Hello from the nation’s capital! DC/SLA is excited to be contributing all of this week’s FutureReady365 posts (thanks to our future-thinking Communications Secretary, Chris Vestal). We are a diverse community of 800+ information professionals, with members from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, as well as 30 other U.S. states and 12 countries. You’ll see this diversity reflected in the range of future ready ideas presented in posts throughout the week. We hope our posts will spark some thought and conversation and, of course, your comments. Most of all, we want to help keep the spark of the FutureReady blog alive – a spark that’s become a fire, gathering us around it to brainstorm our way into the future. — Mary Talley, DC/SLA President (2011)
by Kee Malesky, NPR Library, Washington, DC Chapter, News Division
I can’t take credit for it myself, but I have observed NPR as it transitioned from typewriters to computers, and changed our method of distribution from feeding analog sound over landlines or mailing tapes to member stations to uploading digital audio files to satellites and content depots.
In the NPR library, many things have evolved over the years. Newspapers were clipped and filed for three decades; now we have electronic access to more than a century of news stories. From a collection of about 3000 print titles, we’re down to a few dozen books (mostly kept for sentimental value; in case of computer outages; or for the few paper-loving staffers who remain), but we still can access just about all of the same material in new formats. Our print journal collection is smaller, but our access to articles is greatly increased.
NPR’s first in-house program database was a simple records management program modified by one of our IT staffers. We created brief catalog records for all the radio programs, plus the music and spoken word collections. In the early 1990s, that was replaced by a web-based integrated library system we named Techlib, which has now reached its limits. Our new audio and transcript archives database is called Artemis, and it will contain all of NPR’s programming collection back to 1971. This new database allows the archival metadata to be integrated with other news and web production systems around NPR. The software behind Artemis uses an open source product called Collective Access. Librarians developed an innovative transcript template that makes automated data extraction via XML possible for the first time. Over the next year, we are planning to eliminate physical formats within the archive by implementing a “born-digital” archival workflow for the NPR programming collection, according to our librarian-designer, Janel White Kinlaw.
When I first started working as a librarian at NPR in the mid-1980s, we used to imagine, while entering metadata for a story into Techlib, how cool it would be if you could just press a button and hear the actual audio. I didn’t think that could happen in my lifetime, but we’re just about there now – news programs from 2003 to the present are just a few clicks away from any desktop.
We continue to take advantage of the wonders of technology wherever we find them: I have spoken to librarians and library students via webcam in Poland, Oklahoma (two campuses simultaneously), Alabama, and Canada. For NPR’s coverage of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, I was able to watch the live webcast from home (it was 5 a.m. Eastern time!), search biographical and news databases and the NPR archives, and send material to our reporter in London and his editor in the DC office. Other NPR librarians are digitizing our collections, building databases for our Investigative Reporting Unit, and working with commercial vendors to make more of our radio and web material available.
Maybe they didn’t use the term “future ready” forty years ago, but NPR has always been on the cutting edge of quality news and cultural programming, and the librarians have always been ready and able to support that in any way possible. This is an exciting time for the NPR librarians, because the network has trusted us to draft our own future; we have responded by pro-actively assessing the company’s needs and creating paths aligned to NPR’s goals.
Kee Malesky has worked at NPR for 32 years, as a librarian since 1984. She is the author of All Facts Considered (Wiley, 2010) and the forthcoming Learn Something New Every Day (Wiley, 2012).