The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

[IMAGE] by Bruce Roepe '85

Imagine that a magazine staff writer has asked for information on charitable giving by billionaires and has requested that the results be turned in to her in three days so that she can begin work on the article for next month's issue.

As special research librarian for Worth magazine, Jackie Richardson '85 receives several assignments such as this each week. In the case of the philanthropic billionaires, she used Lexis/Nexis, the Internet, and other on-line services to find appropriate publications on the topic. She discovered two pieces of information that the writer might eventually use to add "color" to the finished article - one about a billionaire's gift of two thousand turkeys to the homeless and another about a charity auction for a quail hunt with a billionaire.

Jackie turned the results of her research over to the writer and began her next project on a new and completely different topic.

Jackie Richardson has joined the growing field of "special librarians." As Jackie explains it, librarians fall into four groups - public, university, school and special. Librarians from the first three groups excel at directing a wide variety of researchers toward useful books, periodicals and other material. Special librarians are the newest group, having sprung up to help find routes through the jungle of on-line material now available. Since the computer is a primary research tool today, special librarians have become necessary to locate the correct research paths and bypass the thickets of cyber-garbage.

Using the computer
Special librarians perform almost all of their work on the computer. Jackie breaks down her source use as 80 percent subscriber-paid services such as Lexis/Nexis, Dialog, and Dow Jones Reports; 10 percent Internet, Listserve and CD-Rom's and 10 percent traditional, printed resources.

Although special librarians have expanded the role of the librarian by actually doing the client's research, their range of expertise is narrower. Special librarians focus on particular areas, such as law, medicine, technology, chemistry or investment banking. However, this specialization permits them to find employment outside of public libraries and schools, and to work in almost any industry that requires research. Jackie's forte is finance and she has worked for a large investment banking firm and two magazines - Business Week and Worth. Other opportunities for special librarians include medical libraries, law firms, advertising agencies, museums and trade associations.

For Jackie, doing the research is the best part of the job.

"The fun thing is the process of it. It's sort of like being a detective. They say `These are my questions, and this is what I need,' and then I have to go out there and figure out the best way to access that. They are depending on me. What they see in background and research is really controlled by me, and they're trusting that I will get them what they need."

For people with an appetite for information, the job is a feast. Compare the following two topics that Jackie researched recently: (1) how the Securities & Exchange Commission regulates hedge funds and (2) how businesses entertain clients and make deals at strip clubs.

What is surprising, and perhaps alarming, is that both topics had drawn excited commentary.

"I think what I'm doing now really suits me. Every day there is something new. I can learn and research a lot of facts and information. But then once I have that package, I turn it over to somebody and it's up to them to synthesize it."

Quieter, more peaceful
How did Jackie transition to her new career? Jackie formerly taught English in the New York City public high schools. Initially she liked high school teaching and its challenges. But by her fourth year she had grown dissatisfied with certain aspects of the job. She felt that the hours were too long, the successes too infrequent, and that high school teaching required "one decision after another with no clear guidelines." Looking for other options, she took a career personality test, and gave it to a favorite student to interpret. He concluded that she needed to work in a place that was "quieter, and more peaceful, and where she would get more respect."

Jackie first considered the librarian option when a friend loaned her the book, Careers for Bookworms and Other Literary Types. After making some initial inquiries, she concluded that she wanted to be a librarian, and applied to the three main librarian schools in New York City - Pratt, Queens College, and St. Johns. While attending Queens College, Jackie discovered special librarians and decided that she wanted to be one of them.

Although Jackie describes her transition as haphazard, she admits that her new career suits her personality. She has always enjoyed soaking up new information, and loves Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. When she was at Colgate, Jackie never enjoyed writing papers, but still always regretted rushing through a writing assignment at the last minute because she knew what she liked was the research.

With her new career, she gets the best of both worlds.

"I think what I'm doing now really suits me. Every day there is something new. I really don't like writing, and that's one of the things that I like about my job. I can learn and research a lot of facts and information. But then once I have that package, I turn it over to somebody and it's up to them to synthesize it."

Jackie's enthusiasm is impressive. Several times she commented that "everyone should be a librarian." Until then, Jackie Richardson is willing to wade through the brambles of technology to find what we need.


Bruce Roepe is a Portland, Oregon attorney with a special interest in non-fiction writing.