Librarians and Value

Three weeks ago, NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty recently did a report on Catholics and John Kerry that has raised some temperatures in the blogopshere. I won’t go into all that, but one blog quotes the reporter as telling American Libraries in February 2000, “Reporters should be thinking about big ideas and can get bogged down in detail. I write stories with blanks and let the library staff fill them in.”

Sounds kind of a strange admission to make, and it’s possible that Bradley Hagerty may be, shall we say, over-reliant on librarians, but the context is still interesting.

The article (not apparently freely available online, so no link, my apologies) is about NPR’s library staff. NPR’s library has 2700 books, 125 serials, news database subscriptions, and tons of clippings, according to the article. There are actually 2 NPR libraries (a research library and a program library, which sounds more like an archive). The main NPR librarian has been there since 1974. The other two librarians are more recent. One of them keeps an updated pronunciation guide that she sends around the offices during election season so the on-air talent don’t mispronounce candidates’ names. The same librarian has a Rolodex (now an online database, I suppose?) of the contact info for every press secretary on Capitol Hill. An assistant managing editor says the librarian can “find anyone on the face of the earth, even on weekends.” From the sounds of the article, the librarians at NPR face a lot of the same issues that most librarians face. For instance, how do you preserve or transform the tapes of old NPR broadcasts, many of which are reel-to-reel? How do you preserve material while also accommodating user needs (reporters needing to use the tape for dubbing copies?).

The paragraph above the Bradley Hagerty quote is full of praise from an NPR editor and producer for the librarians and acknowledgment of the fact that they do the “heavy lifting of research.” True enough.