The Internet is a library that is open 24 hours a day, needs no library card and features no “Shhh” signs. But the wise writer knows it’s not the only research source.
As a young reporter, I was fortunate to have a reference librarian in my family: my older brother, Jeff.
For the first several years of my career, when I worked at small newspapers that didn’t employ librarians, a call to Jeff was one of my first reporting steps. He introduced me to the Encyclopedia of Associations, brainstormed ideas, and searched card catalogues for books that added depth to my reporting.
In the years to come, other research professionals became invaluable collaborators on stories. (Unable to afford a house on a librarian's salary, Jeff eventually got a job on Wall Street. "I'm doing the same thing," I recall him telling me when he started the job. "They just pay a lot more for the information.")
These days, I rely on David Shedden, Director of the Eugene Patterson Library at Poynter, and his always helpful staff: Kathy Holmes, Maria Jaimes and Jean Wood.
A librarian can save you time, help you avoid research cul de sacs and, before you can say Dewey Decimal, locate the fact that will help make your stories accurate. In our Googling era, an informed, curious, and patient mind remains the best search engine.
An exciting new feature on emdashes, the blog that takes us between the lines of The New Yorker, has resurfaced the memory of those desperate phone calls to Jeff at the Greenwich Public Library when I was scrambling to get up-to-speed on a topic I knew nothing absolutely about and had to write about it in a few hours. I admit journalism's not rocket surgery; it's harder.
Emily Gordon, emdashes' creator, has just delivered on her promise of a monthly column written by the magazine's senior library staff. In a promising debut, Jon Michaud and Erin Overbey tackle A.J. Liebling's start at the magazine; the status of typewriters in the New Yorker's digs; and an illuminating revelation about the fact-checking of cartoons.
And best of all, you can, through emdashes, submit questions to the pair. Let's see, how many rejections did it take before the magazine published a short story by Bobbi Ann Mason?
Image source: Northport-East Northport (NY) Public Library