Friday, February 20, 2004

News librarians deconstruct Presidents' day:
Savannah Morning News librarian Julia Muller has an article on the holiday's history on the Savannah Now Web site. And Michael Miners sent this very interesting email to Newslib:
    "Pardon me for a long email that amounts to nothing but preaching to the choir, but I thought this would be if interest.

    As part of our daily almanac we recently published that Abraham Lincoln's birthday was designated a Federal holiday in 1892. I was asked to verify this after a reader called to correct us. A call to the Lincoln Presidential Library confirmed that the reader was correct; Lincoln's birthday was NEVER a federal holiday.

    Here's what is interesting:

    A Nexis search reveals 10 newspapers published the same statement this month. The statement has been published in newspapers approximately 88 times over the past 19 years (my paper published it 7 of those times) and it looks like AP has moved the information every year since 1985.

    The editor who I spoke to told me she had "googled" it before we ran it and found it to be correct. I pointed out to her that she only found what she was looking for. As per the discussion earlier on this list, Googler beware. A Google for 1892 Lincoln Birthday Holiday does give quite a few supporting documents, but it turns out that only Illinois made Abe's birthday a holiday in 1892.

    This reminded me of the famous example of Maya Angelou being referred to as U.S.Poet Laureate or former Poet Laureate. You will all be horrified or amused, depending on your ilk, to discover that a Nexis search reveals that particular item is still being misreported by reputable newspapers. I won't name names here but go look yourself. (And it begs the question, is Nexis any better than Google?)

    This kind of thing is why I love this job - it's also why we are needed.

    P.S. Were it not for a very helpful and knowledgeable employee of the Presidential Library, it would not have been easy to confirm the statement one way or another because I found several conflicting sources. For those interested, there is a well researched explanation at: ."

In other news about researchers vs. Google, Newslib's Jessica Baumgart recently
took a challenge to try a research request that Google Answers wouldn't try, and writes about it in her blog.

-- Liz Donovan, Miami Herald


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