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Sharon Palmisano, Research Librarian, Anchorage Daily News
By Lynn Hallquist

Sharon Palmisano remembers the first time she knew the importance of libraries. She was 15 and barely able to endure a dull English class. She wanted to be across the street in her parochial school's library, which was housed in a huge old home just off St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Still filled with ornate furnishings, it housed the 600's in the living room.

She had no intention of working when she graduated from the university in Baton Rouge because she already knew whom she'd marry and planned to be a "good southern girl," the kind who stayed home to raise a family. All that changed when her husband decided to finish his Ph.D. and she had no choice but to get a job teaching first grade. After a year that would not end, she leafed through a college catalog and decided to pursue a second degree to become a librarian. After stints as a government documents' librarian and five years at the Fish and Wildlife library in Anchorage, she found her niche at the Anchorage Daily News.

Sharon Palmisano
Fifteen years ago when Sharon Palmisano began work as the Anchorage Daily News librarian, her work was at the cutting edge of newspaper librarianship because the News had just begun converting locally written stories to an online database, joining a handful of newspaper giants like the Washington Post and Boston Globe in providing digital archives. Before that, librarians laboriously clipped stories each day and glued or filed them away in bulging files of yellowed newsprint. Sharon credits the paper's forward-thinking editor Howard Weaver with anticipating the demand for easy retrieval of newspaper archives as we know it today on wire services like Nexus, Dow Jones, Dialog, and Anchorage's own GeoNorth. Anchorage public libraries provide free access to all the articles digitized since late 1985.

Sharon drops whatever she's doing when a reporter needs help researching a story. Fascinating questions fill her days: What was the longest session of the Legislature? What is that wooden strip that runs around a room called? How many people use ANWR as subsistence lands? How do you write the pronunciation of Egegik?

From 2:00-3:00 each afternoon, she answers questions during public hour. That's when people call or drop by the library to locate a particular article they've been looking for or to search through back papers for a photo or ad or to research a topic using the Anchorage Times archives for material dating back to the 1950s. These archives are an important part of the library collection and include shelves of three-ring binders full of clippings on titles like "Anchorage - Business" and "Accidents - Dog Bites" as well as boxes of old black and white photos and folders full of biographical information.

Sharon says the best thing about her work is seeing her research for a reporter turn up in print, being a part of local and state history in the making. "I like helping reporters, knowing what I do makes a difference in their stories. As a side benefit, I get to work with bright, articulate, and funny people."

Photo courtesy of Fran Durner

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