Rodale: A Special Kind of Special Library
As part of my career exploration while completing my MLIS at Rutgers, I’m conducting information interviews at a variety of libraries. For years my passion was academic libraries, but I recently discovered an equal, if not stronger, passion for special libraries and the publishing industry. I’m fortunate enough to live 40 minutes away from a rare special library gem that allowed me to combine these interests into one visit –Rodale Inc., which is a publishing company with one library that serves its Emmaus, Pa., Manhattan, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.
Being the less than shy soul that I am, I sent an email to Rodale one night explaining that I’m an MLIS student at Rutgers and I’m interested in corporate librarianship, particularly in the publishing industry, and I would be very interested in meeting with someone at Rodale to discuss a career in this field. I was soon contacted by Lynn Donches, the chief librarian at Rodale’s library (I would hyperlink to it, but it’s only available via the Intranet). We scheduled a meeting over winter break.
My morning at the Rodale Library on December 30, 2010, was fun, and not just because I happened to be in Emmaus on the day that practically the whole town was in lock down after a bank robbery, although a library is a nice place to be locked down in, but because Rodale truly is unique in the fact that its media library is, according to a library brochure, the “largest privately owned health and wellness library in the United States and one of the largest in the publishing world.” According to Lynn, many of the new employees arriving at Rodale comment that the large publishing companies, even many in Manhattan, don’t offer the resources that Rodale does.
This media library caters mostly to the editorial and public relations departments, and also to advertising, marketing and business planning. I was surprised to learn that many large publishing companies do not have similar libraries for their editorial and public relations departments. Of course Rodale is unlike other publishing companies in that it was founded on an organic farm with the intent of publishing healthy living magazines and books. The people that work at Rodale aren’t just corporate executives trying to sell books, but they’re also organic farmers and people with degrees in these agricultural and health related fields. In fact, in addition to traditional email, phone, and face to face reference; lending; interlibrary loan; archiving; and cataloging, Rodale Library has the sieves, which are daily e-bulletins summarizing some of the current news articles relevant to Rodale’s business and content. Sieves are written by employees with their masters and doctoral degrees in health, horticultural and business related fields rather than those with editorial and public relations backgrounds, and are archived with the rest of the library material.
Perhaps equally as surprising as learning about the uniqueness of a library like this in a publishing company was learning that the Rodale Library uses Dialog. Yes, I said Dialog, the database that is often introduced as the dinosaur, the one that, when I was learning about it, I thought, “Why would anyone still use this?” And the one that, when I completed the evaluation for my Principles of Searching course which had somewhat extensive use of Dialog, I had a comment similar to this: Although it was nice learning about Dialog, and it’s still useful to know about it and how to use it, it would be better to focus on more of the databases that we will actually encounter in our careers. I should’ve known that, almost as soon as I wrote that, I would come in contact with a library that uses Dialog and the foot would go in the mouth. But who would’ve expected that I would find a place that still uses a rare system?
Well, it’s not quite as rare as I thought it was. According to its website, Dialog, which now offers a new ProQuest Dialog service, was completed in 1966 and was “the world’s first online information retrieval system to be used globally with materially significant databases.” Today, it has direct operations in 27 countries and users in more than 100 countries. Its “collection of over 900 databases handles more than 700,000 searches and delivers over 17 million document page views per month.” That’s really not rare, although the database is still what I consider clunky and not quite as user friendly for the average patron.
Of course the patrons do not use Dialog Classic. They use Dialog toolkits created for simple searching as well as other databases offered through the library portal. When the patrons need assistance, the librarians behind the scenes use Dialog and other database services. Lynn said that Rodale has just added a Discovery Service which provides the instant gratification of Google and the content of robust databases.
Other than learning that some places really do still use Dialog, my visit to Rodale taught me many things. It taught me that this special library is not as different from academic libraries as I anticipated. At Rodale, the librarians catalog, lend materials, archive, and engage in information literacy. They spend time heading the reference services, which would be similar to heading the reference desk at other libraries. Lynn keeps statistics and she attends meetings to advocate for library funding for staff and databases. And there’s, of course, the shift from print to electronic sources.
Despite the differences, all of my skills are transferable from academic libraries to this special library; all library skills are transferable among different types of libraries. And, just like in other libraries, it’s important to listen to your patrons to be able to anticipate what they want and what they will want, and it’s important to be an advocate for your patrons and your library.