The Guardian librarian: ‘There was a tart trade with administration about photocopiers’ | Membership

When in early 1951 Geoffrey Whatmore, the Manchester Guardian’s recently appointed main librarian, turned up at the paper’s Cross Avenue offices, he found a reference services scarcely in good shape for reason.

At the end of a darkish corridor was a dusty area comprehensive of filing cupboards with warped, overstuffed drawers, coagulating paste pots, piles of newspapers (but seemingly no guides), and a group of librarians who scarcely spoke to each other.

Fed up with his writers complaining about the haphazard point out of the library, the Guardian’s then editor, AP Wadsworth, experienced felt compelled to utilize a professional to create some get. While there experienced been a library at the paper considering that the early 1900s, Whatmore’s activity was to establish an energetic exploration centre, alternatively than just somewhere to file absent material.

Seventy yrs later on, I’m the recent Guardian librarian. Of program my environment is very diverse. I do the job in a huge, gentle-loaded, open-program workplace surrounded by editorial colleagues. The 21st-century information library is basically a host of databases, employed to study details for – and by – Guardian journalists throughout the globe, doing work on a 24-hour news cycle.

By distinction, Whatmore’s day was concentrated on the publication of the very first edition of the paper, ordinarily about 10pm. Along with most of the other Manchester Guardian personnel his change began at 3pm, the first clatter of a typewriter key announcing that the performing day experienced begun.

A main part of the news librarian’s occupation was updating the cuttings collection – news stories chopped from that day’s papers and organised into subject matter data files for reference.

Regardless of whether it was to test a reality, see what had been composed in advance of on a matter or simply glance for strategies, these scrappy manila folders were an critical analysis software in the pre-research-engine period. In papers up and down the land, a journalist would wander alongside to the library – probably as an excuse to escape the mayhem of the newsroom, or for a smoke – and hope to walk away with a bulging file. This environment was brilliantly captured in Alphabetical Purchase, Michael Frayn’s play about a information library. In 1 scene, John, a character primarily based on a Guardian capabilities author, turns up on the lookout for a quotation “reported someplace, in a thing, about midway down a suitable-hand page” – a request that appears all also familiar currently.

Geoffrey Whatmore organised a chaotic archive and enormously expanded the library’s sphere of functions. He was also a keen angler and ran an antiquarian publications business, specialising in angling,

The issue Whatmore faced was that Guardian data files were being alternatively threadbare, in element due to the fact the paper refused to take just about anything but its personal cuttings and the Each day Telegraph’s. This was barely a extensive résumé of situations and so he amplified the amount of titles to be taken.

Extra daring – as he explained to me throughout an oral record job interview in 2012, 4 several years right before his demise – was the drive for the selection to consist of persona data files. At this time, the Guardian was extra intrigued in weighty matters of point out alternatively than the life of men and women, so there was nothing on “Anthony Eden or Kathleen Ferrier, not an actor, not a sportsman”. This weak spot was especially uncovered when an obituary experienced to be prepared near to deadline time.

Just as crucial was sorting out the library index, a venerable enterprise going again to Victorian occasions and originally handwritten in leather-certain volumes. This was vital to finding the appropriate file, but over the many years indexers experienced made their have idiosyncratic devices – perplexing for absolutely everyone, especially reporters who stumbled upon it in the smaller several hours. The problem was compounded by a absence of conversation in between associates of staff members. The new librarian standardised the index and in time recruited staff with a much more collegiate tactic.

The Guardian stopped taking cuttings extra than two a long time in the past, with on line textual content archives and digitised papers changing the need for the aged information. But retrospective reference – presenting present-day information in context – is as significant today as it was then.

Editorial workers now have accessibility to a range of newspaper archives and data sources from their desktops. But the library (also recognised as Exploration) carries out in-depth hunting – verifying info, compiling track record reports and taking care of the data sources. As in Whatmore’s day, it hunts down biographical nuggets for obituaries, as well as protecting the day-to-day birthdays column. It also scours the paper’s archive for lengthy-overlooked tales to reprint in the From the archive series.

Whatmore standing with hands on hips looking at Monkhouse, who is holding a large book and talking to him, both wearing suits
Whatmore, remaining, with the Guardian’s deputy editor Paddy Monkhouse in January 1958. Photograph: The Guardian

The place of work my predecessor arrived at hadn’t altered a great deal because CP Scott’s day, with daily life nonetheless revolving all over the leader writers’ corridor, occasionally obstructed by an editor’s huge and somnolent doggy. But the paper was transforming, and with it the library.

Just after winning a struggle to have a phone put in, memos from the Guardian archive expose a “tart” exchange with administration about acquiring a photocopier. Admittedly this was chopping-edge know-how at the time, but Whatmore finally bought his way.

Substantially tougher was wresting manage of the ebook collection from an old man who also named himself the librarian. These had been kept below lock and crucial in the corridor and had been only to be read through by the editor and a couple privileged writers. Ultimately a spare key was acquired and the assortment was supplemented with guides scavenged from the pile of evaluate copies – some thing I even now do.

By 1956, the library was producing worthwhile contributions, coming into its individual in the course of big activities these kinds of as the Suez crisis.

Chatting with my predecessor, it became very clear that when technological know-how gives me entry to resources he could only desire about, the core position of the information librarian hadn’t modified. One particular of the issues he liked about the work was opening the up coming day’s paper on his way residence late at night, and getting the paragraphs and chunks of details because of fully to the library’s initiatives. This is a little something I however do – albeit flicking by the internet pages of theguardian.com.

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