Vol. 21, No.4/Summer 1999
|Library Profile: The New
Jersey Star LedgerBy M.J. Crowley
It was a phone call which I will never forget. One hour - late on a Friday afternoon in 1995 - spent listening to the new Star-Ledger Editor, Jim Willse, describe his vision of the virtual library he wanted to create for his newsroom and the newspaper he was now guiding (sometimes prodding) into the 21st century.
Two things surprised me about that conversation: first was Willse's thorough familiarity with information, computers, and technology; second, here was an editor talking about ALL THOSE GOALS we news librarians set for ourselves.
I had heard from other friends (current Ledger staff lured from their jobs in Philadelphia to the new environment being created in Newark) that the Star-Ledger had "no library." Naturally, I was curious about how a newspaper, identified as the paper of record for the state of New Jersey, could function without a library. So in the fall of 1995, I headed up to Newark to meet this Willse-guy reported to be doing the equivalent of "turning around a ship the size of the QE-II in shallow water."
What I found was not surprising. Yes, there was NO reference library but there was an old CSI front-end system feeding a Vu/Text archive (set up in 1989 at the insistence of the systems department) with NO quality control. There was weak set of paper clippings plus many of the tasks most news libraries do farmed out all over the building.
It was hard to say no to that kind of challenge, to a position as Information Editor and to Willse's vision.
As they say, "timing is everything." In the early part of 1996, as we moved to a brand new newsroom with a PC-based Harris front-end and pagination system, we introduced the reporters to life with a web-based searchable archive of news stories. From a news clipping database with no bylines, no pages, no section names and entire days missing, we now had a second generation search engine by a group called Thunderstone built on an archive with HTML presentation along with the ability to link stories in a series (and eventually charts and image graphics). Our accomplishments in the first six months of that year were truly exhilarating!
Looking back, I am amazed at the simultaneous growth of the Internet and World Wide Web alongside our design for the newsroom's virtual library.
While knowing I would have the opportunity to hire all my own staff, I also knew that there was a limit both on the physical size of the newsroom facilities (i.e. desk spaces) and the eventual number of bodies I would be allowed. I also knew that the current aggressive reporters were already accustomed to doing their own research. There was no one here trained to "call the library for a Nexis search." From the start, we would need to build on that independence!
Christine Baird from New York Newsday joined me in February 1996 as Deputy Information Editor. A highly skilled researcher with a bent on reporting, Christine took her knowledge of information resources and began building our modest print collection (mostly New Jersey materials) and its computer index. She also shared in the initial building of search competencies and training for both the Newark newsroom and the bureau staff.
In July, we were joined by former-business-librarian-always-wanted-to-be-in-newspapers-Info Coach, Beverly Reid. Beverly took over the mantra of training. And in August, Padraic Cassidy became our Data Coach, responsible for CAR projects and building the initial Intranet home page among other duties. Now we were four and on a tear! (We also had several part-time staff - the equivalent of 2.5 FTEs doing the archive updating and quality control. This has now changed to 1 full time and 2/3 part-time staff members.)
1997 brought the completion of the Star-Ledger Intranet by the systems department, along with a wide-area network to our 5 major bureaus. We made training trips to all the bureaus - e-mail, Windows95, archive searching refresher, Internet training - whatever people felt they needed or we could identify might be useful. We continued to examine information resources and their availability in digital format.
In the fall of 1997, we installed our data warehouse and loaded the various Excel files and .dbf files which had been sitting in a myriad of different locations. These files included county employees, campaign finance records, accident reports, voter registrations and more. Eventually, Padraic added NewsEngin, from George Landau, as a front-end capable of searching across multiple databases. Presto! Our FOI data began to double as a people finder in New Jersey.
Spring of 1998 brought the final stage of the virtual library construction. Star-Ledger virtual information access (S-L.v.i.a.) became a reality as Howard McQueen helped us install a Citrix server enabling us to bring various CD-ROM applications to the desktops both in Newark and in the 6 large bureaus.
The virtual library houses standard reference tools such as Who's Who, The World Book, Britannica and Americana encyclopedias, Yellow Book Directories, the New Jersey Lawyers' Diary and Manual, and Phone Disk. In several cases, we have opted for web subscriptions over CD applications (Gale's Reference Desk and Current Biography for example). The links to those web applications remain on the same intranet page as the Citrix applications, i.e. the Virtual Library page.
Training is a constant assignment. To better communicate as well as serve as a training vehicle for ever-expanding resources, we created S-Lvia's BEAT, a quarterly newsletter. Additionally, we occasionally conduct hour-long sessions in our conference room (over several days) geared toward teaching a specific topic or resource. Whenever the opportunity to do one-on-one training arises, we grab it. We periodically send out e-mail reminders to call and schedule a personal training session. We also use e-mail to update great web sites or offer search tips. And we bring in our vendors (Dow Jones, LiveEdgar, Lexis-Nexis) to provide training.
We continue to evaluate and assess information tools. We continue to streamline the data transfer from paginated files to archive. We help with photos, but only peripherally. We continue to train. We research, we report. We gather, we design. We sell our data, and we handle reprint permissions. We've expanded to offer information resources to our entire newspaper company. It's all part of what we consider our mission in creating the Virtual Library.
And, I'll never forget that phone call.
M.J. Crowley is the Information Editor at The Star Ledger. Her email is email@example.com.
M.J. Crowley, Information Editor.
Screen shot of Star-Leger Intranet.
Star-Ledger staff hard at work.
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