Posted on March 6, 2012.
From pencils to pixels — The department has evolved from custodians and cataloguers to collaborators, playing a key role in research, retrieval and more
By Debbie Millward
Debbie Millward gives Margaret Atwood a tour of PNG Library. Courtesy of the Pacific Newspaper Group
Marilyn Monroe’s one-time husband once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”
If Arthur Miller was right, then a good newspaper’s library provides transcription and playback of the conversation.
The Vancouver Sun has had the support of a department to serve this role for most of its history, definitely since the 1940s. It has answered to morgue, press library and news research library — sometimes all three in the same week.
The word morgue still trips off the tongue of at least one seasoned journalist, the label perhaps derived from the cold-hearted expedient of filing pre-written obituaries of prominent people, ready to retrieve from the press library, the date of terminus inserted before publication.
The Sun’s library today is a hive of activity that has less to do with the custody and cataloguing of what was published yesterday, and more to do with collaboration on what will be published today.
The daily wrangling ofSun content that has been printed or posted online is mostly automated now, with human intervention only for corrections and troubleshooting. The days of a 24/7 library operation to manually clip, index and file every story and photo ended 20-odd years ago:Namaste, old friend.
That legacy continues to deliver, however, as points of entry into a trove of Vancouver memories, silly and solemn: from swooning Beatles fans at the Forum, to the tragedies of harbour explosions and collapsing bridges.
New roles for the press library evolved while retaining the archiving-and-organizing core of the past. Training new reporters to search online databases like FPinfomart and to navigate newsroom technology — with names like SaxoTech, SouthPARC and Merlin — is akin to teaching them to fish, instead ofthe library fetching, a particular filet.
Pulling together the right photos and statistics forSun stories and projects brings more gratifying, and visible, value than hand-indexing clippings.
Here’s a sampling of notable projectsThe Sun’s library staff has contributed to over the past few years: Stephen Hume’s series on the explorer Simon Fraser; BC’s 150th birthday coverage; Vancouver’s 125th anniversary coverage; the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and 2011 retrospective; the Canucks’ 2011 Stanley Cup run and its aftermath; and, of course,The Sun’s 100th birthday section.
Several of these projects culminated in books, with theSun Library’s efforts stitched in.
The Sun’s library began with paper clippings and metal “cuts” — photographs etched onto metal plates by engravers before going to press — neatly filed away.
Now, like newspapers themselves, the library’s work is conducted in pixels not pencils.
Archiving text and images, digitizing negatives and microfilm, research, training, selling and licensing Sunphotos and compiling content (like “This Day in History” on page A2) are now digital activities.
But no matter the medium, the conversation continues andThe Sun’s library now contributes to it and records it.
Debbie Millward is the manager
of the News Research Library,
Pacific Newspaper Group