Saturday, December 5, 2009

Library Magic

Years ago I covered a small, local magic show. The magician called a woman to the stage and, while we all watched, he had her carefully inspect three large, separate, silver rings. After thoroughly checking each ring, one after the other, the woman assured the audience the rings were solid; There were no gaps.

The woman went back to her seat and the magician proceeded to quickly link and unlink the rings.  At one point he swung the three rings, clearly firmly linked, above his head. He even engaged in a tug-of-war with a person in the front row. The rings could not be separated.

With everyone convinced the rings were now solidly linked, he pulled one free and tossed it offstage. He pulled the remaining two rings apart and held them high in the air, one in his left hand the other other in his right. He tossed the rings offstage to loud and enthusiastic applause.

Later, I had a chance to slip backstage where I saw the magician's open suitcase sitting with the three rings in clear view. I checked the rings. One had a large gap. The magician had tricked the woman into looking over one solid ring twice.

The trick's explanation was simple and obvious. It just took a lot of skill and experience to pull it off.

Which brings me to librarians: Years ago, when the paper at which I worked still had a proper library, I needed some information concerning an accident picture shot years earlier. I went to the library expecting that maybe, if I was lucky, they would have something on micro fiche.

I dropped off my request with the library staff and left. Minutes later one of the librarians stopped by the photo department. She had a copy of the published story, complete with published picture and she also had the original photographic print of the accident. The print still bore the blue crayon cropping marks left by an editor.

This was magic. A random image of a rather small news event and the library seemingly pulled it from thin air. I thought it seemed a nigh impossible feat. They couldn't possibly file nearly every image that appeared in the paper, could they? They would need an immense room in the basement and an absolutely mind-boggling filing system. Well, they had both. These librarians were good.

When I left the paper, I followed the path blazed by the librarians. Deemed redundant, computers could handle their jobs, they were all let go. Oh, some of the library operation was kept but not in-house; those library functions were moved to Toronto.

Sadly, the magic left the system with the exit of the librarians.

If an editor needed a picture of the London skyline, one published within the past year, and searched using "London", the editor immediately realized that almost every picture in the system has London in the cutline. If they added skyline to their search, they got a few hits but they might not find the recent image they needed.

With no librarians filing images, there were no consistent keywords being attached to the pictures. The shots were being tracked by whatever lines the photographer attached at the time the image was placed in the system. A skyline picture at sunset could be filed as London buildings at dusk or a red sky glows over London's downtown.

Out with all the skilled staff, out with the need for experience, out with all the highly paid jobs: My guess is that Quebecor believes one out of three ain't bad. Eliminating jobs is always a fine, profitable move. It seems Three Dog Night set the bar too high.

I wonder if a newsroom in China has librarians?
Photo by: Kevin Van Lierop © Creative Commons

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