM THE CHAIR
by Tom Lutgen
Believe it or not it's time to think about Indianapolis and the annual conference. The theme "Information Professionals in the Driver's Seat" couldn't be more apropos. Aside from the allusion to the classic race car event, 1998 is definitely a year when clever news librarians can excel and increase their role as corporate innovators and leaders.
If you have never attended the annual conference or even if you're a regular attendee, I urge you to make every effort to come to Indianapolis. You won't be disappointed. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that no news librarian ever regrets attending this once-a-year opportunity to learn, to meet new colleagues and to be challenged by the examples of our most creative and successful counterparts from around the world.
Having been intimately involved in planning last year's programs in Seattle, I'm really looking forward to soaking up all the great ideas and other experiences that this year's planner Carol Campbell and her team are readying for us. I have been privileged with a sneak preview of some of the program ideas and am impressed by the range of topics to be considered in Indianapolis.
Maybe you (or your manager) need to be reminded of why attending the annual conference is important. Let me suggest a few considerations: The proliferation of digital information continues to accelerate presenting challenges to news organizations on many fronts:
Attending the News division sessions and networking with colleagues from around the world will help you become much more confident about the decisions you'll be asked to make in the next months and years. No matter how unique your situation may seem, there'll be someone at the Indianapolis conference who has the same or very similar situation. You'll hear lots of ideas and solutions. Sometimes what you hear will simply confirm what you already suspected was true. Often you'll gain insight from new perspectives and experiences.
Tom Lutgen is Editorial Library Director at The Los Angeles Times. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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The News Division Welcomes New Members
Christopher D. Barth, Anchorage Daily News Library, Anchorage AK
Total membership count for end of November is 857. Please contact Sammy_Alzofon@pbpost.com if you need more information.
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by Catherine Kitchell
Belatedly, NLN notes that Joy Birdsong, research librarian at Sports Illustrated, was featured on the cover of Library Journal illustrating an article on library schools and diversity. Joy graduated in 1995 from Pratt where the commitment to diversity is strong, although not widely trumpeted. Her job at SI grew out of a summer internship there. The article notes that during the past decade the number of new minority graduates from programs accredited by ALA has grown from 178 (6.7% of total graduates) in 1985 to 434 (10.01%) in 1995. Still all minorities, except Asian/Pacific Islanders, are under-represented relative to their population at large. The article ran in the April 15, 1997, issue.
In December of 1996, Judy Metcalf retired from The Dallas Morning News after 17 years in various library positions. She's been a member of the News Division for most of that time and misses all her friends. She is now a Reference Librarian at the Dallas law firm of Haynes and Boone, L.L.P. The firm occupies 6 floors of the tallest building in Dallas (NationsBank Plaza) and there are satellite libraries on 4 floors. Judy says all the running around keeps her in shape. Send her e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org as she'd love to hear from people.
Brenda T. Ling has joined the staff of the CBS News Reference Library in New York as Senior Reference Specialist. Among Brenda's responsibilities are providing reference services to "Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel"; Eye on People -- a CBS Corp. cable channel; and CBS' New Media units -- including the editorial folks who bring you CBS' Web sites.
Stephen Marvin, after working with NewsNet, has moved to Manning & Napier Information Services in Rochester, NY. He actually works out of his home outside Philadelphia and loves it. The activity on the listserv and the Internet keep him up-to-date. Currently he is working on "data mining" and "visualization" applications that will help information professionals develop new relationships between the information contents of the documents they retrieve. A lot of this work is especially useful in competitive intelligence work.
Rachel Thurneysen-Lukow has been hired as Library Manager in CNN's Los Angeles bureau. Rachel previously was employed at the Energy Film Library and has also worked with Image Bank West and the Swiss Broadcasting Company.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently pictured two News Division members. On November 14, 1997, they detailed efforts by the Oakland Heritage Alliance to preserve endangered buildlings in the Oakland area. Steven Lavoie, an Alliance volunteer, is pictured in front of the Floral Depot, a building considered an Art Deco masterpiece on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Barbara Newcombe, and her book Paper Trails, are pictured in the August 17, 1997, Chronicle. The Associated Press surveyed 29 California state agencies requesting 69 sets of records in electronic form. All requests were made persuant to the California Public Records Act and all of the record sets are described in Barbara's book. Only seven, or about a quarter, of the agencies said they could supply all requested records in electronic or paper form. Obviously not all state agencies are in compliance with the California Public Records Act which was passed to ensure public access to government documents.
Jeff Graveline has volunteered to be the new "People" columnist. Please make his life easier and send him news at email@example.com. He is the News Librarian at the Tuscaloosa News.
After many years of service, Gay Nemetti of the Miami Herald is leaving NLN as Business Editor. NLN and the Division thank her for all the ads she has sold over the years. Jacqueline Zaborski at the Palm Beach Post will take over her position.
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In Case You Missed It...
The following are some interesting web sites, books, and other tips that other news librarians may find useful or fun.
Check out the Lipstick Librarian. As Colleen Allen, reference librarian at The Washington Post, wrote in her paper on October 23, 1997, "The Lipstick Librarian means to overturn stereotypes by proving once and for all that librarians can be brainy, beautiful - and take a joke." The web site notes that what makes a Lipstick Librarian is the ability to "look fabulous while poking around a dot-matrix printer with a bent paper clip." This author notes that Colleen, last seen encased in black with a red scarf, having brunch at Sequoia, certainly makes it as a LL!
Equally provocative are James Rettig's reviews of current reference books. Sperry Krueger, Resource Manager at The News & Observer, notes that his reviews from October 1995 to September 1997, when he was sponsored by H.W. Wilson, are located on their homepage. Currently he is sponsored by Gale so the newest reviews are on Gale's homepage.
The second edition of Jo A. Cates' book Journalism: A Guide to the Reference Literature is now available from Libraries Unlimited, Inc. The first edition was published in 1990 when Jo was chief librarian at The Poynter Institute of Media Studies. The book is a "selected, annotated bibliography and reference guide to the English-language reference literature of print and broadcast journalism." Mostly it covers sources from the late 1960s through 1995. While the first edition contained 728 entries, the second edition covers 789, including 252 new entries and a whole new chapter on commercial databases and Internet sources.
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1998 SLA News Division Preliminary Program
It's not too early to start thinking about the conference in Indianapolis. Please contact Carol Campbell, Information Center Manager, The Daily Oklahoman at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have comments, questions, or suggestions about the preliminary schedule.
SATURDAY, June 6th
5:30 to 9 p.m.
Stop by anytime between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., but be sure to allow time for a tour. Sandy Fitzgerald has agreed to put up with us, show us around and ply us with coffee and cookies.
SUNDAY, June 7th
8 a.m. to Noon
This half-day course will cover:
News Division Education Chair: Sperry Krueger, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
6 p.m. to ?
WELCOME NEWCOMERS NIGHT
MONDAY, June 8th
Noon to 1:15 p.m.
1:30 to 3 p.m.
3:15 to 4:30 p.m.
6 to 9 p.m.
9 p.m. to ?
TUESDAY, June 9th
7:30 to 8:45 a.m.
8 to 9:15 a.m.
Noon to 1:15 p.m.
1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
3 to 4:30 p.m.
6 p.m. to ?
WEDNESDAY, June 10th
9 to 11 a.m.
11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
1:30 to 2:45 p.m.
3 to 4:30 p.m.
6 p.m. to ?
THURSDAY, June 11th
9 a.m. to ?
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RESEARCH AT THE FRONT-END
By Victor Greto
A new front-end system means a new way of life for a newspaper: it fundamentally changes the newsroom routine that has built up over years - sometimes decades - altering the flow and interaction of stories, photos, art and research.
As newspapers approach the year 2000, many are moving into new PC-based systems that offer more than the old mainframe systems, including desktop access to the Internet, E-mail and local archives.
What can Research Centers or newspaper libraries do to prepare themselves and, more importantly, continue to become an increasingly pertinent stream in the latest newsroom flow?
Here at The Gazette in Colorado Springs, we've just brought in Unisy 92 Hermes pagination system. Instead of the limitations of the CSI system we had before, we can build pages at our desktops; we can type or dump wire copy directly onto a page. Reporters may view ahead of time how their stories will be presented; they can search for stories both finished and in-progress on the network, without having to know where it was either originally placed or subsequently moved.
Researchers can take the stories they've found on Nexis or Dow Jones and place them on reporters' desktops. Each reporter now has a spreadsheet program, a relational database, Internet access and E-mail, and will soon have direct access to local archives.
Yet, beyond the bells and whistles of a state-of-the-art PC-based system, the Research Center must evaluate how it wants to fit into the new system-flow, as well as how to make archiving choices for the next decade.
Some decisions are easier than others.
Along with its pagination system, Unisys sells a resource called DocCenter, an archiving system that preserves both images and text. Since The Gazette chose not to acquire it, programmers from Unisys wrote an export program that allowed us to send stories from the page onto our Basis+ server. It takes about the same amount of time to archive the paper as the old way.
But we are still looking into a text and image system that will solve our archaic (and separate) photo and text archiving. The advantages in having a system that preserves both images and text - as well as the page as it appeared when published - are enormous, from the time and money saved in "enhancing" the text of each story, to creating revenue from the ability to reproduce entire pages for customers to buy and frame. So, with a state-of-the-art archiving system and the additional investment of a laser printer (among many other options), the Research Center may turn into a profit center of enormous proportions.
Which begs one to address the question of the future of research centers in a newer, more online world.
As reporters become efficient at accessing government resources on the Internet; as they get used to easier access to local archives; after they learn how to use spreadsheets and relational databases: what is the future role of the researcher?
In many ways, we pioneered and taught reporters and editors the possibilities and uses of cyberspace, as well as taking on some of the computer-assisted reporting. Now, the fruit of much of our effort is at their desktops. We've done our job well. But has technology and technologically-astute clients and reporters phased out and changed some of our roles?
The short and qualified answer is yes.
But there is as invigorating a life after PC-based front-end systems. It includes an open mind and a willingness to concentrate on other aspects of research and the role of a newspaper library.
For instance, the Research Center as profit center, mentioned above. Tied with aggressive advertising on the web and in the paper, research centers can become major sources of revenue for newsrooms.
The Center will also probably continue to have a monopoly on high-end research and costly databases, such as Nexis, Dow Jones or Dialog. Even this, however, I hesitate to see as a long-term role, for database services will be increasingly hard-pressed to compete with newspaper web services, which will probably drive their flat-fee prices down to the point where reporters may have as ready access to them as they do the web.
We will also concentrate more on archiving not only newspaper images and text, but also databases and spreadsheets that reporters create and use for stories. It will be our role to give everyone access to these databases at the click of a mouse.
Librarians and researchers must make it a policy to stay ahead of the technological curve in both archiving and accessing information. Our libraries and centers will always be a place to go for the latest technological information and access if we task ourselves to be technologically indispensable.
Change is good. So, be good.
You can reach Victor at email@example.com.
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NAME: Ginny Everett
NAME: Linda Henderson
NAME: Chris Hardesty
Director of Publications
NAME: Carolyn Edds
NAME: Barbara Gellis Shapiro
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Vormelker-Thomas Student Award
This year the Vormelker-Thomas Student Award, co-sponsored by UMI, Inc., offers two $1,000 stipends that will enable two graduate students interested in news librarianship to attend the 1998 Special Libraries Association conference in Indianapolis. Selection criteria include the following:
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The Best of the News Sites on the Web
by Jennifer Small
Is the Internet replacing the news librarian's need for services like Lexis-Nexis, Dow Jones or Dialog? At this point, probably not. Commercial online services continue to provide the most efficient access to the text archives of newspapers and magazines. Are there advantages to using news resources available on the Internet? Definitely. On the Web, production time is minimal and news hole is infinite. When events happen, web-based news sources can post information immediately. Consequently, information on the web is often more current than any information available from a commercial online service. When the judge's ruling regarding the British au pair Louise Woodward was made public, for example, most interested parties turned to the Web for information on the decision. Unlike the hard copy version of the newspaper, online news sources have the space to be comprehensive in their coverage. Papers across the country have taken advantage of this luxury. In the fall of 1997, the Kansas City Star published an interesting series, "Money Games," that examined problems inside the NCAA. Web surfers could access interactive databases at the Star's web site to search for injury rates by sport, average head coach salaries and much more. There is no question that the Internet offers a wide variety of valuable news resources. So how does one effectively access news on the web? If you are interested in locating the web site for a particular paper or magazine, go first to a site that compiles the online versions of news sources. These mega-sites organize both national and international news sites by geographical area and type. Some of the best mega-sites include:
This site focuses on American papers online. You can search by state or by publication types like business publications, press associations, or college papers. This NAA site also provides a useful link to other news organizations.
American Journalism Review (AJR) lists both U.S. papers and international news sources. AJR divides sources by region and publication type. At this site you are able to access major metro dailies, non-dailies, and alternative news sources. The archives of AJR can also be searched.
This site includes a very large database of online newspapers from across the globe. When you search for a particular newspaper, you also receive information about the online version of the paper. Records for each paper can include ownership information, contact phone numbers, web site addresses, and launch dates for the site. Online newspapers are useful for accessing the most current information from a particular city. In addition to the day's news, many online sites may also link to a paper's text archive. Most news researchers are familiar with the minimal costs accrued by searching newspaper archives at either Infinet's News Library , or the Dow Jones Publications Library, accessible through the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. There are other sites on the Web, however, that link to the text archives of news sources.
News librarians (of course) have compiled one of the best sites to access archives available on the Web. From this site, the web addresses of several papers and online libraries are available. Site are organized by state.
Ecola is a directory of English-language media links. At this site, you can access a list of online newspapers, magazines or computer publications. From the first screen, link to searchable newspaper archives. Archives are organized by region. As more newspapers focus on creating an online presence, the amount of news-related information on the Internet will multiply. In many instances, your needs may be satisfied by accessing a paper's web site or archive. If you are interested in a particular topic in the news, however, you should utilize one of the many sites that focus exclusively on the news. At some of these locations you can search for information on current stories. At others, you can access the most recent headlines from each area of the news. Still others allow you to track particular issues. The following sites exemplify the value-added services that are currently available on many news sites.
News Index is the original news only search engine. Search a database of over 200 sources from around the globe for more information on a current story. The engine searches only current articles it is not an archive.
This site links to papers from every state in the country. News Works editors compile "packages" of links for particular stories. These packages can contain stories, audio clips, polls and commentary. Great place to find background on a topic.
Hot Bot's answer to the search for news on the Internet. Again, the focus is on searching current news. Returned hits are ranked by relevance and contain detailed information on how long the site has been up on the web. One can also search for recent headlines on a particular topic like business news, entertainment news, or political news. Hot Bot is also developing the NewsBot Personal Agent. Personal Agent will notify you by email of any developments in a news topic that you are tracking.
Excellent spot for the most recent information available on various news stories. From the first screen, you can see the top three headlines in world news, health news, financial news and other topical areas. This site updates every 15 minutes and notes how many stories have appeared in the last 15 minutes. You can view headlines by topic or by the time that the headline was posted. The source of the posting is also noted.
The folks at Excite break the news into sections. See the top headlines in entertainment news or the national news. News Tracker will allow you to set up searches on various topics. You will be notified via email of any new developments. Top news stories will also have links to related stories following the text of the article.
Like the Excite site, Lycos breaks down the news by topic. Great background information can be found in the Lycos "community guides." Developed by Lycos in response to users' demands, community guides provide a number of links on various topics. In the Entertainment guide, for example, you can find a list of links on someone like Howard Stern. In the United States community guide, find links on the affirmative action debate or gun control. News librarians should familiarize themselves with the multitude of news-related sites available on the Web. Because of the infinite amount of news hole, a newspaper's online presentation of a story may be much different from the hard copy version. Researchers can use some of the supplemental documentation posted on the Web for background information or story ideas. The Web also provides the most up-to-date information available on topics in the news. Almost immediately after an event occurs, online papers will be posting stories, updates, and related links. Sometimes these postings can save a lot of time.
Jennifer Small is a Reference Librarian at the San Antonio Express-News. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Push Technology in the Newsroom
by Richard Drezen
With increasing emphasis by reporters and news librarians to use the Internet as a research tool, more people have been introduced to and have started using what is know as "push technology" to aid them in finding information.
What exactly is push technology? In a nutshell, it's a variation of an electronic clipping service. You set up a profile requesting information on a specific subject be sent to you, either by accessing it online or having it e-mailed to you offline. The information is then "pushed" automatically to your desktop daily and you are able to retrieve it and read it at your convenience.
How can this be used in the newsroom? Reporters might use this to monitor stories pertinent to their beat. Assignment editors might want to follow how other newspapers are handling a story they've covered. News librarians might be watching for new developments on a subject they've been asked to track.
Pointcast has been one of the bigger players in push technology and when visiting their web site you are promptly informed that "over one million busy professionals rely on Pointcast as the Internet's #1 news and information service." Various options for starting with Pointcast involve free downloading software that enables one to get customized application similiar to a screen saver which provides late-breaking news, a stock ticker and even weather information at your desktop. Of course, Pointcast in not the only player out there. Marimba and Backweb are other competitors. Both Microsoft and Netscape have designed their own push products as well.
In order to get a better sense of how news librarians are using push technology, I posted a query on NewsLib, the listserv for news librarians specifically asking how it was being used and what, if any, have been the benefits. The results were surprisingly underwhelming and ranged from, "I tried Pointcast when it first came out and enjoyed it but then they stopped updating it daily..." to "I had it on my computer for about a week and found it distracting" or "a lot of the stuff Pointcast offers is useless to me." Follow-up phone calls to respondents produced further negative evaluations such as "it takes up too much space" or "it has too many advertisements" or "it might bring in a virus."
To see if these reactions from news librarians were lopsided, I conducted an informal survey of several reporters at The Washington Post who further confirmed that while some of them really use push technology, the jury is still out as to whether it is really helping or just cluttering up their computers.
Since many of the negative comments were directed towards Pointcast, I contacted them for their response. Joe Perna, Director of Content at Pointcast, admitted an earlier version of their free software had problems. The latest release is less of a memory (or disk) hog. He pointed out that individuals who do use Pointcast are able to determine how many or how few times daily they want updates. He said that the real strength of Pointcast is to focus on "company" or "industry" content and this would be especially useful for financial journalists. Those wishing information on more general topics might be happier with other push products that allowed for greater flexibility.
Obviously there will continue to be a need for the old-fashioned news alert or SDI (selective dissemination of information), and vendors such as Dow Jones or Lexis/Nexis have not been idle. Both have fine-tuned their push products and offer various ways of delivering information to one's desktop. The difference, of course, is that with these, there is a cost factor. With Pointcast, Marimba, Microsoft and Netscape, the cost is minimal, if non-existent. Will news librarians be willing to pay for this type of service? More importantly, will reporters and editors ask for it knowing that it is being done so at a price? Stay tuned for further developments....
Richard is a Reference Librarian at the Washington Post. Contact him at email@example.com.
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To Russia, With Love
By Chris Hardesty
I suppose I'll never be able to give a thorough travelogue of my trip to Russia last November. The story has been told dozens of times, but folks till toss out questions looking for facts and anecdotes that I fail to mention. Read on. I'll answer some of the questions I've been asked.
What were you doing over there?
This is the third year The Freedom Forum has teamed up with SLA to send special librarians to other countries as part of their international libraries program. I spent two weeks in Moscow and St. Petersburg helping journalists and journalism students to better use the Internet.
Did they know how to use computers?
Yes, although to different degrees. In fact, that's what made adhering to a training plan difficult. Some people wanted me to show them how to build Web pages, while others were getting on the Internet for the first time. Most of my time was spent showing them the ins and outs of searching for good and useful information.
Do you speak Russian?
Nyet. About half of the people I met with were bilingual, though. The other times I had a translator. Speaking through an interpreter or to bilingual groups is exhausting. On those occasions, one must make sure to use proper grammar. Avoiding contractions and slang is a must. Simple sentences should always be used. After two or three sentences, pause to allow the interpreter to relay the information. Try it. It makes a three-hour training session seem like an all-day affair. I did pick up about a dozen phrases while there.
What did you do about language differences outside of the training room
Anna Sharogradskaya, the director of the RAPIC office in St. Petersburg...
Whoa, what's RAPIC?
Russian-American Press and Information Center. They've changed their name to the National Press Institute since I was there. The Center in St. Petersburg houses The Freedom Forum Library I worked out of, and I made the Center in Moscow my home base, too.
OK. About the language differences?
Anna taught me something valuable: take everything in context. Wasn't it Dali who asked why, when he's in a restaurant and orders grilled lobster, he's never brought a telephone? I haven't the foggiest idea about what he was getting at, but if someone approaches you and they're tapping their wrist, they probably want to know the time. Walking down a sign-filled street gives you an idea of what it's like to be illiterate. But I was never left too long without an English speaker. In Moscow, they arranged for young English-speaking women to take me to see the sights.
Were they pretty?
Absolutely incredible! Beautiful and elegant is more like it. I'm sure you've seen pictures, but you can't fully appreciate the beauty until you stand next to something and touch it. It's a full sensory kind of thing. You take in the sounds, smells, everything. Some were deteriorating, though.
Are you talking about the women?
No, I thought "pretty" was referring to the sights. But yes, my sightseeing guides were pretty too. I saw many pretty women. And again, beautiful and elegant is a better description. The stereotype of Russian women being unattractive and bulky is no more accurate than the stereotype of librarians being old maids with their hair in a bun.
Did you meet any librarians?
I met three -- The Freedom Forum librarian in St. Petersburg, one at a university and one at a newspaper. The status of librarians is generally low there. Granted, we're not often put on a pedestal here, but many librarians in Russia perform only clerical functions. So, many people I met were confused about my role at The News & Observer.
What about The Freedom Forum librarian?
That's Chris Hamilton. He takes requests from journalists from all over the city. The questions he gets could just as likely be asked by a reporter at my paper. The journalists can also go to the library to use its resources. He keeps busy with them and gets repeat customers. I guess some Russian reporters have realized the value of a good librarian, but the bean counters at the papers haven't figured that out yet. Chris is an American, but he's in his fourth year in St. Petersburg. We're roughly the same age and have similar interests. My leisure was time well spent, thanks to him. I saw a ballet, visited fantastic museums, toured magnificent cathedrals and met interesting people. He invited me to return in June when it's not as cold and there's more than six hours of daylight. The sun hardly sets in June.
How cold was it?
Cold enough for someone who's lived in the South for more than half of his life. The week after I returned home they had record low temperatures. I'm quite happy I missed that -- 25 below zero is way too cold.
You said the RAPIC offices were your home base. Did everyone come to you or did you go to them?
Both. I visited two newspapers and two universities. The other groups met at the Centers.
How were the Internet connections?
That varied, too. It certainly was slower than what I'm used to at work, but faster than what you'd get at home with a dial-in connection. Sometimes the connection would just freeze for a minute or two. Their telecommunications infrastructure is not quite what ours is in the U.S., but it was better than what I originally anticipated. I noticed that several people didn't load images to speed up navigation. In 1890, St. Petersburg had one of the best phone systems in the world. But it's said that some of the orginal copper wires are still in use today.
What about the food?
I'm often trapped in indecision by fine menus, but nothing has compared to this trip when all of the foods were new to me. Chris knew of many great places. I ate very well. I ate blini, these thin pancake things stuffed with anything from apricots to cabbage, caviar or mushrooms, and topped off with sour cream. The first caviar I ate in Russia was at a hockey match. Instead of picking up a hot dog at the arena, they've got fancy little sandwiches of caviar, ham or smoked fish. Pelmeni, a sort of Russian ravioli. Borscht, a beet soup. The list could go on.
And the vodka?
I drank my share.
Send Chris e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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