Site visit: British newspaper library

Bound volumes of newspapers  at British Library Photograph: Martin Argles

Photograph: Martin Argles

It’s traditional to send our trainee on a visit to the British newspaper library in Colindale, and I’d not been since I was one many moons ago, so I tagged along with Nina and our archivist when they visited last week.

The newspaper library is in the process of moving to Boston Spa, the British Library’s base in Yorkshire, and the transition is evident. Gone are the impressive cameras I remember, used for photographing newspaper pages for microfilm. Fragments of binding and aging newsprint litter the floor in the stacks (every bound volume has to be weighed and measured prior to the move north, and if they sweep up the dust, airborne particles could cause damage).

It was really interesting to hear about the move – as well as the northern base there’ll be a dedicated reading room at the British Library on Euston Road (although bound volumes will have to be ordered from Boston Spa). Fascinating, too, to see inside “the pen” where some of the more precious volumes are held, including (to my other half’s delight) volumes of Marvel comics from the 1970s and British counterparts from their heigh-day in the ’40s.

The newspaper library fulfills my romantic ideal of an archive – the musty smell of weathered paper, cracked spines of long-forgotten tomes like John Bull and The Cherokee Phoenix (an attempt at a reservation paper from the 1830s). I could happily get lost in the stacks.

Times have changed, space is short and there’s a pressing need to preserve old volumes (an ongoing programme of digitisation will ensure safer access to millions of pages of print, though 40m pages is only a small proportion of the overall collection). The move is clearly important to the continuing success of the newspaper archive. But I hope that some of the magic of Colindale will remain at the new facility at Boston Spa.


Working week: Wednesday 27 July 2011

I only returned from maternity leave a month ago, and I’ve been using up my holidays, so I wasn’t meant to be in the office today! But we have a couple of meetings this morning, so I’m doing a half day. I’ll be back to three days a week from next week – I’m only a part-timer. It’s great to be able to split my time between work and home while the kids are small, but I do feel a bit out of the loop workwise when I come in on a Monday and have to play catch-up.

  • 9.30am – In on time again! Must be trying to impress #libday7 folks.
  • 10am – Called Nielsen Bookscan for sales figures for the Man Booker Prize longlist titles, to add to the Datablog spreadsheet.
  • 10.30am – Meeting with manager and the press office about our intranet, which needs a major revamp.
  • 11am – Nielsen have sent the sales figures through so I’ve added them to the document and relaunched the blogpost with the new info (Alan Hollinghurst is out in front FYI).
  • 11.30am – Department meeting with head of SEO to learn more about optimising our online posts.
  • 12.30pm – Hometime!

Working week: Monday 25 July 2011

Library Day in the Life 7

Assistant librarian, news library (Guardian News & Media)

I generally start work at 9.30am (although it depends how quickly I get the kids up and out!), and finish around 5.30pm or later (it’s usually creeping towards 6.30 by the time I leave).

Broadly, I provide background information to assist journalists in writing for the newspapers and website. My role has extended far beyond that though – as a department we find and edit ‘on this day’ articles for the leader page and publish them to the web; maintain a Twitter account; and run the From the archive blog, among many other things.

So what have I done today?

  • 9.40am – I’m the only one in before 10am, so I answer any queries that are outstanding from the weekend and take any calls. A reader called for reference details of an article published in 1989 – she had all the details (date, byline) but couldn’t find it on the website. I did a quick check of our internal archive and found it straight away. Normally reader queries are the responsibility of our trainee, but I like helping out if it’s quiet and she’s not around.
  • 10am – We maintain a spreadsheet of Afghanistan casualty and fatality statistics for the Datablog, which we check every morning and update as necessary. Our trainee normally handles it but she’s away so I did a quick run through the sources for changes (just the international fatalities total to amend today).
  • 11am – A journalist is planning a visit to Finland to see the schools system there, so I searched for some large background articles on the Finnish education system in the UK broadsheets and the Times Educational Supplement on Factiva.
  • 12pm – We are in the middle of auditing our service, documenting each query we do to see who is using us and what we’re spending time on. I spent a few minutes drawing up a list of query types so the data will be easy to sort at the end of the project (would that be a taxonomy? keyword list? not sure what!).
  • 12.30pm – An editor asked for a timeline of major events so far this year, to help a journalist write a commentary, so I spent a couple of hours compiling a list based on their suggestions and browsing Guardian front pages from January on. I put them into a spreadsheet so that I could add links to each of the stories – we do an end of year review each year, so it’ll be a handy resource come November!
  • 3pm – Lunch (the lateness may be a clue as to why I never leave on time)
  • 4.30pm – We’re working on coverage in advance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, so I spent some time on that.
  • 5.30pm – Home time, (almost) on time for once!

Working week: Library Day in the Life 7

I only got a heads up about the latest Library Day in the Life week a few days ago (thank you @joeyanne!) so I’m a bit behind, but I’ve been chronicling my working week since I got back to work last month anyway, so I should be okay! I’ll try to make it a bit more interesting than the basic lists I’ve been blogging though.

Check out the list of participants and join in yourself!

Martin Belam on the editorial pitfalls when digital and print collide

Martin Belam has flagged up one of the dangers of online reporting over on curreybetdotnet.

Yesterday’s Times website headline for the Sean Hoare story, Hacking whistleblower found dead, was unfortunately prepended with the ‘Live’ tag, leading, as Martin says, to the formula “Live: Someone is dead”.

the perfect example of something that wouldn’t be allowed to happen in print, but which hits a magic Venn diagram intersection of technology, editorial and information architecture allowing it to happen digitally.

Martin suggests adding more options for prepends – ‘Breaking’ or ‘Latest’ for example, which would remove the unintentional pun in the headline for such a tragic story.

It’s clear that more consideration needs to be given to traditional page layout when information architects, who are often far removed from the reporting process, are working in the media sphere.

Working week, July 11-13

Monday July 11

  • Uploaded Saturday’s On this day article, and tweeted it
  • Uploaded today’s On this day article, and tweeted it – added a link to a related blogpost from last week, and added a link to today’s piece in the blogpost
  • Journalist query on Jeffery Deaver character and names of other blind detectives – Google search
  • Datablog query – updated list of News of the World alleged phonehacking victims – Factiva, internal archive, Google
  • Journalist query on Jonathan Ross – Factiva, internal archive, had to separate into manageable chunks as there was so much info
  • Obits check on birthdate of Manuel Galban – date given on Wikipedia but not elsewhere – nothing definite on Factiva in English or Spanish, followed Wikipedia citation for source
  • Readers’ editor query on how press regulation is run in other countries – web, Factiva
Tuesday July 12
  • Uploaded the From the archive for today, and tweeted it
  • Checked the Afghanistan casualty pages, and updated
  • We have a work experience student this week, so I showed her how to upload From the archive stories and tweet them
  • Wrote a How to… for the Afghanistan casualties spreadsheet in Google Docs, and shared it with the department
  • Added the department blog to the Editor’s picks list on website search
  • Corrected the Afghanistan casualties spreadsheet – uniform cause of death descriptions
  • Worked through the intranet and made pointers on how to revamp it
Wednesday July 13
I had such a good day at the Umbrella conference! Some of the sessions were more useful than others, but it was great to meet so many people face to face that I know online, and make new connections. More on the sessions I attended later this week.

Throwaway blogging: of morons and Mormons

I wrote my first post for the shiny new research department blog, From the archive, today. Well, two really, but the other one won’t launch until Thursday night.

Both posts are based on stories from the Guardian and Observer digital archive (the blog does what it says on the tin!), but are very different beasts.

Thursday’s post pulls together five or six articles, and a British Pathe video, to give the reader a rounded, comprehensive view of a moment in history (in this instance, the death of Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park concert a few days later). It took the best part of the morning to compile, with numerous rewrites, and still isn’t finished.

Today’s post is a one-paragraph correction I chanced across while I was editing an article for the On This Day column. It took less than half an hour to capture the image, write the blurb and post online. It had been retweeted twenty times by this evening and will no doubt be forgotten by the morning. But it is no less valid a blogpost because of it.

That’s what I like about blogging – there’s a time to be measured and a time to post a rapid, throwaway remark that nonetheless captures the imagination, however briefly.