Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Evolution lesson

Despite the rather sensationalist headline Endangered Species: News librarians are a dying breed, an article on the Columbia Journalism Review site puts a strong case for keeping information professionals in the newsroom. As the writer, Craig Silverman, sees it:

"Now that every reporter and editor has access to Google and a wide range of search technologies and online databases, the thinking is that they don’t need to call upon the Boolean expertise of librarians. You can see how it makes sense - except then the facts start to get in the way. In fact, the modern news librarian seems in many ways more important than ever. Even those old clipping files still come in handy."

Of course this means little to the many news organisations across the globe who have closed their information centres. According to statistics compiled by Michele Quigley, a researcher at the Palm Beach Post, over 250 news librarian jobs have been lost in the US since 2007. No such data exists for the UK but I would guess that at least 30 posts have been lost over the past year or so. The media libraries that survive do so in part because their management still believe in the value of the employing researchers, plus, as Amy Disch, library director of the Columbus Dispatch, explains, they have adapted their skills and knowledge to meet the needs of a modern newsroom.

To return to the title, it's true that the days of armies of people filing cuttings are well and truly over. But, without wishing to get too Darwinian, news librarianship starting evolving with the advent of online information, way back in the mid-1980s. News groups who recognised this are now reaping the benefits of having skilled librarian/researchers on their staff.

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