Mountains of books for sale from SLO Friends of the Library
The Tribune is moving to a new location, and we’re in the process of packing up and cleaning out our South Higuera office.
We’re headed to a new home on Tank Farm Road across from the Marigold center. We’ll be operating from the new office in mid-April and will have more to share in the coming weeks.
We’ve been in our current spot for more than 25 years, and some streamlining and a long-overdue spring cleaning is in order. One area we’re downsizing is our physical news library.
As I look through folders of clippings, it is not uncommon to find a 1980s story I covered, but can’t recall. I may be a photographer, but I don’t have a photographic memory.
This is where librarians and archivists are invaluable.
In the era before computer indexing, Telegram-Tribune librarians used a handmade system that defied the relentless tides of time.
In addition to having encyclopedic memories, our librarians had yeoman skills in navigating through the filing system and finding a sought-after story.
They made well-educated guesses about what stories deserved their own file, and which ones needed to be filed in a more general category. Without the librarians’ dedication, continuity of news coverage would soon break down on deadline.
For the better part of four decades, two people maintained the vast clipping morgue at the newspaper.
Five days a week, Ken Kenyon or Sharon Morem would slice and dice through stacks of newspapers with a pair of scissors — cutting and marking articles, stamping items with publish dates and filing important news releases and contact sheets.
When Phil Dirkx wrote a story at Lake Nacimiento, for instance, copies of that story were filed in folders marked “Dirkx byline,” “Nacimiento Lake” and “water,” plus folders related to public agencies involved in the story and perhaps the biography folders of subjects who were quoted.
It is not unusual to find the same article cross-filed in a half-dozen folders. This provided redundancy as more popular clippings became dog eared or fell out of folders. It also improved retrieval odds.
I estimate that those folders, if placed in a single line, would stretch farther than two football fields.
Some files were never unboxed from The Tribune’s previous move from 1321 Johnson Ave. in San Luis Obispo.
The oldest folders sat in boxes in the loft of the pressroom, newer folders in the newsroom.
A story about “Lassie” co-star Tommy Retig growing marijuana near Arroyo Grande sat in a folder for more than 40 years before I saw it for the first time. A future Photos from the Vault column will include rediscovered photos from a 1973 flood.
Over the years, files were winnowed every time The Tribune library moved. There are few files here from before the late 1960s.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the archiving process became increasingly digitized and automated. In other words, more mouse and computer and less scissors and folders.
As of December 2018, Tribune pages are no longer photographed on microfilm.
The archiving service Newspapers.com and its partner, GenealogyBank.com, now offer color pages online via pay-to-view service that you can access from home. (Microfilm, in contrast, is free to view at at the San Luis Obispo City-County Library.)
The sites are gradually digitizing and indexing back issues of the Tribune, Telegram and Telegram-Tribune, including most of the issues published between 1869 and 1939.
We won’t need or have space for 600 yards of file folders, but we will keep the file cabinets of microfilm — and a closet of photographic negatives — for now.
The History Center of San Luis Obispo County will preserve biography folders.
As for our shelves of reference books, deadline essentials in the era before Google, most of those were donated and sold at the recent San Luis Obispo Friends of the Library book sale.
We recycled stacks of Associated Press style books.
We can’t keep it all.
When late Tribune editor Jeff Fairbanks cleaned out his office in March 1993, as the paper was getting ready to move to South Higuera Street, he found articles documenting the move to Johnson Avenue from 1240 Morro St. There were letters in his file addressed to previous editors and telegrams dating back to 1952.
He wrote an Editor’s Letter column about his discoveries, titled “Move to a new building unearths historic trove.”
He also quoted an editorial on a 1952 school tax proposal: “You can’t educate 1950s children under 1933 tax ceilings. ... Americans spend 3 times as much for cosmetics and 2 1/2 times as much for liquor as they do for education for their children.”
Jeff noted that the bond passed in 1952, but wouldn’t pass today because Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds super-majority vote.
He closed with: “Well, enough reminiscing. I’ve thrown out more than I’ve packed, but there are still mountains of material to go through and a paper to get out tomorrow.”