Tour of the Sporting News Research Center

A few weeks ago, I had an unexpected tour of the Sporting News Research Center in St. Louis, Missouri, courtesy of Jim Meier.

As you might imagine, The Sporting News is a magazine focusing on some sports, like baseball, basketball, football, NASCAR, and hockey. Founded in 1886, it covered sports like baseball, cycling, wrestling, and boxing until about 1900, then it focused mostly on baseball until the 1940s. It has between 700,000 and 750,000 paid subscribers.

The collection is open to the public by appointment and through distance reference services. Some services are free, but some clip and photo research might cost money.

Because of limited space, some of the resources are located outside of the Research Center. We started with the impressive clipping files in a room adjoining the library. There were many filing cabinets with drawers higher than my head. Players are filed under their real names, so don’t look under Babe Ruth, look under George Herman Ruth. The publication began keeping clip files in 1910 and stopped clipping in 1990. The files might also include some statistics and other player information.

They have a partnership with Fox Sports for Web material, so some of their articles go on the Sporting News Web site and Fox Sports site.

Since they need coverage of events all over the country, they often use freelance photographers and have photographers based elsewhere in the country. They don’t shoot film anymore; everything’s digital. They ran out of space for negatives a few years ago. They used to make slides from the negatives, then scan those to make digital images.

Sometimes photographers will have a few hundred or thousand images from an event. All of the digital images are burned to a CD. Jim used to help caption photos.

One of the very unique resources they have are cards with biographical information about baseball players and umpires. Someone began keeping the collection at about the turn of the century and its upkeep continued until about 1990. The cards might include things like a birthdate, career highlights and history, the name of a spouse, and maybe height and weight, depending on who was tracking players and updating cards. Jim told me there might only be two or three other similar collections like it in the United States. People use it for genealogical as well as player research. Some researchers from Syracuse University recently digitized some of the data from the umpire cards for a study they’re doing.

After touring the library’s resources outside of its walls, we went into the library itself. It’s a rectangular space with compact shelving along the long left side and other resources, like the reference collection, some comfy chairs, a microfilm reader, and some tables, along the right side. The librarians’ offices are in the front of the space.

The book collection, arranged with Library of Congress subject headings, consists of about 11,000 books. They acquire about 500 a year. Jim showed me a number of excellent sources of sports information, including some of his favorites.

The library also houses photo files, arranged in a fashion similar to the clips, archival material, and many special materials The Sporting News printed to sell to readers. There are about a million images in the collection. There are also plastic and glass negatives, but I didn’t get to see any of them. Some of the special material in the collection includes framed, signed letters from the United States presidents thanking the publication for sending magazines to troops overseas, back issues of the magazine, and material from athletic departments at universities across the country. Another unique resource the library has are questionnaires the magazine used to send to baseball players to update their information. They have lots of these surveys from many famous players, including Hank Aaron.

I’m so glad I got to see this collection. It’s really a unique resource and quite different from other news libraries I’ve been in because of the scope of the collection and unique biographical materials it contains. It was quite thoughtful of Jim to offer to take me on an impromptu tour and allow me to blog it.

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