Tribute to a News Librarian

There's a scene in the movie "All the Presidents Men" where Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is in the Washington Post Library, asking for a clip file on Kenneth Dahlberg. The long-haired librarian tells him they don't have a clip file for Dahlberg. OK. But I checked the photo file, she said, and we do have a picture of him. The photo identified Dahlberg as a Republican fundraiser, and was an important early clue in the unraveling of the Watergate plot. Woodward didn't ask her to check the photo file; but librarians don't wait to be asked!

That long-haired librarian was Liz Donovan. She passed away last month. A pioneer among news librarians, blogging before most of us knew what it was, Liz had wonderful careers at the WP, running a health food store, and then at the Miami Herald where she "helped lead the transition to computer-based research. A pioneering Internet user — yet eternal flower child — she enabled Herald writers to produce work that won Pulitzer Prizes." From her obituary in the MH on 12/10/08:

Said humorist Dave Barry: 'I went to her with many strange requests, and they never fazed her. I'd ask her something like, `Are there any politicians whose last name is Doody?' And she'd say, `Do you want federal, state or both?'''

Retired Herald investigations editor Jim Savage called Donovan ``one of the folks who built The Herald's reputation for great investigative journalism... We knew when we asked Liz for help she would find the answers to the I-Team's toughest research questions. In her quiet, competent way she created a zone of sanity in the city room while juggling countless deadline requests for information.''

Reliable, thorough and unflappable — Instantly recognizable under a sun hat in her convertible — Donovan was most of all dogged.

''She would never give up'' seeking the information a journalist needed,said Joan Fleischman who, as a Herald reporter and columnist, sought Donovan's support daily. ``But the thing about Liz was she made you self-reliant. She'd do the work for you on deadline, then in a kind way teach you to do it yourself. And she was patient.''

From Columnist Carl Hiaasen: ``There was almost no piece of information you could ask her to find that she wouldn't have in a couple of hours at most.''

Writing his novels, Hiaasen said: 'I'd shoot her an e-mail that always began with, `I know this sounds weird, but...' In a day, she'd have gotten the best and only information there was out there.''

See why news librarians love their jobs?



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