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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published May 05 2012

Halgrimson: Celebrating 40 years at The Forum

On May 1, I celebrated my 40th anniversary at The Forum, and as one is apt to do at my age, I looked back at my years as The Forum’s librarian and columnist.

Although it is more than half of my lifetime ago, it doesn’t seem like such a long time. I retired from the library in 2004.

The newsroom was a lot different when I started. The sound of manual typewriters filled the air rather than the hum of computer word processors. The linotype machines clanked in the composing room adjacent to the newsroom, and the type was made of hot metal.

There was a small room off to the side of the editorial department where proofreaders bent over their work and one of them, Lucille Hoag, and I became fast friends. She was the mother of my high school classmate Liane Moe Walser.

Morning and evening editions of The Forum rolled off of the basement presses twice daily.

I had only been in the library for two weeks when Executive Editor Lloyd Sveen went dashing through the newsroom yelling, “Stop the presses, stop the presses.” It was just like in the movies.

Alabama Gov. George Wallace had been shot, and there was still time to get the story in the afternoon edition of the paper.

John Paulson, second generation Forum editor, sat in the corner office. John Lohman was managing editor. Doris Eastman led the women’s department, the sports editor was Ed Kolpack, and the photo chief was Colburn Hvidston III. When I asked Colburn if there was a fourth Colburn, he said no. The first three Colburns had been born on the same day but not the fourth son of the family.

Earl Bitzing, known as the dean of the newspaper staff, still had a desk in the newsroom. He finally stepped down in 1977 after 59 years of service.

The head switchboard operator, June Peterson, sat at an apparatus made up of a panel the size of a small refrigerator. It had small holes at the front into which plugs were pushed to connect an incoming call.

In the library, or morgue, as it is sometimes called, we laid out several editions of each day’s papers, dated and marked mostly local and area stories but some national with a subject, cut them out with a scissor, taped together stories that ran on more than one page, folded them to fit into a 5-by-7-inch envelope, separated the clippings into biographical or subject headings and then filed them among the millions of earlier clips.

There was no subject heading list, nor was there a catalog of the library’s few reference books. We had microfilmed images of our newspaper going back to its beginnings and an ancient microfilm reader that looked like a huge upside down tin can, but there was no machine to print from the microfilm. That didn’t come to the library until 2011.

The clipping collection dates back to 1922 and ends on June 30, 1995. On July 1, 1995, our library went to a digital archive. The clipping files have been closed to the public since 1970, but the digital archive is available online and because of that, there is no longer a Forum librarian.

The year after I started at The Forum, I was sent to a meeting of the Special Libraries Association in Pittsburgh, where I discovered that there were hundreds of others doing the same job that I had. The newspaper division of the SLA gave me ideas and support for our library.

I attended the meeting again in 1975 in Toronto, and almost got into trouble when I told the customs guard that the purpose of my visit was to attend an SLA meeting.

I loved my job and am reminded of it when I use the library for my columns on local and area history. Often it is easier to find something among the old clips than in the electronic files, but that may have something to do with my age.

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Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com.